The Corporation is a business structure that provides personal liability protection by separating the owner’s personal assets from the assets of the business. Thus, a corporation is liable for the actions and finances of the business, while the owners (known as shareholders) are not.
- Corporations provide liability protection for the shareholders
- A corporation can raise non-debt financing by selling shares of the business
- Taxation may be lower than a sole proprietorship or partnership
- Corporations are more complex and expensive to set up than sole proprietorships, partnerships, and Limited Liability Companies (LLC)
- At a minimum, corporations are required to hold an annual board of directors meeting, shareholders meeting, take minutes at the meetings, issue shares, etc., to maintain the entity’s liability protection.
Related: Guide to starting a business in North Dakota
Generally, Corporations are chosen over a Limited Liability Company when a significant amount of funding is being raised from investors. However, due to the cost and complexity of the Corporation, most small businesses are better off forming an LLC.
Related: How to form an LLC in North Dakota
The following steps are to create a domestic Corporation, which is the most common type for businesses. The other types of Corporations in North Dakota include a foreign Corporation (an out-of-state Corporation wanting approval to physically operate in the state), a professional Corporation (designated for Corporations offering professional services), or a non-profit Corporation.
Steps to Forming a Corporation in North Dakota
Step 1: Choose a Name
The first step in forming a Corporation in North Dakota is selecting a name.
The name of the Corporation has to be different from other entity names in the state of North Dakota. Check available Corporation names in North Dakota.
The name of the Corporation must include one of the following designators at the end of the business name:
- Or an abbreviation of one of those words – Corp., Inc., or Ltd.
A comma may be used after the business name and before the designator. For example, “Common Grounds Coffee Inc.” and “Common Grounds Coffee, Inc.” are both acceptable.
If there is a name you want but are not ready to register the Corporation, you can file the Reserved Name Application Form with the North Dakota Secretary of State. The name reservation will hold a name for up to 90 days, at the cost of $10.
Before selecting a name, you may also want to see if the domain name is also available.
While a Corporation has to select a unique name that another North Dakota Corporation isn’t using, that doesn’t guarantee that the name isn’t currently used by someone else. Before registering a Corporation name, be sure to do a trademark search to verify it is available for you to use.
Step 2: Choose a Registered Agent
To have a Corporation in North Dakota, a North Dakota Registered Agent must be identified to act as a central point of contact to receive legal documents, tax notices, summons, subpoenas, etc., on behalf of the Corporation. This can either be a resident of North Dakota or commercial registered agent service.
You can act as the Corporation’s Registered Agent in North Dakota, and you are not required to pay for a registered agent. The requirements to be a Registered Agent include generally being present at the registered address during normal business hours and having a physical street address in the state. A PO Box is not allowed.
Any individual meeting the requirements can be the agent; however, the agent’s name and address will become public record, and with that comes a loss of privacy. This is more important for some entrepreneurs, especially when doing business from home or are still employed. Hiring a company like Northwest Registered Agent to be the Registered Agent will help protect their privacy.
Related: Do I Need a Registered Agent in North Dakota?
Step 3: File the North Dakota Articles of Incorporation
Next, you can start filing the North Dakota Articles of Incorporation on the Secretary of State’s website, FirstStop.
The information requested includes:
- The name of the Corporation, which must contain the word “Corporation,” “Incorporated,” “Limited,” or an abbreviation.
- Principal address of the business.
- Registered Agent’s name and physical address.
- Effective date. If you want to finalize the paperwork of the Corporation but not have it start for up to 90 days in the future, enter the future date. Otherwise, choose upon filing.
- The purpose of why the Corporation is being organized. You can either adopt the default purpose statement of being in business for “any lawful purpose” or provide some basic information about what the business does. It’s generally better to keep a broad statement in case the focus of the business ever changes.
- Related: How to Answer the Business Description Statement.
- Information regarding the shares of the Corporation. This section includes the class of shares (common shares are most common), the number of shares authorized, and the par value of those shares.
- Name, address, and signature of the incorporator. This can be one of the owners of the Corporation or someone helping with the formation of the entity.
You don't have to form your LLC by yourself or pay an attorney!Forming an LLC is a little intimidating, especially when it’s your first time. Professional entity formation services help guide you to make sure it’s done right. Check out our reviews of popular LLC formation services to learn more.
Step 4: Create Corporate Bylaws
Bylaws are the general guiding principles and procedures of the operations of the business. For example, the bylaws may include the name of the officers of the Corporation, responsibilities of the board members, terms of office, procedures for removing or adding a new director or shareholder, policies for authorizing new shares, when shareholder, and director meetings will be held, and more.
While bylaws are not required in North Dakota, they are critical for reducing owner and shareholder disputes. An attorney can help draft bylaws, or you can use a template to generate your own with LawDepot or RocketLawyer.
Step 5: Hold the Initial Board of Directors Meeting
During the first board meeting, the board of directors will, at a minimum, elect the officers of the Corporation (the President, Vice President, Treasurer, and Secretary). They will also typically review and approve corporate bylaws, choose a bank, issue shares of stock, and decide whether the Corporation will be taxed as a C corporation or S corporation.
It’s critical to remember that taking meeting minutes at all meetings is necessary to protect the shareholders from lawsuits and court actions. The minutes provide a record of all decisions and actions taken during the meeting. Minutes aren’t filed with the state, however, they need to be stored with other Corporate documents.
Step 6: Issue Shares of Stock
In exchange for money or services, the Corporation can exchange shares of stock. The number of shares of stock issued cannot be more than the number of authorized shares listed in the Articles of Incorporation.
Alternatively, an inexpensive Corporate Kit can be purchased from Amazon, which has a corporate records book, blank stock certificates, initial meeting minutes template, a corporate seal, and more.
Step 7: Obtain an EIN
The EIN or Employer Identification Number (also called a Federal Employer Identification Number, FEIN, or Tax ID Number) is a unique 9-digit tax identification number assigned to a business by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Similar to a social security number for an individual, the EIN identifies the Corporation for tax purposes. The EIN will be needed to hire employees, open a bank account, register for business licenses and permits, file tax returns, and more.
There is no cost for the EIN when registering through the IRS. The number is available immediately when applying through the IRS website; however, you can also register by phone, fax, or mailing IRS Form SS-4.
Related: How to Apply for an EIN
Step 8: Elect the Corporation’s Form of Federal Income Taxation
By default, a new corporation will be taxed by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) like a C-Corporation. C-Corporations pay corporate taxes on their profits, and the owners pay personal income taxes on their dividends.
A Corporation can elect to be taxed as an S-Corporation. S-Corporations are taxed as “pass-through entities,” which means the Corporation itself does not file corporate taxes. Instead, the profits (or losses) “pass through” to the shareholders, who then report this income on their individual taxes.
For most small businesses, the S-Corporation tax election is the most beneficial because it eliminates the double taxation of the C-Corporation. This tax election can be changed; however, it is highly recommended to talk with an accountant before making this decision.
Step 9: Open a Bank Account
Opening a bank account for your Corporation is important for liability protection as the bank account separates the business’s funds from the member’s personal funds.
Several documents will be needed to open a business bank account, such as:
- A banking resolution is a document that authorizes the members to open a business bank account on behalf of the LLC.
- Copies of the original Articles of Incorporation showing the creation of the Corporation in addition to the bylaws.
- Driver’s licenses of the members.
- Depending on the age of the Corporation, a North Dakota Certificate of Good Standing may be needed to prove the business entity is active and in good standing with the state.
Related: How to Open a Business Bank Account
Step 10: Apply for Business Licenses and Permits
Depending on what your business does and where it is located, various business licenses and permits will likely be needed before starting your business. Some common registrations include:
Business Licenses – The state of North Dakota doesn’t have a general business license; however, a city license may be needed to operate a business.
Sales & Use Tax Permit – Businesses selling products and certain services will need to register for a Sales & Use Tax Permit with the North Dakota Office of State Tax Commissioner.
Professional Licensing – Some services such as auctioneers, electricians, door-to-door home repair sellers, and cosmetologists require licensing in North Dakota. While this isn’t a license on the business, licensing is required in order to operate.
Zoning – Before starting to operate a business (even if it’s home-based), be sure to check local zoning ordinances before starting to operate out of a location.
Related: What business licenses and permits are needed in North Dakota?
Step 11: File Annual Reports
Corporations are required to submit an annual report with the North Dakota Secretary of State. The annual report is due each year by August 1st.
The filing fee for the annual report in North Dakota is $25.