Free Registered Agent and Other Shenanigans

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You’ve heard the saying, “Nothing in life is free,” haven’t you?

Many registered agent companies offer “free registered agent service” as part of their marketing strategies, or worse, entice you to sign up for cheap service, and really sock you with high fees later.

In celebration of March, and this writer’s favorite springtime holiday, we’ll discuss free registered agent and other shenanigans you might find among registered agent companies trying to “earn” your business.

Registered agent 101:

A registered agent is a legal appointment. You list the agent’s name and address on the state’s public records when you register your business or nonprofit. The registered agent is responsible for receiving reminders, legal and government notifications, and service of process for the business. A registered agent can be an individual with a physical address in the state (P.O. Boxes are not allowed), or a service company such as ourselves.

Free Registered Agent:

There are a million registered agent companies out there, each competing for your business’ business. Many times, companies offer free registered agent service for some time (usually three months, six months, or a year) in order to get you to sign up for a business registration service or a registered agent subscription. You’ll commonly see this on advertisements, search engines, and the companies’ websites themselves. And, from a marketing perspective, it works. People click, enter their company and billing information, and sign up for the free service.

As a rule, if you, the customer, pay nothing up front, you are paying or will pay for it elsewhere. Here are a few examples:

1) Many companies sell your personal or company information to affiliates, where you receive unwanted solicitations for products and services, and may even receive “free trials” that are difficult to cancel.

2) Many companies collect and save your billing information. The moment your free registered agent service ends, you’ll get hit with their fee to retain them as your registered agent. Disputing the charge or canceling the service at that point may be nigh impossible. Additionally, that these companies save your billing information leads us to point number 3:

3) While the agent company is serving as your free registered agent, they are incurring costs by retaining you, and you can bet they’ll try to make up for them. If your business receives a delivery, you might face a processing fee for a service you thought you already “purchased.” You might also incur a fee for the convenience of them mailing you a paper invoice. Since they have your card on file, you might find mysterious charges adding up from month to month.

Free registered agent isn't free.

Free registered agent is a myth. Just like this little guy.

Other Shenanigans:

As you shop for a registered agent for your business, you’ll find a wide range of providers and service fees. In the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day, here are a few shenanigans that you might encounter:

1) Besides “free registered agent” offers, you’ll find sticker prices as low as $39 or $49 per year. As mentioned above, service companies have costs to provide registered agent service, and in order to stay in business, they need to make up for them. When you sign up for a low sticker price service, you may be agreeing to automatic billing, mailing fees, and other hidden fees. Additionally, your rate might increase annually.

2) On the other end, you’ll find some companies charge very high service fees, upwards of $300/year. Typically, these rates are those of large, public companies whose best interest is not necessarily yours. For a small business, rates of $300/year are simply unaffordable. Additionally, if your business is simple, doesn’t receive many documents, and requires little account maintenance, paying a high annual fee might not be valuable to you.

3) Many companies also provide low quality, or outright bad service. Three red flags are missed annual report reminders, late deliveries, and unresponsive customer support. The first two directly impact your business, and can be very costly. And, unresponsive or bad customer support (especially in the Internet/social media era) is downright bad practice.

Dealing with Shenanigans:

So how do you recognize these shenanigans and warnings before you sign up? Easy, do your homework.

1) Take a look at the company’s website. Is it nice-looking and legitimate? Are the service and other company information clear?

2) Give them a call. Does a real person answer the phone? If you leave a message, does someone contact you?

3) Look the company up online. Do they have social media, Yelp, or other online profiles? Are they registered with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and other industry authorities? Are the reviews positive?

4) Read the Terms of Service – they should be on the company’s website. What terms are you agreeing to? Is your billing information saved? What fees will you face? What happens if you want to cancel?

Harbor Compliance’s Registered Agent Service:

If you’ve stuck with me this whole article, you’ve reached my point. The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, if you will.

Harbor Compliance’s registered agent service is and always will be $99 per year, about the market average. That’s a flat rate, with no added or hidden fees, and we don’t raise your rates annually. We also don’t save your billing information for your peace of mind, and we certainly don’t sell your information to affiliates. Lastly, we don’t offer free registered agent service, because we’re not in the business of using pricing gimmicks to get you to sign up.

We value and appreciate your business. If you need a registered agent in any state, you can sign up for the service online in just a few minutes. If you have questions, give us a call at 888-995-5895. A Harbor Compliance representative will be happy to assist you.