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There’s a lot to like about Texas. The abundance of tacos, for one. But perhaps more important is the state’s staunch support of its business community. Starting a business in Texas has the advantage of the nation’s second-largest population and a number of fast-growing metropolitan areas.
Texas’ support for small business, in particular, is evident in its low business licensing fees, its lack of red tape, and an abundance of relatively cheap real estate. Few states can boast a similar lack of regulation that lets businesses be born almost as soon as they are conceived, with only a small out-of-pocket investment.
For Lone Star State residents (and even out-of-state residents) interested in starting a business, the path ahead is relatively straightforward. Using the state’s Small Business Handbook as a guide, let’s review how to start a business in Texas.
You need to choose the type of legal, for-profit business entity you want your business to be, which depends on a few factors. This includes what kind of business you’re starting, whether you’ll have employees and your comfort with liability. Some structures are free to register, others have a low fee and are subject to the state franchise tax.
Some of the most common choices include:
Sole proprietorship: The most common and simplest form of business structure, a sole proprietorship is perfect for one person who owns all the business assets. This person is 100% liable for the business. Their sole proprietorship assumes their name, unless they want to create a “DBA certificate” to give it another name, to be filed in all counties where business is conducted. These structures are not subject to the state franchise tax.
General partnership: Similar to a sole proprietorship, but it’s for two or more individuals. It’s a separate business entity from those people, but creditors can still hit up the partners’ personal assets to satisfy debts and liabilities. They are not subject to state franchise tax.
Limited liability company: An LLC is created by filing a certificate of formation with the Texas secretary of state. It’s an unincorporated business entity with more flexibility, providing owners with limited liability and pass-through tax advantages. LLCs are subject to state franchise tax, and the certification of formation for an LLC is $300. This should not be confused with a limited liability partnership, which is a general partnership registered with the secretary of state and, in Texas, costs $200 for the certificate of formation per general partner.
For-profit corporation: “Corporations are people, too.” It’s true: Corporations are people with limited liability, centralized management, perpetual duration, and ease of ownership transferability. Owners of corporations are shareholders, and managers of the business are directors. For-profit corporations must register with the Texas secretary of state, must pay a filing fee for the certificate of formation of $300, and are subject to a state franchise tax.
If your business was formed in a state or entity other than Texas but you want to “transact business” in the state, you need to file an application for registration with the Texas secretary of state as a foreign entity.
This may sound obvious, but you need to choose a business name. If you open a sole proprietorship, your name can be the business name—otherwise, you need an Assumed Name (which comes via the DBA certificate). If you’re struggling on how to come up with the right name, consider these steps:
If that business name sounds too good to be true, it may be. First, do a preliminary search to find any conflicts with your Texas business name, especially in your local area. Consider a name that is easy to pronounce and spell as well as one that is very searchable.
Before you pick a name, you’ll want to ensure it’s not already been trademarked. To start, sift through the trademarks already registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. This database can show you which names have already been registered along with the classification of each one.
Once you’ve picked a Google-able name and discovered it’s not trademarked, check the Texas Department of State: Division of Corporations database. This will ensure your business name is not the same (or too similar) to another corproation registered in Texas.
Give your name a lot of thought: It’s hard to change it up in the middle of your company’s lifespan.
An EIN, or business tax identification number, is the business equivalent of a social security number and is used to track your business dealings. It’s useful for establishing business credit, opening business checking accounts, and, if you have employees, filing their tax withholdings. You can apply for your EIN with the IRS here.
An EIN is free to obtain; you can also contract a third-party like LegalZoom to ensure you’re 100% compliant with the law, including getting your EIN for you.
In addition to understanding your federal tax responsibilities, you also need to research your state and local taxes. The Comptroller of Public Accounts collects various state taxes and imposes and collects franchises taxes, though most small businesses are exempt.
Business inventory tax is assigned to businesses that own fixed assets, to be paid to your local county appraisal district. You’ll want a quality inventory and fixed asset management system to ensure you know exactly how much you invested (and thus, what you’ll have to pay taxes on) in your equipment and machinery, if applicable.
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Texas doesn’t require companies to buy a “general business” license. But depending on the type of business you open, you might need a specific license or permit. Check out the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation to see if your specific profession qualifies. If you’re unsure of what you need, contact your local county or city government to double check any additional requirements.
A variety of small fees are associated with obtaining various business filings and trademarks, such as a change of registered agent or a limited partnership periodic report. The full list can be found here—it works as a good checklist when starting out.
This is specific to the type of business you are starting in Texas, including whether you have employees, but there are various labor, safety, and tax obligations to satisfy, too, such as federal and state mandates like the Americans with Disabilities Act, Equal Employment, and safety, wage, and labor requirements. You might want to hire a tax or business attorney to make sure you’re following the law here.
You’ve got a few other economic hurdles to clear as you start up and begin running your business in the state of Texas, particularly if you have employees. Here are a few of the most important—but be sure to refer to the full state handbook if you have further questions:
The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) and 28 local workforce development boards have teamed up to form Texas Workforce Solutions, to provide support services and administering unemployment benefits and tax programs. A few services to keep in mind:
The Texas Unemployment Compensation Act requires “liable employers” to pay unemployment tax. Most of the business structures discussed above fall under this category; non-liable employers include those who hire only independent contractors rather than full-time employees, and those whose employees are paid through a professional employer organization.
Once wages are paid out, employers need to register with the TWC within 10 days of becoming liable for the state’s unemployment tax.
You don’t have to go it alone in Texas. A number of state and federal resources, such as the U.S. Small Business Administration, offer business advice, low-interest loans, grants, and much more. Their programs are geared toward helping veteran-owned businesses, minority-owned businesses, and women-owned businesses, and they’re worth exploring if you qualify.
The Small Business Handbook also recommends exploring avenues for finding working capital, such as nonprofit lenders, the Lift Fund, People Fund, BCL of Texas, a number of local credit unions, and alternative lenders.
A lack of working capital is often cited as one of the biggest issues small business owners face when starting up. Don’t leave home, or start a business, without it.
If you’re a new business owner, it’s a very good idea to separate your personal and business banking accounts. First, sign up for a business checking account. If you don’t want to be saddled with hefty fees, there are many free business banking accounts out there. Before you settle on a bank, consider how often you plan to make transactions and how much a balance you can carry month to month.
Getting a business credit card is also a great way to start building business credit and provide a safety net if you need a bit of extra capital. If you qualify, a 0% introductory rate can act as an interest-free loan while you get up in running.
If you’re interested in starting a business in Texas, you’re definitely in luck: The barrier for entry is low and the number of resources at your disposal is high.
It may be really, really hot down there in the summer, but that’s a small price to pay for getting your foot in the door of the small business world and keeping it there.
Texas appears to have a vested interest in helping you succeed—don’t take that for granted. It’s hard enough to stay afloat in today’s economy, and a state government that has your back is a benefit few should turn down.