Electing to launch a new business is both exciting and daunting. It is the first of many decisions you will make along the way. Depending upon what state you live in, you will likely need to register your business on a state, local, and federal level. This guide will help walk you through the process of registering your business in Hawaii.
Recommended: Read our full guide on how to start a business in Hawaii.
Registering a Business in Hawaii
1. Name Your Hawaii Business
Before you register your new business, there is one critical step you must take — you will need to decide on a name. While naming your new company may seem straightforward on the surface, it is actually one of the most critical and demanding steps you will take throughout the business launching process.
Your business’s name should be memorable and catch consumers’ attention, but it represents much more than that. It should send a clear message regarding what products you sell and/or what services you offer. Your business’s name introduces the public to your brand and will potentially share a message about your company and what it stands for.
Brainstorming Your Name
While many entrepreneurs are tempted to rush through the naming process, you should take as much time as you need to explore all naming possibilities. Take several brainstorming sessions and use the free online business tools available today to help come up with a number of possibilities, narrowing down your options as you go.
Our business name generator is an excellent, industry-specific brainstorming tool that will not only assist you in coming up with the perfect name, but it automatically checks domain name availability as well. If you’re still not sure where to start, our naming guide can help you define your brand and offers practical tips to utilize doing your brainstorming sessions.
Hawaii Name Search
Hawaii has a business name search tool set up through the Department of Commerce & Consumer Affairs that can help you search business entities by name. You’ll also want to check to make sure that your name isn’t too similar to that of any other business in your state. This will help avoid confusion and potential legal hassles down the road.
Once you have come up with a name that accurately represents your brand, it’s time to start legitimizing your business. These next steps will vary depending upon your business structure and your state’s legal requirements. We will go over the different business structures in the next section.
If you decide to use a “doing business as” (DBA) name, known as a trade name in Hawaii, our DBA guide will help ensure you are properly registered on a state, county, and/or city level. There are several benefits to registering your trade name with the state. It offers a layer of protection against other Hawaii businesses, proves your company’s legitimacy, and may be required by some vendors, banks, and lenders.
2. Choose a Business Structure for Your Hawaii Business
Now that you have chosen the appropriate name for your brand, it is time to start the process of legalizing your business. Before you begin the registration process, you will need to determine which business structure best fits your needs. Each comes with its own set of advantages, disadvantages, and tax benefits.
A sole proprietorship is the most unambiguous of all business structures. This informal entity was designed for entrepreneurs who do not plan to have any business partners. It does not offer any personal asset protection and does not require a state filing.
Your Hawaii sole proprietorship operates under your surname unless you file for a trade name. The cost to register a DBA in Hawaii with the Department of Commerce & Consumer Affairs is $50 and is renewed every five years.
Much like a sole proprietorship, a general partnership is an informal entity designed for entrepreneurs who are entering a partnership with at least one other person. The business can operate under you and your partners’ surnames, or you can acquire a DBA name. The profits and losses would be claimed under your (and your partners’) personal tax return, and there is no personal asset protection.
All Hawaii partnerships — including general partnerships, limited partnerships, limited liability partnerships, and limited liability limited partnerships — are required to file with the state and pay a filing fee.
If you do not plan to go public in the next few years, a limited liability company (LLC) may be the best fit for you. It offers more flexibility and protects your personal assets in the event of a lawsuit.
The State of Hawaii requires that all LLCs appoint a registered agent who will accept legal documents on behalf of the organization. Your registered agent must be a qualified resident of Hawaii or a corporation that is authorized to conduct business in Hawaii. Many new LLCs elect to appoint a registered agent service, which costs between $29 and $300 annually.
Hawaii also requires you to follow certain naming requirements and file the Articles of Organization, which provides key details about your company.
A corporation is a business entity designed for those who have (or plan to have) shareholders. So, if your future plans include going public, this may be the best option for you.
Like LLCs, corporations must appoint a registered agent to accept paperwork in case of legal disputes, compliance documents, and government correspondence on the organization’s behalf. Also like an LLC, your registered agent can be a professional service, a business entity, or an individual.
In addition to getting a registered agent, you will also need to file the Articles of Incorporation with the state.
Recommended: Read our full guide on choosing a business structure.
3. Determine if You Need to Register Your Business in Hawaii
Once you have determined your formal business structure and registered your new business name, you will want to check with your state to determine the business registration requirements. Each state has its own set of guidelines, and you must follow them precisely.
In most cases, sole proprietorships do not have to officially register with the State of Hawaii. Check with your local government to see if you must register your sole proprietorship at a county or city level.
Additionally, some businesses (e.g., sole proprietorships and single-member LLCs that don’t have employees) are not required to register and file for a Tax ID Number, also known as an Employer Identification Number (EIN), with the IRS. Even if this is not a requirement for your business, you will want to consider registering anyway as there are several legal and tax benefits.
Even if you aren’t required to register your business, note that registering an LLC comes with an abundance of legal and financial benefits. As a sole proprietorship or a partnership, your business debts are considered personal debts. This means that your personal assets can be seized in the event of a lawsuit. LLCs offer personal protection, legally protecting your personal assets and limiting your personal liability.
In addition to this personal protection, LLCs enjoy several other benefits, including:
- Flexibility in profit distribution, decision-making, and business management
- “Pass-through” taxation, which allows for the LLC’s income and expenses to pass through to the owners’ personal income tax returns with no restrictions regarding the number and type of owners
- Limited requirements regarding annual meetings, paperwork, and record-keeping
If you lack the time and/or knowledge needed to form your new LLC, there are a number of reputable LLC filing services that will help you launch your business. Because we understand how challenging it can be to sift through the dozens of available options, we have reviewed and ranked the five best LLC filing services. Our LLC service review offers a side-by-side comparison of each, ensuring you partner with a service that saves you both time and money.
4. Register for Taxes for Your Business in Hawaii
The IRS uses EINs as a way to distinguish businesses for tax reporting. All businesses with employees are required to have one. Our EIN guide will help you determine your business structure’s EIN requirements and walk you through each step in the process.
In addition to federal taxes, you’ll need to register for state and local taxes. Unlike many states, Hawaii does not require that sales tax be collected on all tangible goods sold. Instead, all businesses are assessed and given a General Excise Tax (GET). Businesses must also register for withholding tax and unemployment insurance tax.
5. Obtain Permits and Licenses for Your Hawaii Business
Unlike many states, Hawaii doesn’t require that all businesses obtain a general business license. Some professions, however, may be required to obtain professional permits and licenses. For example, a chiropractor will need to apply for a license through the Hawaii Board of Chiropractic.
For a detailed list of all vocational and professional licensing requirements, visit the Professional & Vocational Licensing Division of the Department of Commerce & Consumer Affairs. Additional licenses may be required depending upon the city or county your business operates out of. To learn more about your business permit needs, check with your local Chamber of Commerce.
Additionally, some companies are regulated under a federal agency and require federal licenses and/or permits. For instance, a liquor manufacturer would be subject to rules and guidelines created under the FDA. You can learn more about federal permit requirements and fees by visiting the Small Business Administration (SBA) website.
To assist you in determining your federal, state, and county license and permit requirements, we have developed a business license search. To use this free guide, simply choose your state from the dropdown menu, and you will be redirected to a list of everything you will need to consider when launching a business in the state of Hawaii.
Still feeling uneasy about the process? We’ve also compiled a list of our top five business license services that can help you get set up and ensure your business meets all compliance requirements.