If you’re operating a startup business out of your home, it can be confusing to know what address to give out to clients, put on your website and use on tax forms submitted to the IRS. While your business's home base is your actual home, you may not feel good about giving that private information out to all of those entities. There are solutions to this problem though, including using the address of a Registered Agent or a virtual address.
But, what’s the difference between a Registered Agent vs. virtual address? Let's find out.
Is a Virtual Address the Same as a Registered Agent?
In short: no. A Registered Agent isn’t the same as a virtual address. While both are addresses that you can use for business mail, they serve different purposes and meet different needs for your business.
To register your business with the state when you file your LLC or business formation paperwork
To provide legitimacy to your company
To help you keep your home address private
When opening a business bank account or merchant accounts
To receive checks, invoices and bills
A virtual address doesn’t have to be the same as where you operate your business, but it must be a place where your business can be reached and that you check regularly. A virtual address can be a P.O. box where you receive mail or it could be a virtual mailbox service where you can access scans of your mail online and have your mail shipped to your physical location.
If you’re looking to protect your privacy and to create a business that appears professional to your customers and other business owners, using a virtual address instead of your home address is the right choice. Something to consider if you’re deciding if you need a virtual business address: it may have customers thinking that your business is a scam or that you don’t take it seriously.
A Registered Agent is a person or business entity that accepts legal and tax documents on behalf of other businesses. A Registered Agent must be located in the same state in which your business operates.
If you have an LLC or corporation, then you are required to have a Registered Agent. The address of your Registered Agent can not be a P.O. box, it must be a physical mailing address. A Registered Agent might also be referred to as a resident agent, statutory agent or agent for service of process.
Act as a primary contact for the Secretary of State
Receive official government notifications and communication, such as tax forms and compliance information
Who Can Be a Registered Agent?
The Registered Agent for your business can be you, a friend, a colleague or a professional service, as long as the person you choose meets your state’s criteria. The criteria for who may qualify as a Registered Agent will vary from state to state. Most importantly, whoever you designate as your Registered Agent must have a physical address in the state in which you do business.
At Incfile, we don't recommend serving as your own Registered Agent, as it restricts your ability to travel for business purposes and can hinder your productivity. It may also compromise your privacy (if, for instance, you are served legal documents at your home). If you choose to work with a third-party Registered Agent, you will need to pay for their services. This Registered Agent service will receive and forward your business’s legal documents. Registered Agent service is free for the first year when you file your $0 + state fee LLC with Incfile.
Differences Between a Registered Agent and Virtual Address
Now that you’ve got a definition of what a Registered Agent vs. virtual address is, let’s dive into how they’re different.
Registered Agents Are a Person Who Provides Services
One of the main differences is that a Registered Agent is a person while a virtual address is a location. A Registered Agent must be a person with a physical location in your state. It cannot be a P.O. box and must be an address that is reachable during normal business hours.
Registered Agents Help You Stay on Top of Your Business
Another difference to note is that if you choose to work with a Registered Agent service, you will be hiring someone to help you stay on top of important legal paperwork for your business. A virtual address is simply a place that receives your mail. You can also choose to work with a virtual mail service that will forward your mail to you.
Registered Agents Manage Paperwork
A Registered Agent service helps you to manage your business paperwork. They will keep copies of important business documents in case the originals are lost, stolen or damaged.
Registered Agents Don’t Receive Regular Mail, Only Official Docs
Another important difference to note is that Registered Agents only receive official documentation for your business; they don’t receive general mail. If you need an address where you can receive checks, invoices, bills and other customer mail, you’ll need a virtual address. A virtual address will function like your home mailbox, receiving any and all mail, including junk mail. A virtual mail service can be used to digitally forward and sort your mail.
Registered Agent Can’t Be a P.O. Box or Out of State
An important differentiation between Registered Agent vs. virtual address is that a Registered Agent can’t be a P.O. box or out-of-state address. The address of your Registered Agent must be an address to a physical location. Your virtual address can be a P.O. box. As well, your Registered Agent address must be in the state in which your business operates. This isn’t the case for your virtual address, which can be located in any state.
Regulations for Registered Agents Depend on Your State
The regulations for a Registered Agent are set by the state in which you form your business. It’s important to follow these regulations to stay in good standing with the state. A virtual address has fewer regulations than a Registered Agent does.
What Address Should I Use for My EIN?
During the business formation process, you can request an EIN from the IRS. An EIN is similar to a Social Security number, but for a business. When you request an EIN, you must submit a business address to the IRS.
You can NOT use your Registered Agent’s address for your EIN. On your EIN application form, you will put the physical mailing address for your business. This can be a P.O. box (depending on the state), your home address or the physical address of your business. What’s most important is that you use the address where you regularly check the mail so you’ll promptly receive any important communication.
If you are acting as your own Registered Agent, your business address and Registered Agent address may be the same. That’s fine. But, if you’re using a Registered Agent service, you can’t use that address for your EIN.
Registered Agents and Virtual Addresses for Your Business
Overall, it’s important to realize that a Registered Agent and a virtual address are two different types of addresses and services. A Registered Agent is a person who receives and reviews official government documentation. This might be a professional service, you or a friend. A virtual address is a place, other than your home or principal place of business, that receives all of your mail.
If you are incorporating your business as an LLC or corporation, you will be required to designate a person as your Registered Agent. Additionally, if you’re working out of your home, you might want to have a mailing address other than your home address, which would be a virtual address. While a Registered Agent and virtual address are different, it’s possible that your business will need both.
Incfile offers a comprehensive Registered Agent service. We're authorized to act as an agent in all 50 states and can serve as your agent, no matter where you are.
Page is a freelance content marketing writer with experience writing about small business, the future of the workplace and health. She also operates a weekly email newsletter where she shares advice on living an authentic, intentional life. When not writing, you can find Page traveling, fostering older cats and working as a sexual assault advocate.