Are you looking to form a limited liability company, a corporation, or a nonprofit, but you’re stuck trying to settle on the best formation service to use?
Choosing the right service for your business and legal needs can be difficult. That’s why we’ve carefully evaluated over a dozen of the top formation service providers, looking at and comparing metrics across several key categories, such as pricing and turnaround time.
We took an in-depth look at both Nolo and LegalZoom in their respective individual reviews. In this article, we’ll compare them head-to-head.
Nolo vs LegalZoom: Verdict
Nolo comes out slightly ahead in our side-by-side comparison of these two formation services. Our scoring here was greatly affected by LegalZoom’s exceptionally high costs and, to a lesser extent, Nolo’s slightly faster turnaround times.
Both companies offer very similar formation packages, yet in many cases, LegalZoom demands double the cost for the same products. Given that both companies perform similarly in most of our other metrics, we believe that there is little reason to choose LegalZoom over Nolo.
Neither Nolo nor LegalZoom offers amazing turnaround times, and both companies internally delay orders in order to entice customers towards more expensive packages. Nolo performs slightly better for standard orders, but if you need your LLC or corporation formed as quickly as possible, we recommend you take a look at some other companies.
In most other regards, Nolo and LegalZoom performed very similarly. Since neither service managed to wow us, we strongly recommend that you consider alternatives.
We focus on Nolo and LegalZoom in this article, but if you would like to get a more complete picture of all the options available to you, be sure to check out our Best LLC Formation Service and Best Incorporation service articles.
If you are looking for more general information on the first steps of forming a business, we recommend taking a look at our How to start an LLC article.
|Ease of Use||3/5||5/5|
|Help & Support||4/5||5/5|
Read on to find out more about how we arrived at our verdict in this head-to-head match-up.
Nolo vs LegalZoom: Pricing
For the majority of small business owners, pricing is the most important factor when choosing which formation service to go with. After all, cutting unnecessary costs and shopping smart means more funds can go straight into your startup.
Unfortunately, comparing the prices of business formation services can be a bit tricky. While most formation companies offer similar services, the way in which they structure their packages can differ greatly, making direct comparisons difficult.
If this is the first time you are forming a business, many of the products might be unfamiliar to you, which makes it even harder to recognize whether or not a package is a good value. This is why we look at not just the cost of a service, but also at its contents, when comparing across companies.
Both Nolo and LegalZoom include registered agent services with their business formation plans, but if you would like to compare some other options, be sure to have a look at our Best Registered Agent services article as well.
To help you better understand the differences in pricing between services, we try to standardize our categories. Here, we present the price of a “basic” formation, a “full” formation, and annual registered agent service with Nolo and LegalZoom:
|Registered Agent (standalone)||$150||$299|
Not sure what a “Basic Formation” or a “Full Formation” is? Here’s how we define each:
Basic Formation: Covers the essentials of business entity creation. Includes – at minimum – filing of Articles of Organization and the drafting of an Operating Agreement for an LLC or corporate bylaws for a corporation.
Registered Agent (standalone): PriceIf you’re only looking for a registered agent service.
Full Formation: Additionally includes – at minimum – a registered agent service, which most owners will find essential. Price includes one year of registered agent service.
With Nolo, customers can choose between three LLC packages: the Basic package, priced at $49, the Standard package, priced at $149, and the Express package, priced at $299. Keep in mind that state processing fees are not included in Nolo’s prices – you will have to pay them, too.
Nolo’s Basic package is the most budget-friendly of the three. It includes only the bare minimum necessary for a business formation or incorporation: a business name availability check and the filing of Articles of Organization or Incorporation.
By default, the Basic, Standard, and Express packages do not include an Operating Agreement/Corporate Bylaws or a registered agent service – both of which we consider essential for any business creation. Nolo offers both, but you will have to pay an additional $50 to add an Operating Agreement and an additional $150 per year for their registered agent service.
The Nolo Standard package adds just two things to the Basic package: the preparation of an IRS application for a federal employer identification number (EIN), and a set of 30 legal forms and business contract templates. Neither one of these services is vital, and we don’t believe they are worth the added cost.
The Nolo Express package includes everything from the previous packages and adds priority rush filing and a corporate binder and seal. Nolo claims that with priority rush filing, they will file your formation or incorporation documents within one business day and that you will “generally” receive a filing response within 2-3 days. There is no option to add rush-filing to the more affordable packages as an add-on.
LegalZoom offers three formation packages as well. LegalZoom’s offerings include the Economy package, priced at $79 (for formations) or $149 (for incorporations), the Standard package, priced at $329, and the Express Gold package, priced at $349. As with Nolo, these prices do not include state filing fees.
None of these packages contain the drafting of an Operating Agreement (for an LLC) or Corporate Bylaws (for a corporation) – doing either will cost you an additional $99. LegalZoom’s packages also don’t include a registered agent service, which is offered separately for the cost of $299 per year. We consider both of these services to be essential and would have preferred to see them included with their Economy package.
The LegalZoom Economy package includes a name availability check and the drafting and filing of Articles of Organization for your business. LegalZoom will also do a quick standard review of your documents for errors and omissions and provide you with a guide for next steps on your journey.
The LegalZoom Standard package contains a corporate binder, a seal, and 20 share certificates – while nice touches, none of these add-ons are legally required in any state. The Standard package also includes “Expedited Processing” for incorporations. Here, LegalZoom means that they will internally expedite your order – that’s not the same as expediting an application with the state authorities.
We strongly dislike having to pay for internal expediting – formation services should be prompt without taking an extra fee for it. LLC packages don’t mention expedited processing, but the expected turnaround time remains the same – 15 business days.
The LegalZoom Express Gold package adds express shipping and rush processing (for corporations) with the Secretary of State (the state office where these documents are usually filed)and “VIP Processing” for LLCs. In both cases. rush processing with the state reduces the total turnaround time to 10 business days, down from the 30 days it would take with the other plans. This processing time isn’t particularly fast either – some other services can often form businesses in three days or less.
Pricing Winner: Nolo
The truth is that neither Nolo nor LegalZoom does particularly well in this category. Both services are too expensive and don’t provide sufficient value to justify their costs.
Neither service includes the drafting of an operating agreement or a registered agent service with their packages, which drives up their costs even further. They also lock useful additions, like expedited filing, behind their more expensive packages, instead of offering them as add-ons.
Still, Nolo’s costs are significantly lower than LegalZoom’s, and they still offer the same set of services. That’s why they win the pricing category. LegalZoom’s LLC formation costs are among the highest we have seen and are one of the main reasons why we recommend against using their service.
Nolo vs LegalZoom: Turnaround Time
We believe that the turnaround times of business formation services are among the most important factors by which services should be compared.
Good formation services will process any filing promptly, often within the same business day. They’ll also offer the quickest turnaround time possible by giving customers the option to expedite their order with the state by paying additional state fees.
Here’s how Nolo and LegalZoom do on some key turnaround time metrics:
|Paid internal rush option||Yes||Yes|
|Overall turnaround time||Slow||Slow|
Nolo doesn’t do great on turnaround time. If you select Nolo’s Basic or Standard packages, they will take between four and five days just to file your formation documents with the Secretary of State. You will need to opt into their most expensive package to have your order internally prioritized and processed within one business day.
Even with priority rush filing, Nolo advertises a turnaround time of 7-10 days. Some of their competitors offer significantly faster times for expedited formations. Without rush filing, their standard turnaround is between two and three weeks, which is fairly average.
Overall, Nolo’s turnaround times just aren’t impressive. We also disliked that Nolo doesn’t offer expediting with their more affordable packages.
You should also keep in mind that some of Nolo’s competitors (such as Northwest Registered Agent) will file any order within a single business day, without any additional payment.
LegalZoom’s turnaround times aren’t great either. If you opt for LegalZoom’s basic Economy package, you can expect your filing to take a full 30 days.
As with Nolo, you will have to choose LegalZoom’s most expensive formation package if you want your order to be expedited with the Secretary of State. In that case, your order should be completed within 7-10 days. LegalZoom also internally expedites orders, meaning you’re effectively delaying your formation if you select their most affordable package.
Turnaround Time Winner: Nolo
Again, neither Nolo nor LegalZoom managed to impress us with their turnaround times. Both services’ turnaround times are decidedly average, both for standard orders and expedited orders. Furthermore, both services internally delay orders of customers who didn’t opt into their higher-priced packages.
We ultimately chose Nolo as the winner of this category since their service promises a slightly quicker turnaround time with standard orders than LegalZoom’s LLC service.
Nolo vs LegalZoom: Customer Satisfaction
To give you a better understanding of what a formation service is like under real-world conditions, we include customer satisfaction as one of our review categories.
We measure customer satisfaction by means of customer feedback and reviews left on impartial third-party platforms, such as Trustpilot or the BBB’s website.
When judging a service’s performance we look at both the average customer rating and the total number of reviews. We also look at the content of individual reviews to find out where a service stands out, be it positively or negatively.
One thing to keep in mind with both Nolo and LegalZoom is that neither of these companies specializes exclusively in LLC formations or business incorporations. As a result, many of the reviews are from customers who may have used other legal products and services.
These reviews can still give you an idea of how trustworthy and reliable a company is, although we prefer having more formation-specific information on hand.
|Stand-out mentions||“Unhelpful customer service”||“Very knowledgeable” “Made things easy”“Difficulties canceling”|
Nolo doesn’t do great on most online review sites. They currently hold a 1.4 out of 5 rating on Trustpilot with fewer than 100 reviews and a 3.8 out of 5 rating on Sitejabber. Unfortunately, the majority of the available reviews are from attorneys voicing their (overwhelmingly negative) opinions regarding Nolo’s pay-per-lead service.
We could only find two reviews from customers who bought business formation services from Nolo. Both were positive – however, two reviews just aren’t enough for us to draw any real conclusions.
In general, we would have expected a company of Nolo’s size to have far more reviews available. We also would have expected them to have their representatives reply to negative reviews, which they do not appear to do.
LegalZoom has amassed more than 700+ reviews with a respectable, if not amazing, 4.1 out of 5 average rating. LegalZoom is also rated 4.1 out of 5 with more than 2000 reviews on the Better Business Bureau website. Unfortunately, some cracks appeared when we looked specifically for those who have used LegalZoom’s formation service.
We found that despite their high rating and many satisfied customers, there were also some who encountered significant issues – on Trustpilot, 28% of reviewers rated the service with 1 star. A fraction of customers report serious issues with LegalZoom’s service, including unexplained delays, problems with the customer service, and difficulties canceling LegalZoom’s ongoing services.
LegalZoom still has a good overall rating and most of their customers were satisfied with the service.
Customer Satisfaction Winner: LegalZoom
Once again, neither service managed to stand out in a positive way. Nolo’s service does not have enough reviews available to draw any conclusions regarding their formation service, and reviews for their non-formation services are mostly negative.
LegalZoom does have a good number of reviews, but some customers are split regarding their experiences, with some reporting serious issues, while many others were satisfied.
Nolo vs LegalZoom: Ease of Use
Starting a new business is already complicated enough – that’s why any service you use should do their best to make things easier, instead of harder. Unfortunately, this has not been the case with several of the formation services we have looked at thus far.
When it comes to ease-of-use, we look at how simple and straightforward it is to establish a business with a given formation company.
We believe that good services should present customers with an informative website and an easy-to-follow order process. They should also educate customers and provide quality legal information, so that new business owners can make informed decisions about their company.
In particular, we want to see:
- a simple step-by-step sign-up process, with no unnecessary upsells
- clear pricing information
- informative and educational content on the website
- terms and conditions that are easy to understand
- …and any other features that make it easier to use a service.
Here is how Nolo and LegalZoom did on ease of use:
|Clarity of instructions and prices||Great||Great|
The user experience with Nolo is a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand, Nolo’s website includes a myriad of useful educational articles on law-related topics – unsurprising, considering that legal help publications have been their core business for decades. You can easily find an answer to just about any question you might have about starting a business.
On the other hand, Nolo’s LLC formation process leaves something to be desired. Nolo’s LLC formation webpages are structured in an awkward way, and important information about their services is scattered throughout the website, making bundles and add-ons difficult to properly research.
For example, Nolo doesn’t provide any pricing information about their services unless you start signing up for a service. They also include a number of upsells along the way, often without providing enough context info. Their registered agent service does not have a dedicated page at all.
If you decide to purchase a formation package that includes EIN filing, Nolo will not handle the entire process for you, as many other services do. Instead, they will send you a pre-filled form which you then have to file yourself. You could get an EIN much faster, by yourself, if you simply request one online with the IRS.
LegalZoom presents customers with a well-made and easy-to-navigate website, despite the large number of online legal services they offer. All of LegalZoom’s formation-related services have their own dedicated webpage, with pricing and supplemental information displayed front and center.
Their “Resources” section includes several hundred legal articles on formation-related topics and should answer any questions you might have about starting a small business. LegalZoom’s articles are presented in an easy-to-understand language and are written by legal experts. The order process itself is simple and straightforward and can be finished in just a few minutes.
Ease of Use winner: LegalZoom
We believe that LegalZoom does a much better job guiding customers through the formation process. Their website is modern, intuitive, and provides more information on the services they sell, and their pricing.
Nolo vs LegalZoom: Help & Support
If all goes well, your chosen formation service should be able to handle all the hassle of filing for a business on their own, and you might never need to contact them at all. But if something goes wrong and you need a quick answer or resolution to a problem, having competent customer support available is indispensable.
Many of the better services we reviewed have a highly knowledgeable customer service staff. While they cannot give legal advice, they can still answer many of your questions or address any issues specific to your particular case. Good services will also offer multiple contact methods, respond to your messages quickly, and be available outside standard office hours.
We try to point our users towards services that can ensure formations go through without any delays or errors. This is why we always look at companies’ help and support availability when drawing up reviews and comparisons.
Here is how Nolo and LegalZoom did on this front:
|Live Chat Support||No||No|
|Extended business hours||No||Yes|
|Website help section||Yes||Yes|
Nolo’s help and support service is fairly basic, and the presentation of their support section is somewhat confusing. Customers are initially sent to a page with multiple different “Contact Us” links, each with a different purpose (e.g. technical support vs customer service).
Nolo’s help section includes several pages with frequently asked questions, although most of them are about unrelated services. You can find their help section and FAQs here.
It takes a bit of digging to arrive at a page where customers can leave a message. To make matters worse, there is no phone number or email address immediately accessible for standard customer support. Your only option is to leave a message on Nolo’s website and hope they’ll get back to you quickly – we would have preferred to see a few more contact methods.
Nolo’s customer support is only available during standard business hours – between 8 am and 6 pm PT – there’s no mention of extended service hours.
LegalZoom has an easily accessible contact page and offers two contact methods – you can either call them or leave a message. They also have an email address – [email protected] – although finding it is more difficult than it should be.
Notably, LegalZoom’s customer service is available outside normal business hours. You can call them Monday through Friday between 5 am and 7 pm PT or between 7 am and 4 pm PT on weekends.
Their help section is well developed and includes a long list of frequently asked questions in addition to their library of articles.
Help and Support winner: LegalZoom
LegalZoom does a better overall job of providing customers with multiple contact methods and more flexible support times. They are one of a handful of companies that have customer service available during the weekend as well.
Nolo doesn’t list a phone number on their contact page and only lets customers leave a message through an online form. This is hardly ideal if you need to contact them in a hurry.
Do we recommend Nolo or LegalZoom?
No, we do not.
Nolo comes out slightly ahead in a direct comparison, however, their service is marred by multiple issues. Their prices are on the high side, and their turnaround times leave a lot to be desired.
Nolo’s customer service could be improved, their website does not offer as much information about their services as we’d like to see, and there are virtually no customer reviews available for their formation service.
LegalZoom’s main issue is their pricing – their service packages are some of the most expensive we have looked at, and they still don’t include some of the basic elements we consider essential. LegalZoom’s registered agent service is similarly expensive, costing three times as much as some alternative offers.
LegalZoom’s turnaround times certainly don’t justify their costs, with standard formations taking a month and customers having to pay extra for “internal prioritization.”
Neither of these two companies specializes in business formations – they are mainly known for offering legal documents and other legal services.
We suggest you consider some other, more specialized formation services, such as ZenBusiness.
To find out more about some of the services that we do recommend, check out our Best LLC Services or Best Incorporation Services articles, as well as our individual reviews of some of our top choices.