Costs to be aware of when starting a business in North Carolina


If you live in the south and want to start a business, North Carolina is one of the best states to begin your new venture. As of 2021, North Carolina had over 964,000 small businesses, which accounts for 99.6 percent of all companies within the state. All told, these enterprises employ 1.7 million people. Oddly enough, that figure only represents less than half (45.1 percent) of all workers.

Between 2019 and 2020, North Carolina saw a net increase of 2,700 new businesses, illustrating the state’s attractive foundation for entrepreneurs. No matter your industry or skill level, North Carolina can help you turn your idea into a thriving enterprise.

That said, while the state is beneficial for small businesses, you have to be aware of various costs and fees before you start. So, we’ll break down these expenses, so you’re ahead of the game and know what to expect. Here’s everything you need to know about the costs of starting a business in North Carolina.

Why Start a Business in North Carolina?

So, why are so many entrepreneurs choosing to create companies in North Carolina? Compared to other states in the region, NC is much more attractive for businesses, both big and small, for the following reasons:

  • Attractive Taxation – North Carolina has one of the lowest corporate tax rates at 2.5 percent. The state also offers tax credits for certain business expenses, such as property or technological development. Before starting your company, you should consult with a local tax professional to see what benefits you can reap. What also matters is the type of business you create, such as a corporation or LLC.
  • Incentive Programs – Not only does North Carolina not tax businesses as much as neighboring states, but it also offers rewards for various companies. For example, suppose you establish your business in an opportunity zone. In that case, you can get a temporary tax deferral, a permanent exclusion on long-term capital gains taxes, and step-up taxes if you reinvest in the state’s Opportunity Fund. Some businesses may also be exempt from paying sales taxes or get refunds from the government.
  • Low Cost of Living and Commercial Real Estate – Starting a business requires sufficient capital to obtain everything from your storefront to your inventory. Fortunately, the cost of running a business is relatively low in North Carolina, so you don’t have to have as much money upfront to open your doors. Also, the cost of living is pretty low, so you can enjoy the good life without getting into debt.

Overall, North Carolina is very attractive for new businesses of all shapes and sizes. Now, let’s dive into the various costs of starting a new company.

Costs to Consider Before Starting a North Carolina Business

As you develop your new enterprise, you’ll likely be thinking about renting a storefront, signing a lease, buying equipment, and purchasing inventory. However, you have to pay various expenses before even starting to handle any of these items. Here’s a rundown of everything you should budget for when developing your business plan.

Business Filing Fees

As we mentioned, the type of business you form affects everything from your tax status to the paperwork you have to file with the state. The four primary company entities you can create are a corporation, LLC, partnership, and sole proprietorship. Here are some of the fees you’ll have to pay (as of 2022) for each option:

  • Corporation Fees – It costs $125 to file articles of incorporation and $30 to reserve a corporation name with the state. You can file for a c-corp or an s-corp. S-corporations allow you to claim “pass-through” income, meaning you don’t get taxed twice. However, there are strict requirements to form an s-corporation, such as the size of your business. Typically, you want to incorporate your business if you’re going to create a separate entity from yourself.
  • LLC Fees – North Carolina requires all business owners to register their business as a separate legal entity. LLCs are often the best option for small businesses because they’re flexible and protect the owners from business liabilities. It costs $125 to file for an LLC, and there’s an annual fee of $200. The cost to reserve an LLC name is $10. 
  • Partnership Fees – You can form a partnership with one or more people, and it costs $50 to obtain a certificate with the state. You can develop a limited partnership where all partners are liable for business debts and obligations. Or, you can create a limited liability partnership (LLP), which removes these burdens, making the business more like an LLC. As a rule, if entering into a partnership, you should make it an LLP to prevent any potential financial disasters later on.
  • Sole Proprietorship Fees – It’s free to establish a sole proprietorship in any state because your business income is combined with your personal income for tax purposes. In some cases, you may not have to file any paperwork with the government – just report your earnings when submitting your taxes. The only time you have to pay is to register a DBA (doing business as) name with the state, which can cost between $10 and $100. Typically, a sole proprietorship works best if you’re a freelancer and want to make money as a business, not an individual.

Licenses and Permits

North Carolina is somewhat unique because it doesn’t require a general business license to operate in the state. Instead, you have to file specialized paperwork based on the type of business you’re running. As of 2022, there are over 700 different license options, and you have to check with your local county to see if you need to pay for any specific licensing within your area. You can find a link to the complete directory here. Let’s break down a couple of examples, so you know what to expect:

  • Life Insurance Agent – To become a life insurance agent in North Carolina, you have to file an application fee of $44, a new license fee of $50, and a miscellaneous fee of $38. This business type also requires 20 hours of pre-licensing education and a fingerprinting fee.
  • Barbershop Owner – To open a barbershop in the state, you must pay a $120 application fee and a new license fee of $50. You must also renew your license annually for $50 each year.
  • Wine Shop – You don’t have to pay an application fee when opening a wine shop, but you must pay $100 for a new license and $500 per year afterward to renew it.


As a new business, you have to make sure you’re paying your taxes on time and in full. Depending on the type of business you’re running, you may have multiple taxes to report and pay for. You can find a full list of tax burdens here, but let’s break down the most common options:

  • Sales and Use Tax – You must collect sales tax for all tangible personal goods, although some items are exempt. You don’t have to collect these taxes if you’re selling services (i.e., starting a mentoring business).
  • State and Local Taxes – When doing business in North Carolina, you have to pay various income and property taxes. The amounts will vary based on your exact location and business type.
  • State Withholding Taxes – If you hire any employees, you’re required to withhold income taxes for them and report them to the state. You don’t have to do this if you use independent contractors since they’re in charge of withholding their own taxes.

North Carolina also imposes franchise taxes, privilege taxes (for some businesses), and unemployment insurance taxes. So, it’s best to talk with a local tax preparer to ensure you don’t miss anything and wind up with an audit.

Utilities and Infrastructure

Once you find a suitable storefront and sign a lease, you must consider your monthly maintenance and upkeep costs. The exact numbers will vary greatly, depending on your business type. For example, if you’re opening a retail store, you’ll likely pay more for electricity because you’ll have the lights and air conditioner on all day. The most common infrastructure expenses include:

  • Rental Lease – Your lease agreement outlines how much you pay per month and when your payment is due.
  • Water – You may not have a water bill if your commercial space doesn’t have a bathroom or sink. However, many commercial landlords may include water in the lease agreement.
  • Electricity – Some commercial spaces have lights that stay on 24/7. Usually, the electricity bill is not included with your lease.
  • Insurance – You should always insure both your unit and the contents inside. If a disaster strikes, you don’t want to pay for repairs and replacement items out of pocket.

Now that you have a better idea of the costs associated with starting a business in North Carolina, you can make sure to save enough investment capital to handle each expense. Once you’ve settled these elements, you can focus on delivering superior products and service to your customers.