Incorporating in California
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Ready to incorporate in California? Starting a business in California takes time and paperwork, but don’t let that stop you. You can hire a local business formation service like us to file your paperwork. Our local specialists know California business formation and maintenance better than anyone, and we offer a suite of services from same-day incorporation to registered agent services—all at a low cost.
Or you can navigate the process yourself. Either way, let us help—we form California corporations every day. Here’s our step-by-step guide to incorporating in California, complete with tips to get you through the tricky parts.
- Name your California Corporation
- Hire a California Registered Agent
- File Articles of Incorporation in California
- Get an EIN
- Open a Business Bank Account
1. Name Your California Corporation
Plenty of aspiring business owners start the incorporation process with the perfect business name in mind. If that’s you—great. Just make sure your business name meets California’s legal requirements.
For a California corporation, your business name must:
- Exclude misleading language. This means that you can’t include any words that imply your corporation is a government agency, insurer, a charitable foundation, or an entity type that it’s not. You can’t use words like “LLC,” “insurer,” “broker,” or “commission,” among others.
- Use an identifier. This is just a word or abbreviation that lets the public know that your business is a corporation. California corporations can use “company,” “incorporated,” “inc,” “co,” and others.
- Be distinguishable. Your business name must be unique in California. If your desired name is already in use, you’ll have to choose another one. And adding a comma or an article like “the” won’t help, either—California won’t let you use a name that is “deceptively similar” to another name.
For more information about naming your California corporation, read the California Secretary of State’s Name Regulations.
How can I check California business name availability?
Do a quick search on the California Secretary of State’s Business Search to see if any other businesses are using your desired name.
Tip: Reserve your corporate name in California ahead of time.
Maybe you’re holding off on incorporating in California to secure capital or for tax reasons. In the meantime, you can protect your dream business name by filing the Name Reservation Request with the California Secretary of State for $10. This will reserve your name for 60 days.
2. Hire a California Registered Agent
By law, California corporations are required to appoint an agent for service of process in California. Most states refer to this role as a registered agent. The main purpose of a California registered agent is to accept legal mail on behalf of your business.
To fill out your Articles of Incorporation (the next step), you’ll need to have your registered agent’s information at the ready.
Can I be my own California registered agent?
Technically, yes. But registered agents play an important role in keeping your business legally compliant and choosing (or becoming) one shouldn’t be taken lightly.
A California registered agent must:
- Have a physical street address
- Be present during regular office hours
- Agree to accept (and forward) legal mail on your behalf
Many business owners who work outside of a traditional office setting choose to hire a California registered agent. Hiring a registered agent ensures that someone is always available to receive your legal mail and keeps your personal address off the public record (which can spare you a lot of unsolicited mail).
For $50/year, we’ll serve as your California registered agent and provide you with a California business address for your public documents.
Why do I need a California registered agent?
It’s the law. In fact, the California Secretary of State will reject your filing if you don’t list one.
But beyond fulfilling your legal requirement, it’s crucial to have a registered agent you can depend on. No one—especially not an entrepreneur starting out—expects to face a lawsuit. But if you do, you’ll want to know right away. When our clients receive legal mail in our Redding, CA office, we scan and upload it to their secure online account that day.
Get a Registered Agent
3. File Articles of Incorporation in California
Corporate name: check. Registered agent: check. Now it’s time to file Articles of Incorporation with the California Secretary of State.
This is a big step. Articles of Incorporation are the documents that officially establish your corporation in California. You can complete and submit your Articles of Incorporation yourself or hire us to do it for you for $275 total (that includes state filing fees and one year of our California Registered Agent Service).
Tips for Filling out the California Articles of Incorporation
To fill out your Articles of Incorporation, you’ll need to provide:
- Your corporate name. Remember, it needs to be unique, exclude any misleading language, and include an identifier.
- Your corporation’s business address. As the form states, you can’t list a PO box here. One fact that the form doesn’t state? The business address you list here will become part of the public record. If you don’t want that to happen, hire us and we will provide a California business address for you to list here.
- A mailing address. This is optional—a PO box is fine.
- Your California registered agent information. If you’re not sure what this means, go back to step two of this guide. Hire us for Registered Agent Service and we’ll give you our information to list here.
- How many shares of stock your corporation is authorizing. This is where you decide how many shares of stock your corporation will initially create (these shares aren’t issued at this time; just created). For more, see our guide to understanding Shares of Stock in California.
- Your incorporator’s signature. Don’t let the word “incorporator” slow you down—it just means someone you’ve authorized to sign your Articles of Incorporation. When you hire us, we’ll sign.
How much do the California Articles of Incorporation cost?
$0 at the moment. Through June 2023, the state has made this filing free. Previously, filing the Articles of Incorporation in California cost $100.
Tip: File your Initial Statement of Information early.
After you incorporate in California, you have 90 days to file an Initial Statement of Information for $25. If you forget to file, you’ll face a $250 penalty. Why not take care of it now?
When you hire us for California Incorporation, we take care of both forms for you. You won’t have to file another Statement of Information for a year (and we can do that one for you, too, with our renewal service).
Incorporate in California
4. Get an EIN
An EIN, or Employer Identification Number, is a number issued to your business by the IRS. Kind of like your business’s own social security number, it’s the number the IRS will use to identify your corporation for tax purposes.
Not every business needs an EIN (some business owners use their own SSNs), but corporations do. Having one will simplify tasks like setting up a business bank account, applying for local permits, and paying taxes. You can apply for an EIN from the IRS online for free.
Tip: Hire us to get your EIN.
When you hire us to incorporate in California, adding on an EIN is only $50.
5. Open a Business Bank Account
Once your corporation is on the books in California, it’s time to open a corporate bank account. Keeping your personal finances and business finances separate is crucial.
Requirements vary from bank to bank, but you’ll probably need to bring your California Articles of Incorporation, your corporate bylaws, and your EIN.
Congratulations—you’ve incorporated in California. So what are the next steps?
To begin with, plan ahead: all businesses in California have to pay the California Franchise Tax, which is a minimum of $800 yearly.
There may still be some California state requirements to check off, depending on what kind of work your business will be doing.
- Have employees? You’ll need to register for a payroll tax number with the California Employment Development Department.
- Selling products or goods? You’ll need to register for a Seller’s Permit with the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration.
California County & City Requirements
State requirements covered? It’s time to look for any local business requirements. Many local governments in California require businesses to register for a Business Tax Certificate to pay city business taxes. Businesses in unincorporated areas might need to register with their county. The best way to figure out your local requirements is contacting your local city and county government.
In one of California’s urban centers? See our guides to Starting a Business in Los Angeles, Starting a Business in San Diego, and Starting a Business in San Francisco.
Don’t let California’s onerous incorporation process faze you. Give us a call or shoot us a message. We’re here to help.