How to Start an LLC in California
- Same-Day Filings
- Local Registered Agent Services
- Free Usable Business Address
Why Hire Us to Start Your LLC in California?
Here’s the deal—yeah, you can totally work your way through the steps to starting an LLC in California with minimal financial cost. But you’ll likely run into some hiccups trying to start a California LLC on your own. That’s why we at Registered Agents of California strive to provide fast, comprehensive, and low-cost California LLC formation services. And we do it with a local touch, too. This is what we do for all of our clients:
- We handle California’s bureaucracy for you. You’ll have to figure out all of California’s state-specific business requirements, including California’s Annual Franchise Tax, the California Statement of Information, and more. But we won’t mince words: the bureaucracy can be a distraction from business. Hiring affordable local experts to provide registered agent services saves you time and money in the long run. To that end, Registered Agents of California includes free, pre-populated LLC documents to all of our clients.
- We list our business address instead of yours. If you choose to form your own California LLC, your personal information will become part of the public record when you file your California Articles of Organization. That means you’re going to end up having to deal with a mountain of junk mail, not to mention the fact that your home address is open to the public. That’s one of the primary reasons we offer free use of our permanent California business address to all of our clients.
- We include free digital mail forwarding. All of our registered agent clients get up to 10 free scans of business mail per year. We already provide same-day scanning of your registered agent mail as part of our service, but we allow clients to view 10 more non-registered agent scans. Either way, we scan and upload all important documents, so if you wanted something more comprehensive, check out our paid mail forwarding services.
- We make LLC maintenance and compliance quick and easy. When you form your LLC in California on your own, you’ll have to stay on top of your California annual reports along with all the other little headaches of maintaining a California business that add up to a major migraine. Our clients receive timely compliance reminders through their secure online account.
Don’t get us wrong—California’s a great place to start a business because of its wide-ranging opportunities for entrepreneurs, millions of residents (potential employees and customers!), and a GDP that rivals the top 5 nations in the world. But there’s no sugarcoating the fact that a state with such a big economy is also going to be engulfed in red tape.
We can cut through that red tape. Just click below and we’ll get to snipping immediately.
Start an LLC in California: 5 Easy Steps
Let’s say you want to start an LLC in California and you don’t mind impromptu solicitations at your personal home address. And you just so happen to have the time and patience to navigate California business filings. We fully support that entrepreneurial, bootstrapping spirit.
Below you’ll find everything you need to fulfill the business requirements of forming an LLC in California, whether you choose to go about it your own or have our local business formation service handle all the dirty work.
1. Name Your California LLC
When it comes to naming your California LLC, you have a lot of freedom. But you do need to meet a handful of California’s legal requirements.
Your LLC name must:
- Include an “identifier.” This just means that your business name needs to include your entity type. For an LLC, you can choose whatever variation of “limited liability company” suits your style: “LLC,” “L.L.C.,” “Limited Liability Company,” “Ltd. Co,” etc.
- Exclude any deceptive words. California won’t let you include words in your LLC’s name that suggest your business is a government institution, insurer, bank, or charitable foundation. This means you can’t use words like “bank,” “insurer,” or “municipal.”
- Be unique. If someone else is using your desired business name, you’ll need to choose a new business name. You can’t get around this problem by switching up punctuation or tacking on “the” to the beginning of your business name—California prohibits using a business name that is “deceptively similar” to another business name registered with the California Secretary of State.
To learn more, see the California Code of Regulations on Business Names.
How do I know if my California business name is unique?
You can search for business name availability by using the California Secretary of State’s Business Search.
Can I get a DBA name when I form my LLC?
Yup! DBAs, which are often referred to as “trade names” of “fictitious names,” allow you to do business under a different name than the one your LLC is registered as. If you’re thinking of getting a California DBA, we can handle that for you. After you hire us, you can request “Trade Name Service” through your online account for $100 plus state fees and we’ll file your Fictitious Business Name (FBN) statement for you.
Tip: Reserve your CA business name in advance.
Holding off on forming your LLC for tax reasons? Or just not quite organized yet? You can get a little more sleep at night knowing that your perfect business name is reserved by filing the Name Reservation Request with the California Secretary of State. This costs $10 and will reserve your California LLC name for 60 days.
2. Hire a California Registered Agent
California LLCs are required to appoint a registered agent (called an “agent for service of process” in California) to accept legal mail on behalf of your business. You’ll need to have your registered agent’s information ready to go before you complete your formation documents.
A California registered agent must:
- Have a physical street address
- Keep regular office hours
- Agree to accept (and forward!) legal mail on your behalf
If you meet these requirements, you can be your own registered agent. There’s one drawback, however—your address will go on the public record for all the world to see (including aggressive marketers). Hire us for California Registered Agent Service ($50/year) and we’ll let you use our California business address on your public documents.
Why do I need a California Registered Agent?
California law requires you to appoint a California registered agent, and the California Secretary of State won’t accept your formation documents unless you have one. Why? Because if you get served legal paperwork (like a summons or lawsuit), someone needs to be present to accept it during normal business hours. Many business owners log a majority of hours outside of a traditional office, making it difficult to accept service of process. If you hire us, we’ll accept legal paperwork on your behalf and scan it into your secure online account that day.
3. File Articles of Organization in California
If you have your LLC name and your California registered agent information ready to go, you can move onto the next step: filing Articles of Organization with the California Secretary of State.
This paperwork officially registers your California LLC with the Secretary of State. It’s the step that establishes your business as a separate legal entity. In California, you can submit your Articles of Organization online, by mail, or in person. You can fill out and submit the Articles of Organization yourself or hire us to do it for you for $240, state fees included ($70 Articles of Organization fee and $20 Statement of Information fee). You’ll also get one year of registered agent service, too.
Tips for Filling out the California Articles of Organization
The California Articles of Organization seem straightforward enough, but there are a few sections that tend to trip people up. If you make a mistake, the California Secretary of State will likely reject your filing (and set you back a few weeks). Here are our tips for getting it right the first time. To fill out your Articles of Organization, you’ll need to provide the following:
- Your LLC business name. If you followed the tips in step one of this guide, you should be ready with a clever (and legally compliant) business name to fill in here.
- Your LLC business address. Don’t make a rookie mistake here by listing a PO box. Your business address must be a physical street address in the state of California. And remember: the address you list here will be posted online. Your business address doesn’t have to be where you actually work, though. Hire us, and we’ll provide a California business address for you to use at no extra cost.
- A mailing address. This isn’t required, but if you want to list a mailing address, you can. It’s fine to list a PO box here.
- Your Agent for Service of Process. If you’re stumped on what to put here, go back to step two of our guide. You’ll need to list your California registered agent information here, including the agent’s physical street address. Again, no PO boxes allowed. And yes, this address goes on the public record.
- Your LLC’s management structure. This is just a box you check, but it’s important. It indicates whether your LLC will be managed by “one manager,” “more than one manager,” or “all limited liability members.” Members are the owners of an LLC, while managers are appointed by members to make operational decisions on behalf of the LLC.
- Signature from an organizer. Don’t let the word “organizer” confuse you. The organizer is whoever is filling out this form on behalf of your LLC. Hire us, and we’ll sign here.
How much does it cost to file Articles of Organization?
Typically, filing Articles of Organization in California costs $70.
Tip: File your Initial Statement of Information now, too.
Within 90 days of forming a California LLC, you’ll need to file an Initial Statement of Information for $20. It’s easy to put off, but if you forget, you could get hit with a $250 late fee. We recommend filing your Initial Statement of Information now, while you’re already up to your eyeballs in paperwork. That’s the way we do it—hire us, and we’ll file both forms for you. You won’t have to file another Statement of Information for two years (and you can hire us to file that one for you, too).
4. File BOI Report
As of January 1st 2024, most LLCs, corporations, and other entities that do business in the US are required to file a BOI report to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN).
This report provides increased oversight on beneficial owners and company applicants. This information is not public and you can file online for free.
What is a beneficial owner?
Any person who directly or indirectly:
- exercises substantial control over the business (CEO, senior offices, etc.)
- owns 25% or more of the company
- receives substantial economic benefits from business assets
Note: The company applicant is the person who formed the company (and if different, the person who directed it be formed). Only companies formed in 2024 or after submit company applicant information.
When is my BOI report due?
- Formed BEFORE 2024: Due January 1, 2025
- Formed IN or AFTER 2024: Due within 30 days of filing
What information is included in the BOI report?
- Company name/DBAs
- US business street address
- Formation jurisdiction
Beneficial owners and company applicants must include:
5. Get an EIN
An Employer Identification Number (EIN) is the number the IRS uses to identify your LLC for tax purposes. Not every business is required to obtain an EIN (some business owners just use their SSN), but getting one is easy and helps separate you from your LLC.
Remember, one of the key reasons for starting an LLC in California rather than operating as a sole proprietorship is to secure your personal assets from any liabilities your business incurs. That’s why it’s called a “limited liability company.” Getting an EIN is a crucial step to take in separating your business from your personal assets. It will come in handy for paying taxes, setting up a business bank account, and applying for local permits and licenses. You can apply for an EIN with the IRS for free.
Tip: Let us get your EIN.
6. Open a Business Bank Account
This isn’t exactly a legal requirement, but we can’t recommend it enough. If you have an LLC in California, you should open a separate bank account for your business.
If you let your business money intermingle with your personal money, you’re eroding the legal separation between you and your business. This could potentially damage your limited liability status. It might not seem like a problem now, but if you ever face a lawsuit, a court might hold you personally liable for the debts of your business.
How do I open a California business bank account?
To open a business bank account, you’ll likely need to show the bank your California Articles of Organization, your LLC Operating Agreement, and your EIN.
Your LLC is on the books in California. Now what? Depending on the nature of your business, there may still be California state requirements to take care of.
- Businesses with employees will need to register for a payroll tax number with the California Employment Development Department.
- Businesses selling “tangible personal property” need to register for a Seller’s Permit with the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration.
- All businesses in California have to pay the annual California Franchise Tax (a minimum of $800).
- California LLCs are required to submit a Statement of Information every two years.
Once your state requirements are covered, you can move on to researching your local county or city requirements. For example, many municipalities in California require businesses to obtain a Business Tax Certificate to pay city business taxes. You’ll need to get in touch with your local city government to find out your local requirements. We have guides to Starting a Business in Los Angeles, Starting a Business in San Diego, and Starting a Business in San Francisco.