How to Start an LLC in California
It’s easy to form a limited liability company (LLC) in California online yourself. Just follow these steps:
- Name Your LLC
- Choose A Registered Agent
- File CA Formation Documents
- File Initial Statement of Information
- Create an Operating Agreement
- Get an EIN
Starting a California LLC is Easy
You can start a California LLC online yourself by filing the California Articles of Organization with the Secretary of State. The cost to create an LLC in California is $70.
Follow our free How to Start an LLC in California guide below to get started today.
Step 1: Create A Name For Your California LLC
Before you register your LLC, you'll need to come up with a name. Your business name needs to be catchy for branding purposes and legitimate for legal purposes.
We go into depth on this topic in our LLC naming guide. We’ll go over the basics below.
Naming Your LLC
First, brainstorm some possibilities. Use our LLC name generator to get the ideas flowing.
Next, make sure your name meets California guidelines:
- it contains the words limited liability company, limited company, LLC, or L.L.C.
- it doesn't contain the words bank, trust, trustee, credit union, or insurer
- it's distinguishable from any other entity or fictitious business name (DBA) registered in California
- full list of California naming guidelines.
Next, do a California name search with the Secretary of State to find out if your name is available in California.
If your business name is available and meets guidelines, you’ll be able to register it when you file your California Articles of Organization with the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.
Is the URL available? Before you commit 100% to a name, check to see if there’s a good web domain available.
We recommend buying your domain right away because even if launching a business website isn’t on your radar right now, it will be soon.
Step 2: Appoint a California Agent for Service of Process
When you file your Articles of Organization, you'll need to list a registered agent, known as an agent for service of process in California.
A registered agent's job is to accept legal documents like service of process and tax notices for your LLC.
Your registered agent can be a person or a registered agent service. You can act as your own registered agent, but many business owners choose to use a registered agent service.
Here are a few things to think about before you decide to act as your own registered agent:
- You’ll need to be available during normal (9 am - 5 pm) business hours at the address you provide
- If you run your business from home, you’ll have to make your personal address public
- You could be served with a lawsuit in front of your family or coworkers
Recommended: Most registered agent services offer a year of registered agent service free when you form an LLC with them.
Step 3: File the California Articles of Organization
It’s time to officially form your LLC by filing the LLC-1 Articles of Organization with the California Secretary of State.
Recommended: Now is a good time to decide if your LLC will be member-managed vs manager-managed.
You'll need to know the following information to complete each "Article":
- Entity name
- Name and address of the agent for service of process
- Management structure
For more detailed help with completing the form, visit our California Articles of Organization guide.
Mail Your Certificate of Formation:
Secretary of State
Business Entities Filings
P.O. Box 944228
Sacramento, CA 94244
Or submit it in person at:
Secretary of State
1500 11th St.
Sacramento, CA 95814
How long does it take to get an LLC approved? The standard processing time is 5 days.
Step 4: File the Initial Statement of Information
You'll need to file an Initial Statement of Information (Form LLC-12) with the California Secretary of State within 90 days of forming your LLC. This can be done online, in person, or by mail.
Secretary of State, Statement of Information Unit
P.O. Box 944230
Sacramento, CA 94244
Submit In Person:
California Secretary of State Sacramento Office
1500 11th Street
Sacramento, CA 95814
Step 5: Create A California LLC Operating Agreement
Creating a California LLC operating agreement is the only way to legally lock down your LLC’s management and ownership structure. Having this document in place will give you something to return to if a dispute or lawsuit arises.
Even single-member LLCs benefit from having an operating agreement.
Your operating agreement should outline the following:
- Each member’s responsibilities
- How new members will be admitted
- How existing members may transfer or terminate their membership
- How profits and dividends will be distributed
You can add as many provisions as you want, as long as they don't conflict with California business law. Take a look at our What is an Operating Agreement guide to learn more.
Download a template or create a custom Free Operating Agreement using our tool.
Step 6: Obtain An EIN (Employer Identification Number) For Your LLC
An Employer Identification Number (EIN) is like a Social Security number (SSN) for your company. The IRS and the state of California will use this number to track your business activity.
Your EIN will come in handy when it’s time to:
- Open a business bank account
- File Federal and State taxes
- Hire employees
The best way to get an EIN for your LLC in California is by using the free online application on the IRS website.
Read our Get an EIN guide for instructions.
Steps After Forming an LLC
After forming your LLC, it's important to:
- Open a Business Bank Account. A business bank account legally separates personal finances from business finances. This separation is required to maintain your LLC's corporate veil (your limited liability protection).
- Research California Business Licenses and Permits. For help, visit our How to Get a California Business License guide. There are also business license services that can help.
- File Your California LLC Biennial Report. File online with the California Secretary of State every second year by the end of the month in which your LLC was formed.
Need Help Forming an LLC?
Read our Best LLC Services review to learn more about pricing and packages.