How to Start an LLC in California

L L C members happy after starting an L L C

It’s easy to form a limited liability company (LLC) in California online yourself. Just follow these steps:

  1. Name Your LLC
  2. Choose A Registered Agent
  3. File CA Formation Documents
  4. File Initial Statement of Information
  5. Create an Operating Agreement
  6. Get an EIN


Or, you can use an online LLC service to form an LLC:


four point seven out of five stars ZenBusiness ($39 + State Fees)

three out of five stars LegalZoom ($149 + State Fees)

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.

Steps to form an L L C in California

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.

 

Find a Domain Now

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Once you register a domain name for your LLC, consider setting up a business phone system to establish credibility and enhance your customer service. Nextiva provides a plethora of useful features and a quick, easy setup. Try Nextiva.

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.

You can file online with the Secretary of State or fill out a hard copy of California Form LLC1 and mail it in or deliver it in person. The filing fee is $70. 

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":

  1. Entity name
  2. Name and address of the agent for service of process
  3. 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.

File Online with the Secretary of State

Download Form and Return In Person or By Mail

Fee: $20

Mail to:

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:

Need Help Forming an LLC?

Read our Best LLC Services review to learn more about pricing and packages.

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