How to Start an LLC in California in 6 Easy Steps (2024)

Ready to start an LLC in California? Follow these 6 simple 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, save time by using a trusted formation service:

four point eight out of five stars Northwest ($29 + State Fees)

three point nine out of five stars LegalZoom ($249 + State Fees)

L L C members happy after starting an L L C

Starting a California LLC is Easy

Starting a limited liability company (LLC) in California is the best way to gain personal liability protection and add credibility to your small business.

To create a California LLC, you will need to submit the Articles of Organization — a legal document that officially establishes your business — to the Secretary of State. You can apply online or by mail, and the filing fee is $70.

Follow our How to Start an LLC in California guide below to get started today.

For more information on how to form an LLC in any state, visit our How to Start an LLC guide.

Step 1: Create A Name For Your California LLC

Before you do a California LLC registration, 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 the following guidelines:

  • Contains the words limited liability company, limited company, LLC, or L.L.C.
  • Doesn't contain words that imply the company is a banking or financial institution or that it’s affiliated with a local, state, or federal government agency
  • Is distinguishable from any other entity or fictitious business name (DBA) registered in California
  • Complies with the 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.

If your business name is available and meets all guidelines, you’ll be able to register it as an LLC 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

Powered by

Using a California Fictitious Business Name (DBA)

A California DBA (doing business as), also known as a fictitious business name, is any registered name that a company operates under that isn't its legal business name. A fictitious business name can be used by any type of venture, including a sole proprietorship, partnership, or limited liability company.

Learn how to get a DBA in our California DBA guide.

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 California LLC. To learn more about California Registered Agents, read our guide.

Your registered agent can be a person or a registered agent service authorized to conduct business in the state. You can act as your own registered agent, but many LLC owners choose to use professional services.

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 regular business hours (9 am - 5 pm) at the address you provide
  • If you run your venture 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: Northwest offers a free year of registered agent services when you form your California LLC ($29 plus state fees) with them.

Step 3: File the Articles of Organization

It’s time to officially form your venture by filing the LLC-1 Articles of Organization with the California Secretary of State.

You can file your California LLC articles online with the Secretary of State or fill out a hard copy of Form LLC1 and mail it in or deliver it in person. The filing fee is currently $70 ($85 for in-person filing).

Recommended: Now is a good time to decide if your company 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 a California 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 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 California Secretary of State:

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 operating agreements.

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 the state’s 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)

An Employer Identification Number (EIN) is like a Social Security number (SSN) for your company. The IRS and the state 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 is by using the free online application on the IRS website.

Read our Get an EIN guide for instructions.

Need Help Forming an LLC?

We’ve reviewed and ranked the Top 8 LLC formation services.

Best LLC Services

Steps After Forming a California LLC

After forming your new venture, it's important to take the following steps:

Open A Business Bank Account

A business bank account helps separate personal and business finances, which is required to maintain your California LLC's corporate veil. A corporate veil protects your personal assets from creditors in potential lawsuits against your company.

Learn more by reading this guide to Banking for Entrepreneurs. For a multi-member LLC, you'll also want to set up capital accounts for members. We also recommend checking out our review of the best business bank accounts.

Get A Business Credit Card

A business credit card will help separate personal and business expenses while building your company's credit history. A strong credit history will be useful for raising capital in the form of venture capital, angel investment, or small business loans.

Set Up Business Accounting

Hiring a business accountant is one of the best ways to ensure you’re taking advantage of LLC tax benefits; possibly saving you and your venture thousands of dollars per year.

When forming an LLC in California, it’s a good idea to start a relationship with a business accountant as soon as you start your venture to help set your company up for success.

Get Business Insurance

Business insurance helps manage risk. The most common forms are general liability, professional liability, and workers' compensation.

Find out the real cost of getting insurance for your business. Get a free quote or call 855-965-3168.

Keep Your Company Compliant

Research California Business Licenses and Permits

To operate an LLC in California, you will need to comply with federal, state, and local government regulations such as health permits, building permits, and signage permits. 

Business licensing and permit requirements vary from state to state. To get started, visit our How to Get a Business License in California guide. To help facilitate this process, you can also utilize a business license service.

File Your California LLC Statement of Information

California limited liability companies must file either Form LLC-12: Statement of Information or Form LLC-12NC: Statement of Information - No Change every two years with the Secretary of State. The filing fee for both form types is $20 and can be filed online, by mail, or in person.

Understand State Tax Requirements

Businesses selling a physical product are generally required to register for a seller’s permit through the California Taxation website. Visit our California Sales Tax guide to learn more.

If you have employees in the state, you will need to register for employer taxes, including unemployment insurance tax and employee withholding tax, through the California Employment Development Department’s e-Services for Business portal.

Businesses in California must also pay an annual tax of $800 for doing business in the state, regardless of whether your LLC is conducting any business activity. What’s more, limited liability companies must pay a fee based on their annual revenue, which starts at $900.

Understand Your LLC’s Federal Tax Requirements

Most California LLCs will need to report their income to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) each year using Form 1065: Partnership Return (multi-member LLC) or Form 1040 - Schedule C (single-member LLC).

How you pay yourself will affect your federal taxes. Visit our guide to learn more about how to pay yourself from your LLC.

Know Your LLC’s Federal Tax Election Options

Pass-through taxation entails a business’s profits passing through to the LLC member’s individual tax returns. An LLC is taxed as a pass-through entity, also known as a disregarded entity.

Once this process is completed and after any tax-deductible expenses are taken out, the LLC members pay self-employment taxes and income tax on their portion of the business income.

Alternatively, California LLCs can choose to elect to be taxed as an S corporation (S corp) or C corporation (C corp). If S corporation tax status is elected, LLC members can be taxed as employees of the company, potentially reducing tax burden.

More Resources

Need Help Forming an LLC?

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

California LLC FAQs

What is the California Franchise Tax Board (FTB)?

The California FTB is a state agency that administers two major taxes: the personal income tax, annual franchise tax, and the corporation tax.

Learn more in our LLC Taxes By State guide.

What are the LLC documents that must be submitted to the California Secretary of State?

The Articles of Organization is the most important document that must be submitted to the Secretary of State in order to establish limited liability status for an LLC in California. It must include the name and contact information of the company, the name and physical address of its registered agent, and the name and address of its members or managers.

The Statement of Information must also be filed within 90 days of formation, and it includes additional contact information as well as information about the company's finances.

Learn more in our California LLC Formation Checklist.

How much does an LLC cost in California?

If you're thinking about starting an LLC in California, you'll need to file Articles of Organization with the Secretary of State. The current filing fee is $70. You'll also need to appoint a registered agent for your LLC. This can be done by appointing an individual who resides in California, or by appointing a commercial registered agent service.

Learn more in our Cost to Form an LLC in California guide.

Do you have to pay the $800 California LLC fee the first year?

In California, you have to pay an $800 Franchise Tax beginning the second-year your company is in business. You must continue paying this tax every year thereafter. You do not have to pay it your first year in business. You must submit form FTB 3522 when filing this annual tax.

In addition to paying an $800 Franchise Tax if your LLC estimates earning more than $250,000 it must pay an estimated tax, filing FTB 3536. The amount of this estimated tax varies based on how much your venture estimates earning beyond the $250,000 in annual earnings.

To send these documents by mail:

Franchise Tax Board
PO Box 942857
Sacramento, CA 94257-0531

Is an LLC worth it in California?

There are a lot of factors to consider when deciding whether or not to form an LLC. One key factor is personal liability. LLC members are not, under most circumstances, personally liable for the debts and obligations of the venture, whereas owners of sole proprietorships are personally liable for all business debts and obligations.

Overall, LLCs are great business entities for companies operating in the state because of the limited personal liability protection in place.

Learn more in our 5 Best Questions to Ask Before Starting an LLC guide.

Do I need a registered agent for my LLC?

If you are a business owner, you should be aware of the different types of registered agents and what professional services they provide. A registered agent is a person or company that agrees to receive legal documents on behalf of your venture.

Having a registered agent ensures that someone is always available to receive service of process during normal business hours. It also allows your LLC to have a business address instead of a residential address.

Learn more in our What does a Registered Agent Do? guide.

Do I need an LLC to hire employees in California?

Businesses are not required to start an LLC in order to hire employees in California. But, if you plan to grow your company and would like to protect your personal assets while doing so, we recommend starting one.

To learn more about the LLC formation process and hiring employees check with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) about obtaining an Employer Identification Number (EIN) and with the California Secretary of State when forming a business entity that plans to hire employees.

Learn more in our How to Hire Employees guide.

Do I need a federal tax identification number for LLC formation in California?

The answer is: it depends. If your LLC has more than one owner, or if it will have employees, then you need an EIN. However, if your LLC is owned by a single member and will not have any employees, you may not need one. You can check with the California Secretary of State to find out for sure. You can get a free EIN number through the Internal Revenue Service.

Learn more in our What Is an EIN Number guide.

How do you write an operating agreement for a California LLC?

The first step in creating an operating agreement is to identify the members of the company and their roles. Typically, the operating agreement will identify who is responsible for managing the company and provide guidelines for making decisions. The agreement should also specify how profits and losses are to be shared among the members and outline any restrictions on the transfer of ownership interests.

Once the members have been identified, the next step is to agree on the terms of the operating agreement. This may include deciding how often meetings will be held, what types of decisions can be made without a meeting, and what qualifies as an emergency requiring immediate action. The document should also include provisions for handling disputes among members and describe how information about the company will be shared among members.

Use our free operating agreement template to get started.

How much tax does an LLC pay in California?

First, it's important to understand that there are two types of taxes that apply to LLCs in California: annual franchise tax, which is a flat fee of $800, and sales tax, which is calculated based on the total gross receipts of the LLC. In addition, all LLCs in California are subject to federal income taxes.

If an LLC sells products that are subject to sales tax, it will need to collect and pay sales tax on those products.

If hiring employees you will also be responsible for paying employer taxes and having the correct federal business licenses up to date.

Learn more in our California LLC Tax guide.

What is the LLC Biennial Report?

If you have formed a California limited liability company, you must stay on top of your state's filing deadlines in order to stay in good standing. One such deadline is the biennial report or statement of information, due every two years.

The biennial report requires certain information about your company, such as its name and registered agent, and must be filed with the California Secretary of State.

If you miss the biennial report deadline, the Secretary of State reports this to the Franchise Tax Board which accesses a penalty.

Until the penalty is resolved you won't be able to transact business in the state, be able to sue another business or be able to defend against another business suing your company. At worst, your LLC could be administratively dissolved.

Learn more in our California LLC Biennial Report guide.

Does a domestic LLC formed outside California need to register as a foreign LLC in California if it does business in California?

If a domestic LLC (registered in another state) is transacting business in California then it is required to register as a California foreign LLC. For example, if you register a company in Florida that sells jewelry and you run online display ads targeting Californians and orders start coming in, then you’re required to register as a foreign LLC in California.

LLC owners registering a foreign LLC business structure are required to file California LLC articles of organization, acquire the right business licenses, have a registered agent, and file a foreign LLC registration form. Taxes must be paid to the appropriate California taxing authority.