Starting an LLC in California is Easy
LLC California - To start a California LLC, you'll need to file your Articles of Organization with the California Secretary of State, which costs $70 online. You can apply online, in person, or by mail or fax. The Articles of Organization is the legal document that officially creates your California limited liability company.
Follow our step-by-step How to Start an LLC in California guide to get started today. You can learn more about LLCs and their benefits in our What is an LLC guide.
STEP 1: Name Your California LLC
Choosing a company name is the first and most important step in starting your LLC. Be sure to choose a name that complies with California naming requirements and is easily searchable by potential clients.
1. Follow the naming guidelines for a California LLC:
- Your name must include the phrase “limited liability company,” or one of its abbreviations or words: “LLC, L.L.C., Limited, Ltd., Company or Co.”
- Your name cannot include words that could confuse your LLC with a government agency (FBI, Treasury, State Department, etc.).
- Restricted words (e.g. Bank, Attorney, University) may require additional paperwork and a licensed individual, such as a doctor or lawyer, to be part of your LLC.
- For a complete list of naming rules in California, you can read California's Code of Regulations.
2. Is the name available in California? Make sure the name you want isn't already taken by doing a name search on the State of California website.
3. Is the URL available? We recommend that you check online to see if your business name is available as a web domain. Even if you don't plan to make a business website today, you may want to buy the URL in order to prevent others from acquiring it.
Find a Domain Now
Now that you have verified your name and secured the URL you may select a professional service to complete the LLC formation process for you. We recommend using one of these professional services:
Northwest ($39 + State Fees)
LegalZoom ($149 + State Fees)
FAQ: Naming a California LLC
What is an LLC?
How do I name my California LLC?
You must follow the California LLC naming guidelines when choosing a name for your LLC:
- Include the phrase "limited liability company" or one of its abbreviations (LLC or L.L.C.).
- Do not use words that could confuse your business with a government agency (FBI, State Department, CIA, etc.).
- Receive the proper licensing when using the words such as lawyer or doctor.
If you are having trouble coming up with a name for your LLC use our LLC Name Generator. That will not only find a unique name for your business but an available URL to match.
After you get your business name, your next step is getting a unique logo. Get your unique logo using our Free Logo Generator.
Do I need to get a DBA or Trade Name for my business?
Most LLCs do not need a DBA. The name of the LLC can serve as your company’s brand name and you can accept checks and other payments under that name as well. However, you may wish to register a DBA if you would like to conduct business under another name.
To learn more about DBAs in your state, read our How to File a DBA guide.
STEP 2: Choose a Registered Agent in California
You are required to appoint a California Agent for Service of Process for your California LLC. An Agent for Service of Process is more commonly known as a Registered Agent in other states.
What is an Agent of Service of Process? An Agent Of Service Of Process is a person or business entity responsible for receiving important tax forms, legal documents, notice of lawsuits, and official government correspondence on behalf of your business. Think of your registered agent as your business' point of contact with the state.
Who can be an Agent Of Service Of Process? An Agent of Service of Process must be a full-time resident of California or a corporation, such as an Agent of Service of Process, authorized to conduct business in the state of California. You may elect an individual within the company including yourself.
To learn more about California Registered Agents, read our full guide.
Recommended: Northwest provides the first year of registered agent service free with LLC formation ($39 + State Fees)
FAQ: Nominating a California Registered Agent
Can I be my own Registered Agent?
Yes. You or anyone else in your company can serve as the registered agent for your LLC. Read about being your own registered agent.
STEP 3: File Your California LLC Articles of Organization
To register your California LLC, you'll need to file Form LLC-1 - Articles of Organization with the California Secretary of State. You can apply online, by mail, or in person.
Now is a good time to determine whether your LLC will be member-managed vs. manager-managed.
Note: California has waived LLC formation fees from July 1, 2022, to June 30, 2023.
OPTION 1: File Form LLC-1 Online With the State of California
- OR -
OPTION 2: File by Mail or In Person
State Filing Cost: $70 when filing online or by mail (Nonrefundable)
Secretary of State
Business Entities Filings
P.O. Box 944228
Sacramento, CA 94244
1500 11th St.
Sacramento, CA 95814
Mon-Fri. 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Note (if filing in-person): Articles filed in person at the Secretary of State Office in Sacramento are subject to an additional $15 counter drop-off fee. This provides priority processing over applications submitted by mail. The filing counter is on the 3rd floor.
For help with completing the form, visit our California Articles of Organization guide.
If you’re expanding your existing LLC to the State of California, you'll need to form a Foreign LLC.
FAQ: Filing California LLC Documents
What is the processing time to form my LLC in California?
5 business days online or by mail, but may be expedited for an additional fee.
4–Hour - $500.00
Same Day - $750.00
24–Hour - $350.00
What is the difference between a domestic California LLC and foreign LLC?
An LLC is referred to as a "domestic LLC" when it conducts business in the state where it was formed. Normally when we refer to an LLC we are actually referring to a domestic LLC. A foreign LLC must be formed when an existing LLC wishes to expand its business to another state. If you are filing as a foreign California LLC read our guide for more information.
STEP 4: File the Initial Statement of Information
All California LLCs are required to file an Initial Statement of Information (Form LLC-12) with the California Secretary of State within 90 days of formation. This can be done online, in-person, or by mail.
OPTION 1: File the Statement Online through the California Secretary of State
- OR -
OPTION 2: File the Statement by mail or in-person
Fee: $20 (Nonrefundable)
Secretary of State, Statement of Information Unit
P.O. Box 944230
Sacramento, CA 94244
California Secretary of State Sacramento Office
1500 11th Street
Sacramento, CA 95814
STEP 5: Create a California LLC Operating Agreement
An operating agreement is required when forming an LLC in California.
What is an operating agreement? An operating agreement is a legal document outlining the ownership and operating procedures of an LLC.
Why are operating agreements important? A comprehensive operating agreement ensures that all business owners are on the same page and reduces the risk of future conflict.
For more information on operating agreements, read our California LLC operating agreement guide.
Recommended: Download a template or create a Free Operating Agreement using our tool.
FAQ: Creating a California LLC Operating Agreement
Do I need to file my operating agreement with the State of California?
No. The operating agreement is an internal document that you should keep on file for future reference. However, many states do legally require LLCs to have an operating agreement in place.
STEP 6: Get a California LLC EIN
What is an EIN? EIN stands for Employer Identification Number. EINs are a nine-digit number assigned by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to help identify businesses for tax purposes. It is essentially a Social Security number for a business.
An EIN is sometimes referred to as a Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN) or Federal Tax Identification Number (FTIN).
Why do I need an EIN? An EIN is required to:
- Open a business bank account
- File and manage federal and state taxes
- Hire employees
What if I already have an EIN for my sole proprietorship? The IRS requires that sole proprietorships get a new EIN when converting to an LLC.
Where do I get an EIN? You can get an EIN for free from the IRS. Getting an EIN is an easy process that can be done online or by mail.
FOR INTERNATIONAL EIN APPLICANTS: You do not need a SSN to get an EIN. For more information, read our How to Get an EIN as a Foreign Person guide.
FAQ: Getting an EIN
How do I get an EIN if I don’t have a Social Security number?
What tax structure should I choose for my LLC?
Do I need an EIN for my LLC?
All LLCs with employees, or any LLC with more than one member, must have an EIN. This is required by the IRS.
Learn why we recommend always getting an EIN and how to get one for free in our Do I Need an EIN for an LLC guide.
Considering Using an LLC Formation Service?
We reviewed and ranked the top 5 LLC formation services.
Find out which is best for you.
Important Steps After Forming an LLC
Separate Your Personal and Business Assets
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your California LLC is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing the corporate veil.
You can start protecting your LLC in California with these steps:
1. Opening a business checking account:
- Separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- Makes accounting and tax filing easier.
Need help finding your EIN for your bank application? Visit our EIN Lookup guide for help.
Recommended: Read our Best Banks for Small Business review to find the best national bank, credit union, business-loan friendly banks, one with many brick-and-mortar locations, and more.
2. Getting a business credit card:
- Helps categorize and separate all business expenses for end-of-year tax purposes.
- Helps build your business credit score — an essential step toward getting a line of credit or business loan in the future.
- Allows you to keep track of department expenses by issuing multiple cards (with multiple budgets) to your employees.
For a closer look at business credit cards and their benefits, check out our review of the best small business credit cards.
Recommended: Visit Divvy to apply for their business credit card and build your business credit quickly.
For other important steps to protect your corporate veil, like properly signing legal documents and documenting company business, please read our corporate veil article.
3. Hiring a business accountant:
- Prevents your business from overpaying on taxes while helping you avoid penalties, fines, and other costly tax errors
- Makes bookkeeping and payroll easier, leaving you with more time to focus on your growing business
- Manages your business funding more effectively, discovering areas of unforeseen loss or extra profit
Recommended: Find out how much you could be saving today by trying our recommended accounting software.
For more business accounting tools, read our guide to the best business accounting software.
Get Business Insurance for Your LLC
Business insurance helps you manage risks and focus on growing your business. The most common types of business insurance are:
- General Liability Insurance: A broad insurance policy that protects your business from lawsuits. Most small businesses get general liability insurance.
- Professional Liability Insurance: A business insurance for professional service providers (consultants, accountants, etc.) that covers claims of malpractice and other business errors.
- Workers' Compensation Insurance: A type of insurance that provides coverage for employees’ job-related illnesses, injuries, or deaths.
Read our review of the best small business insurance companies.
Create Your Website
Creating a website is a big step in legitimizing your business. Every business needs a website. Even if you think that your business is too small or in an offline industry, if you don’t have a website, you are missing out on a large percentage of potential customers and revenue.
Some may fear that creating a business website is out of their reach because they don’t have any website-building experience. While this may have been a reasonable fear back in 2015, web technology has seen huge advancements in the past few years that makes the lives of small business owners much simpler.
Here are the main reasons why you shouldn’t delay building your website:
- All legitimate businesses have websites - full stop. The size or industry of your business does not matter when it comes to getting your business online.
- Social media accounts like Facebook pages or LinkedIn business profiles are not a replacement for a business website that you own and control.
- Website builder tools like the GoDaddy Website Builder have made creating a basic website extremely simple. You don’t need to hire a web developer or designer to create a website that you can be proud of.
Using our website building guides, the process will be simple and painless and shouldn’t take you any longer than 2-3 hours to complete.
Send Out a Press Release
Press releases are among the easiest and best ways to promote your business. They are also one of the most cost-effective strategies as they:
- Provides publicity
- Establish your brand presence on the web
- Improve your website’s search engine optimization (SEO), driving more customers to your website
- Are a one-time cost in terms of effort and money
- Have long-lasting benefits
Read our review of the best press release services.
Keep Your Company Compliant
California Business Permits & Licenses
Do I need business licenses and permits?
To operate your LLC in California you must comply with federal, state, and local government regulations. For example, restaurants likely need health permits, building permits, signage permits, etc.
The details of business licenses and permits vary from state to state. Make sure you read carefully. Don't be surprised if there are short classes required as well.
Fees for business licenses and permits will vary depending on what sort of license you are seeking to obtain.
Find out how to obtain necessary California business licenses and permits for your LLC or have a professional service do it for you:
- Business License Guide: Use our detailed California Business License guide.
- Federal: Use the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) guide to federal business licenses and permits.
- State: Apply for or learn more about licenses, permits and registration with the State of California's CalGold website.
- Local: Contact your local county clerk and ask about local business licenses and permits.
Recommended: If you are a first-time entrepreneur, consider having a professional service research your business’s licensing requirements. Read our best business license services review on Startup Savant.
California LLC Tax Filing Requirements
Depending on the nature of your business, you may be required to register for one or more forms of state tax:
If you are selling a physical product, you’ll typically need to register for a seller's permit through the state of California’s website. This certificate allows a business to collect sales tax on taxable sales.
Sales tax, also called "Sales and Use Tax," is a tax levied by states, counties, and municipalities on business transactions involving the exchange of certain taxable goods or services.
Read our California sales tax guide to find out more.
If you hire employees, you will need to register for California Employer Taxes, which include Employee Withholding Tax, Unemployment Insurance Tax, and Disability Insurance through the California Payroll website.
FAQ: Additional Taxes
What is the California Franchise Tax?
There is a Franchise Tax for each LLC formed in California which varies depending upon your LLC’s income. Read about California's biennial report and franchise tax.
Federal LLC Tax Filing Requirements
Most LLCs will need to report their income to the IRS each year using:
- Form 1065 Partnership Return (most multi-member LLCs use this form)
- Form 1040 Schedule C (most single-member LLCs use this form)
How you pay yourself as an owner will also affect your federal taxes. Visit our guide to learn more about how to pay yourself from your LLC.
Read our LLC Tax Guide to learn more about federal income taxes for LLCs.
California Biennial Report & Franchise Tax
LLCs in California are required to file a biennial report, also known as the Statement of Information, with the California Secretary of State. This must be submitted on paper, by mail or in person (drop off).
OPTION 1: File Online with the Secretary of State
- OR -
OPTION 2A: File form LLC-12NC by mail or in-person if none of your business information has changed
- OR -
OPTION 2B: File form LLC-12 by mail or in-person if some of your business information has changed
Fee: $20 for each biennial statement (Nonrefundable)
Due Date: Every second year by the end of the month in which your LLC was formed.
Late Filings: California charges a $250 penalty for failure to file on time.
California LLCs are required to pay an annual Franchise Tax. You can do this online or by mail.
File and Pay Your Franchise Tax Online through the California Franchise Tax Board
- OR -
File and Pay Your Franchise Tax by Mail through the California Franchise Tax Board
Franchise Tax Board
P.O Box 942857
Sacramento, CA 94257
- $800 for LLCs with annual revenue < $250,000.
- $800 + Estimated Fee for LLCs with annual revenue > $250,000
Avoid Automatic Dissolution
LLCs may face fines and even automatic dissolution when they miss one or more state filings. When this happens, LLC owners risk loss of limited liability protection. A quality registered agent service can help prevent this outcome by notifying you of upcoming filing deadlines, and even submitting reports on your behalf for an additional fee.
If you plan to hire employees for your California LLC, stay compliant with the law by following these steps:
- Verify that new employees are able to work in the US
- Report employees as "new hires" to the state
- Provide workers' compensation insurance for employees
- Withhold employee taxes
- Print workplace compliance posters and place them in visible areas of your workspace
For more information, check out California's Tax Service Center.
Recommended: Check out our Hiring for your Small Business Guide for resources like sample job descriptions, payroll service reviews, and more.
FAQ: Hiring Employees
What is the minimum wage in California?
The statewide minimum wage in California is $15.00 per hour for employers with 26 or more employees. Businesses with 25 or fewer employees have a minimum wage of $14.00 per hour.
How often do I need to pay employees?
In California, wages are required to be paid at least twice during each calendar month on days designated as regular paydays by the employer.
Small Business Resources
Get Help Starting a Business in California
We understand that creating an LLC and getting your business up and running comes with many challenges. To help you succeed, we compiled the best local resources in every major metro area in California. You can get free assistance in the following areas:
Women in Business Tools and Resources
If you have a woman-owned business, many resources are available to help you concentrate on your business’s growth:
- Funding - (i.e., grants, investors, loans)
- Events - (i.e., conferences, meetups)
- Guides - (i.e., business formation, personal growth)
- Support - (i.e., advice, communities, business strategies)
Our information and tools will provide educational sources, allow you to connect with other women entrepreneurs, and help you manage your business with ease.
Free LLC Legal Forms
TRUiC offers a number of free LLC legal forms to help with creating documents like:
- Operating agreements
- LLC resolutions
- Hiring documents, including:
- Employment contracts
- Independent contractor service agreements (ICSA)
- Non-disclosure agreements (NDA)
All you’ll need to do to download the forms is sign up for the TRUiC Business Center, which is also free, forever.
How to Build Business Credit
Learning how to build business credit can help you get credit cards and other business funding options in your business's name (instead of yours), with better interest rates, higher lines of credit, and more.
TRUiC’s Small Business Tools
TRUiC believes business tools should be free and useful. Our tools help solve business challenges, from finding an idea for your business, to creating a business plan, writing an operating agreement for your LLC, and more.
Check out TRUiC’s small business tools:
More California LLC Information
California Foreign LLCs
Forming a foreign LLC allows your company to operate as one entity in multiple states. If you have an existing LLC and want to do business in California, you will need to register as a foreign LLC. This can be done by mail.
File by Mail with the California Secretary of State
Fee: $70 (Nonrefundable)
Secretary of State, Business Entities Filings Unit
P.O. Box 944228
Sacramento, CA 94244
How to Obtain a Certificate of Good Standing in California
A Certificate of Good Standing, known in California as a Certificate of Status, verifies that your LLC in California was legally formed and has been properly maintained. Several instances where you might need to get one include:
- Seeking funding from banks or other lenders
- Forming your business as a foreign LLC in another state
- Obtaining or renewing specific business licenses or permits
To order a Certificate of Status in California, you must complete the Business Entities Records Request Form. You can submit this form either in person at the Secretary of State, or by mail.
Request a Certificate by Mail or In-Person
Fee: $5, payable to the California Secretary of State (Nonrefundable)
Secretary of State
BE Certification and
P.O. Box 944260
Sacramento, CA 94244
1500 11th St.
3rd Floor, Room 380
Sacramento, CA 95814
Mon-Fri. 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
How to Dissolve an LLC in California
If at any point in the future you no longer wish to conduct business with your LLC, it is important to officially dissolve it. Failure to do so in a timely fashion can result in tax liabilities and penalties, or even legal trouble. To dissolve your California LLC, there are two broad steps:
- Close your business tax accounts
- File the Articles of Dissolution
When you are ready to dissolve your LLC, follow the steps in our California LLC Dissolution Guide.
Read More about LLCs and How to Run a Business
- GO-Biz: California's One-Stop-Shop for Business
- California Secretary of State - Business Entities
- California Tax Service Center
- Contact California SOS
- SBA's Small Business Resource for Sacramento
- SBA's Small Business Resource for Los Angeles
- SBA's Small Business Resource for Fresno
- SBA's Small Business Resource for San Diego
- SBA's Small Business Resource for Santa Ana
- California LLC Statutes
- Understanding California LLC Laws
- California LLC Annual Report
- Best Registered Agent Service in California
LLC: An LLC is a US business structure that offers the personal liability protection of a corporation with the pass-through taxation of a sole proprietorship or partnership.
DBA: A DBA, or doing business as name, is any name a business operates under that isn't its legal name.
Partnership: A partnership is an informal business structure owned by more than one individual that doesn't provide personal liability protection.