Checklist for Starting an LLC in California

Starting a limited liability company (LLC) in California is easy. To make it even easier, we’ve created a California LLC formation checklist.

A limited liability company offers the benefits of limited liability protection and tax options for small businesses. This makes the LLC the most popular business structure for California small businesses and startups.

This Checklist for Starting an LLC in California covers the necessary steps you need to take when you create your LLC.

Use a Professional Service to Start an LLC for You:

four point seven out of five ZenBusiness ($39 + State Fees)
three out of five LegalZoom ($149 + State Fees)


California LLC Formation Checklist

Our California LLC startup checklist will help you get your business off the ground quickly. These are the first steps you will need to take when starting your LLC:

Name Your LLC

Once you’ve decided to start a new business, choosing a name is the first step.

There are several things to keep in mind when naming your business:

Legal Requirements

Your name must be unique and it will need to meet California naming requirements, which include:

  • Your name must include the phrase “limited liability company” or one of its abbreviations (LLC or L.L.C.).
  • Your name cannot include words that could confuse your LLC with a government agency (e.g., FBI, Treasury, State Department, etc.)
  • The name must be distinguishable from any other LLC registered with the Secretary of State.

You can complete a California LLC name search to learn if your business name is unique and distinguishable.

Domain Name

If your business name is available as a web domain, that’s a big plus. However, there are often creative alternatives if the domain isn't available.

Find a Domain Now

Powered by GoDaddy.com

Marketing

You want your name to be easy to market. This can mean different things for different businesses.

Learn more in our How to Name a Business in California guide.

The Truic Flame Logo

Having trouble coming up with a business name? Try our free business name generator tool.

Choose an Agent for Service of Process

California requires LLCs to have a registered agent, known as an agent for service of process in California. An agent for service of process is an individual or business entity that accepts tax and legal documents on behalf of your business.

You have to elect your agent for service of process when you complete your LLC’s Articles of Organization, which is the main LLC formation document in California.

A member of the LLC or other individual in the company can be the LLC’s agent for service of process as long as they meet the following requirements:

  • Is 18 years or older
  • Has a physical address in the state where the business is formed
  • Is available (in person) during normal business hours

However, it is usually a good idea to hire a registered agent service. There are a few advantages to hiring a registered agent service:

  • Compliance with the law
  • Peace of mind
  • Flexibility
  • Privacy

Check out our Best Registered Agent Services guide for help picking the best registered agent for your LLC.

The Truic Flame Logo

Zenbusiness offers a free year of registered agent service when you hire them to form an LLC.

ZenBusiness

File Formation Documents

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.

In this document, you’ll list some of the basic information about the company. This includes its address, registered agent, whether it is member-managed or manager-managed, and its business purpose.

The California Articles of Organization filing fee is $70 online and by mail and $85 in person.

Our California Articles of Organization guide will help walk you through the process step by step.

If you want professional help, these Best LLC Services can file the Articles of Organization for you.

Draft an LLC Operating Agreement

An operating agreement is a legal document that outlines the ownership and member duties of your limited liability company.

California LLCs are legally required to have an operating agreement. An operating agreement can help prevent or resolve disputes between LLC owners. Even if your business is a single-member LLC, an operating agreement can bring the company credibility and ensure courts uphold its limited liability status.

Operating agreements usually have at least six main sections:

  • Organization
  • Management and Voting
  • Capital Contributions
  • Distributions
  • Membership Changes
  • Dissolution

For more information, check out our California LLC Operating Agreement guide.

Get an EIN

An Employer Identification Number (EIN) is like a Social Security number (SSN) for your LLC. It is sometimes called a Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN) or Federal Tax Identification Number (FTIN).

Most banks will require an EIN to open your business bank account. You will also need an EIN if any of the following apply to your business:

  • Your LLC has employees
  • Your LLC is a multi-member LLC
  • Your LLC files excise taxes
  • Your LLC withholds taxes for nonwage income paid to a nonresident alien

But even if you own a single-member LLC with no employees, getting an EIN is a good idea. Most banks require that your LLC have one to open a business bank account. Check out our 7 Benefits of Getting an EIN article to better understand why your LLC should have one.

The Truic Flame Logo

Need Help Starting Your LLC?

Check out our Best LLC Services review.

After Forming a California LLC

After forming an LLC, there are some important things you should do that will help ensure that you comply with any relevant local, state, and federal regulations, keep your liability protection intact, maintain accurate financial records, and attract customers to your business.

Register for Taxes

If you are selling a physical product, you’ll typically need to register for a seller's permit through the Department of Tax and Fee Administration. This certificate allows a business to collect sales tax on taxable sales.

If you have employees in California, you will have to register for employer taxes through the California Employment Development Department.

You can learn more about LLC taxes with our guide.

Get an Accountant

Many small business owners think they can do their own accounting and are looking to avoid paying for a professional service. However, hiring an accountant can save you money, stress, and potentially legal troubles in the long run.

If you want to keep track of your LLC’s finances yourself, check out our guide to the best accounting software.

The Truic Flame Logo

Find out how much you could be saving today by scheduling a consultation with a business accountant.

Research and Apply for Business Licenses

Getting the right LLC business licenses and permits is one of the most important things to do after forming an LLC.

The main state-level permit or license in California is the sales tax permit, also known as a seller’s permit.

Visit the Department of Tax and Fee Administration to obtain a seller’s permit.

Additionally, businesses in certain professions or industries need specific state licenses or permits. The CalGold website will tell you which licenses and permits your business needs. The California Business Portal also provides information on professional licensing.

In California, most businesses also need to obtain a business license at the county or city level for tax purposes. An exception to this is some unincorporated areas of counties.

In addition, you may need other licenses or permits from your local government, depending on your business activity or location.

If your business has locations in multiple cities or counties, then you may need a business license in your primary location and a business tax certificate in any other counties where you do business.

The CalGold website will tell you which types of licenses and permits you need depending on your location.

Open a Business Bank Account

Opening a business bank account is an essential part of maintaining your LLC’s corporate veil and its limited liability protection. You’ll need to keep your personal financial accounts separate from the LLC’s accounts and never make business purchases with your personal bank account or credit card.

Recommended: Check out our review of the best banks for small business and our article about small business credit cards for more details.

Get Insurance

Every LLC should have some type (or types) of business insurance.

At a minimum, your LLC should have general liability insurance, which is a broad insurance policy that protects your business from lawsuits. Other insurance policies an LLC may need depend on the type of business, if you have employees or not, and other factors.

Before you decide on which business insurance to get for your LLC, check out our review of the 7 Best Small Business Insurance Companies.

Establish a Web Presence

All businesses should have an internet presence. This includes having:

  • A website
  • Social media accounts
  • A YouTube channel

If you don’t feel comfortable making your own website, there are a lot of tools and website builders that can help you create your own business website.

Publish a Press Release

One easy and inexpensive way to promote your new business is by issuing a press release. A press release is an official statement by a business that is given to the press for public knowledge. Press releases are typically short and to the point.

Read our review of the best press release distribution services to help you get the word out about your new LLC.

Learn more about running your LLC with our After Forming Your LLC article.

How to Form an LLC

Forming an LLC is easy. There are two options for forming your LLC. You can hire a service for a small fee or use our free Form an LLC guides.

The Truic Flame Logo

Recommended: Use our free Form an LLC in California guide and get started.

California LLC Checklist FAQ

What must be filed to form an LLC in California?An orange arrow pointing down

The Articles of Organization must be filed to form an LLC in California. The filing fee is $70 online and by mail or $85 in person.

How much does it cost to form an LLC in California?An orange arrow pointing down

It costs $70 to form an LLC in California by filing the Articles of Organization online or by mail. In-person filings cost $85.

What are the steps to forming an LLC in California?An orange arrow pointing down

The steps to forming an LLC in California are: naming your LLC, choosing an agent for service of process, filing the Articles of Organization, filing the initial Statement of Information, creating an operating agreement, and getting an EIN. Our step-by-step How to Start an LLC in California guide can help you through the process.

How fast can I form an LLC in California?An orange arrow pointing down

How fast you can form an LLC in California varies depending on how many documents the state is processing. California provides current processing dates for submitted business documents. Online filings are given priority and processed sooner.

Do you have to pay the $800 California LLC fee the first year?An orange arrow pointing down

Yes, California LLCs need to pay the $800 annual LLC tax in their first year. They have until the 15th day of the fourth month from their filing date to pay this tax.

How do you structure an LLC?An orange arrow pointing down

LLCs can be structured as either a single-member LLC (one owner) or a multi-member LLC (more than one owner). They can also be either member-managed or manager-managed.

Is an S corp better than an LLC?An orange arrow pointing down

An S corp could potentially be better than an LLC if the company meets certain conditions. Check out our LLC vs. S corp guide for more information.

How do owners of LLC get paid?An orange arrow pointing down

Owners of an LLC get paid in a couple different ways: either a distribution that passes through to your individual tax return or a reasonable salary and distribution if the LLC elects to be taxed as an S corporation (S corp).

Should I hire a lawyer to form an LLC?An orange arrow pointing down

You generally don’t need to hire a lawyer to form an LLC. You can start an LLC using our How to Form an LLC guides or hire an LLC formation service to help you.

Do I need a separate bank account for my LLC?An orange arrow pointing down

Yes, you need a separate business bank account for your LLC. This will prevent the company’s corporate veil from being pierced and maintain the LLC’s personal liability protection.

Which bank is best for LLC?An orange arrow pointing down

Check out our Best Banks for Small Business guide to help choose the best bank for your LLC.

Why are California LLCs so expensive?An orange arrow pointing down

While it only costs about $70 to form a California LLC, there is also an $800 annual tax, which makes California LLCs more expensive than LLCs in most other states. LLCs that make more than $250,000 in a year must also pay an LLC fee of at least $900.

Does an LLC need a business license in California?An orange arrow pointing down

Yes, most LLCs need at least some type of business license in California. The main state-level permit or license in California is the sales tax permit, also known as a seller’s permit. Additionally, businesses in certain professions or industries need specific state licenses or permits. The CalGold website will tell you which licenses and permits your business needs.

Related Articles

Article Sources

California Franchise Tax Board:
https://www.ftb.ca.gov/

California Secretary of State:
https://www.sos.ca.gov/

CalGold Business Permit System:
https://www.calgold.ca.gov/

California Tax Service Center:
https://www.taxes.ca.gov/

California Employee Development Department:
https://www.edd.ca.gov/

IRS - Limited Liability Company (LLC):
https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/limited-liability-company-llc

SBA - Choose a Business Structure:
https://www.sba.gov/business-guide/launch-your-business/choose-business-structure