How To Start An LLC In California In Easy Steps. Complete Guide

To start an LLC in California, you need to choose a name for your LLC, appoint a registered agent, file Articles of Organization with the California Secretary of State, create an operating agreement, obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS, fulfill state tax and regulatory requirements, and obtain any necessary business licenses and permits.

California is one of the best states to set up an LLC. Whether you’re starting a company or incorporating an existing one, you must understand the state regulations for forming an LLC. If you know what you’re doing, forming an LLC in California is simple. Here, in this guide, we will walk you through the process of how to start an LLC in California.

A California LLC (limited liability company) is a business structure with a variable leadership structure, liability protection, and the potential to be taxed as a pass-through entity or a corporation. You must file a form called Articles of Organization with the California Secretary of State and spend a $70 filing fee to officially incorporate your LLC in California.

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However, the process of starting an LLC can seem daunting, filled with paperwork, legal jargon, and numerous steps. Fear not! In this comprehensive guide, we will walk you through the process of starting an LLC in California, breaking down each step into easy-to-understand stages. Whether you’re an aspiring entrepreneur with a groundbreaking idea or an established business owner looking to expand, this guide will provide you with a roadmap to navigate the complexities of California’s business landscape.

From understanding the benefits of forming an LLC to filing the necessary documents and complying with state regulations, we’ve got you covered. By following these simplified steps, you’ll be well on your way to turning your business dream into a legal and operational reality. So, let’s embark on this journey together, demystifying the process and empowering you to establish your LLC in the Golden State with confidence and ease.

What Is A Limited Liability Company (LLC)?

A Limited Liability Company (LLC) is a legal entity that is permitted under state law. If you want to form a Limited Liability Company, you should verify with your state to see what requirements apply to you.

Members are the people who own an LLC. Individuals, businesses, other LLCs, and international entities may all be members in most states because ownership is not restricted. There is no limit to the number of people who can join. Most states also allow “single-member” LLCs, which are limited liability companies with only one owner.

Many companies can benefit from an LLC as a corporate structure. Members of a limited liability company (LLC) might be a single person or a group of people.

The concept of a Limited Liability Company (LLC) as a business structure is a relatively recent development in the United States, including California. The LLC structure was first introduced in Wyoming in 1977, and it wasn’t until 1994 that California enacted legislation to allow the formation of LLCs within the state.

Learn more about limited liability companies:

Why Start An LLC In California?

Starting an LLC in California offers several advantages, making it an attractive choice for entrepreneurs. In this expansive guide, we delve deep into the reasons why savvy entrepreneurs choose California as the birthplace of their LLC dreams. We’ll unravel the layers of flexibility in management, the advantageous tax structures, and the invaluable access to an extensive network of professionals and investors.

  1. Limited Liability Protection: The primary benefit of an LLC is that it provides personal liability protection to its members, meaning their personal assets are generally protected from business debts and lawsuits.
  2. Flexible Management: LLCs offer flexibility in management, allowing members to decide how the company is run, making it suitable for various types of businesses and management structures.
  3. Pass-Through Taxation: LLCs enjoy pass-through taxation, where the business’s profits and losses pass through to the owners’ personal tax returns. This can lead to potential tax advantages, especially for smaller businesses.
  4. Credibility: Operating as an LLC can enhance the credibility of your business, as it signifies a formal and legal business structure.
  5. Ease of Formation: Creating an LLC in California involves less paperwork and administrative hassle compared to corporations, making it accessible to small business owners.
  6. Access to a Large Market: California has one of the largest and most diverse markets in the United States, providing ample opportunities for businesses to grow and thrive.
  7. Innovation Hub: California is renowned for its innovation and technology sectors, making it an ideal location for startups, especially those in the tech industry.
  8. Network and Resources: Being in California gives businesses access to a vast network of professionals, investors, and resources, fostering growth and collaboration.
  9. Attractive to Investors: Establishing your business as an LLC can make it more attractive to investors, as the structure provides a balance between liability protection and management flexibility.
  10. Legal and Regulatory Protections: California has a well-established legal framework that protects businesses and consumers, providing a sense of security for entrepreneurs.

However, it’s crucial to consider the high cost of living, stringent regulations, and increased competition in California. Despite these challenges, the benefits of starting an LLC in the state often outweigh the drawbacks, making it a popular choice for entrepreneurs seeking growth and success.

Steps For How To Start An LLC In California

For small businesses, forming an LLC might be daunting, but it provides liability coverage and tax advantages, among other things. You need to follow these eight simple steps to get your California LLC up and going if you’ve chosen an LLC that is the perfect business structure for you.

Here is the step-by-step guide to get you started today:

1. Choose A Name For Your California LLC

In the first step, you need to choose a name and include it in your articles of an organization before you register your LLC. You must come up with an innovative name for your LLC. It can’t be the same as or too similar to a name already registered with the California Secretary of State, and it can’t be confusing to the audience.

Moreover, you may check for name availability in the California Secretary of State’s business name database. Plus, the name may be reserved for up to 60 days by filing a name reservation request form. California’s naming regulations must be followed. The following are the important factors that you must follow:

  • The terms Limited Liability Company, LLC, or L.L.C. must appear in your company name.
  • Your corporation must not be similar to that of another company in the state. To see whether a specific business name is in use, go to the Secretary of State’s website and do a search. If you want to find out if your name is available in California you need to do a LLC name search.
  • A business name could include words that are used to represent a government entity (i.e., State Department, CIA, FBI, Treasury, etc.)
  • Further documentation and licensing papers may be required for certain limited words (bank, lawyer, attorney, credit union, and so on).
  • It is different from any other company or fictitious business name (DBA) authorized in the state of California.

Is it possible to get the URL? We suggest taking a look online to see whether your company name is accessible as a web domain. However if you don’t intend to create a company website right now, you may wish to purchase the URL to prevent others from doing so.

You can reserve your LLC name for a nominal cost if you aren’t ready to register it but are worried that it will be taken by someone else. By paying the money and submitting the required form to the state authority, names in California can be reserved for up to 60 days.

2. Appoint A Registered Agent In California

Every California limited liability company (LLC) is required to have a registered agent This is a person or company who agrees to take legal documents on behalf of the LLC if it is issued. For service of process, an LLC may not act as its own agent. Prior to designation, the representative must agree to take service of proceedings on behalf of the limited liability corporation. Read our guide on top registered agent services for your startup.

Agents must be California citizens, with a street address recorded in the LLC’s articles of organization. The representative can be a member, manager, or officer of the LLC, but he or she does not have to be related to it.

A registered agent must meet the following criteria which are as follows:

  • Registered agent services must be provided by organizations or businesses
  • The agent must have a California address.
  • During regular business hours, the agent must be on-site and prepared to receive the paperwork.

Other additional reasons for hiring a registered agent service include:

  • Getting potentially unpleasant paperwork in private (for example, legal action launched against you)
  • The ability to transfer your office without having to notify the state of your new address as your registered agent.

Why Do I Need A California Registered Agent?

A California registered agent is legally required, and the California Secretary of State will not approve your registration documents unless you already have one.

This is because you’ll need to obtain legal paperwork, and someone will need to be available during regular office hours to accept them. Furthermore, many business owners used to work their maximum business hours, making service of processes difficult to accept. As a result, you’ll need to hire a registered agent on your behalf.

Why Do I Need A California Registered Agent?

A California registered agent is legally required, and the California Secretary of State will not approve your registration documents unless you already have one.

This is because you’ll need to obtain legal paperwork, and someone will need to be available during regular office hours to accept them. Furthermore, many business owners used to work their maximum business hours, making service of processes difficult to accept. As a result, you’ll need to hire a registered agent on your behalf.

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3. File Your California LLC Articles Of Organization

To properly register your California LLC, draft Articles of Organization and file them with the California Secretary of State. Even if it might appear to be a massive task, it merely entails completing and submitting your documents online, by mail, or in person.

The Articles of Organization are a legal document that forms your limited liability company (LLC) by setting out fundamental information about it. You’ll have to file Form LLC-1 – Articles of Organization with the California Secretary of State to register your California LLC. The filing cost is $70.

You’ll typically need the following information to prepare your articles:

  • Name and address of your LLC
  • The LLC’s primary focus.
  • Your registered agent’s name and address.
  • Need to decide the management structure whether the LLC be managed by its members or by its managers
  • The Articles must be approved by the individual forming the LLC.

You must have your LLC name and registered authorized agent before you begin filing. A copy of your Name Reservation Certificate, as well as a list of the services that your California LLC will provide, will be included.

4. Decide On Member Vs Manager Management

Usually, small multi-member LLCs choose to be governed by their members directly, however, LLCs can designate a director or small team of leaders to supervise the LLC, similar to how a board of directors monitors a company. Managers vote on important decisions like getting a loan, buying property, or modifying strategic goals.

5. Receive A Certificate From The State

After your LLC formation documents are filed and approved the state will issue a certificate that confirms that your LLC formally exists. If you want to receive your certificate quick filing online is the best option out there.

This certificate will help you get an:

  • Employer Identification Number (EIN)
  • Business Licenses, and
  • Business Bank Account

6. Prepare A California LLC Operating Agreement

An operating agreement is required under California law, although it is not required to be filed.   A documented operating agreement is beneficial for a variety of reasons, including settling conflicts about financial arrangements and avoiding possible lawsuits. Without a contract in existence, the courts will make decisions based on state legislation, rather than what is best for the LLC and its shareholders.

Maintaining limited liability protection, opening a business bank account, and settling member disagreements all require an operating agreement. When forming an LLC in California, you are not obliged to have a detailed LLC operating agreement, but it is a good idea to have one that covers all aspects of your company. If you choose to terminate Californa LLC afterward, this paperwork will prove to be very helpful.

The following information may be included in the operating agreement, but is not limited to:

  • Name of the LLC and its primary address
  • The time span of the LLC
  • The registered agent’s name and address
  • Information on the Organization’s Articles of Incorporation
  • The main purpose of your business
  • Members and the contributions they make
  • The manner in which gains and losses will be distributed
  • The process for enrolling new members and releasing departing members is explained 
  • The LLC’s management
  • Clauses of indemnity and liability

7. File A Statement Of Incorporation

Within 90 days of filing their articles of organization, every California and international LLC must submit a Statement of Information, Form LLC-12, to the California Secretary of State. After that, every two years, a Statement of Information must be filed. The filing period is comprised of the calendar month in which the original articles of incorporation were filed, as well as the five previous calendar months. Moreover, you can file the statement online or download or mail it to the California Secretary Of State.

The Statement of Information must include the following:

  • the name of the LLC and the file number with the California Secretary of State
  • the name and address of the LLC’s agent
  • the LLC’s major executive office’s street address
  • If the LLC’s mailing address varies from its major executive office’s street location,
  • Any manager or chief executive officer’s name and complete business or residential address, or if no manager is elected, each member’s name and business or residence address
  • A valid email address and if the LLC prefers to receive renewal notices and other information from the Secretary of State through email
  • The LLC’s principal business activity

8. Get A California LLC EIN

Employer Identification Number (EIN) is an abbreviation for Employer Identification Number. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) assigns EINs to businesses to assist them in being identified for tax purposes.

Even if your LLC has no employees, you will need to acquire an IRS Employer Identification Number (EIN) if it has more than one member. You only need an EIN for a one-member LLC if it will have the personnel or if you choose to have it taxable as a company rather than a sole proprietorship. If you want to get an EIN online, you need to fill out IRS Form SS-4 and there is a filing fee required.

An EIN is required to help you:

  • To file and manage taxes at both the state and federal levels
  • Open a bank account for your business
  • For hiring employees

9. Pay Your California State Tax Obligations

If an LLC or a foreign LLC is formed, registered, and conducts business in California, they must pay California taxes to the California Franchise Tax Board. They are taxable as a partnership or sole proprietorship if they have not decided to be taxed as an organization. Furthermore, California LLCs that are taxed as companies must follow the state’s corporate tax laws and regulations.

If an LLC wants to run a business in California, it must pay an annual minimal franchise tax of $800. If your LLC net income is over $250,000 then an additional annual fee is required. LLCs formed in California in the years 2021, 2022, or 2023 are exempt. An LLC that files to do business in California is exempt from the state’s $800 minimum annual franchise tax for the first taxable year under the new legislation. The LLC must pay the $800 fee in the second taxable year.

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What Are The Next Steps After Forming An LLC In California?

The formation of your LLC provides you with a legal basis on which to conduct business. Always intend to keep your LLC up to date and legal on the state’s website.

Every LLC operating business in California is required to submit a yearly report which is known as a Statement of Information and pay a fee with the Secretary of State. The report must be filed every two years during a six-month filing period based on the month the LLC was created.

Taxes must be paid by the LLC. If your LLC has employees, you’ll need to register with the California Employer Development Department and pay the required employer taxes. In case your LLC will focus on selling goods and receiving sales tax then you must register with the proper California taxation authority. Moreover, you must file with the California State Board of Equalization if you collect sales tax.

You must appoint a registered agent to conduct business on your behalf. A registered LLC will help you to do the following:

  • Get essential permits and licenses, such as health department licenses, building permits, residential occupation permits, business licenses, and more, to run your business. To perform transactions in some states, you’ll need a seller’s permit.
  • Assist you in opening a business bank account.
  • Make an application for a company credit card.
  • Make a company insurance purchase.
  • With a trademark, you can protect your company’s name and logo.
  • The state’s tax agency will need you to register your business.

How Much Does It Cost To Start An LLC In California?

Generally, incorporating an LLC in California does not come at a high price. The principal expense in California is a one-time fee such as a name reservation fee ($20) and a business filing fee ($70). Aside from these fees, California LLCs do not have to pay any additional taxes or a significant amount of federal income taxes. There is a cost for expedited and late filings in addition to the filing fee. LLCs may be required to pay ’employer taxes’ to the government in this situation. Aside from that, there is no tax burden on LLCs in California.

A charge for the registered agent services should be paid in addition to that. LLCs need not be required to pay income tax individually in California, regardless of annual income. The LLC’s members must, however, pay their own federal taxes.

How Fast Can I Form An LLC In California?

The choice of a name is the first step in forming an LLC. The name you choose must be connected to the type of business you intend to create and must be authorized by the state government. You could search on the web to see if the name you want is available. You can then use that information to complete the Articles of Organization for your LLC. After you’ve decided on a name, you’ll need to register it with the Secretary of State in California.

The state will execute your Articles of Organization once you’ve decided on a name. The process generally takes one to two weeks, but you can pay an additional charge to have it done sooner. The LLC’s Articles of Organization will inquire about the LLC’s members and organizational structure. Each LLC must have at least one administrator who will serve as the company’s chief executive officer.

After you’ve decided on a name, you’ll need to apply for all of the required permits and licenses. To acquire these permits, you should pay a fee, failure can cause hefty fees.   Without the assistance of a lawyer, you can finish the full process online as the process is very simple. An application can also be sent by fax or mail. The drawback is the time it will take to provide you with an answer.

Start An LLC In California: Conclusion

LLCs are less complicated to form than other business arrangements. Small firms, particularly startups, would find it the cheapest way to form an LLC in California. LLCs benefit from a ‘pass-through taxation’ advantage, which allows them to avoid paying some taxes. Limited liability businesses require less documentation and legal procedures to form.

Are you ready to start an LLC in California? If you have queries, just leave them below. We’re here to assist you at every step of the way!

Start An LLC In California: Frequently Asked Questions

1. How long does it take for an LLC to be approved in California?

Approval of mail filings for California LLCs takes about 2-3 weeks in total. This includes the processing period of 3-5 working days as well as the duration your documents are in the mailbox. Whereas online filings for California LLCs take 3-5 business days in total.

2. How much does it cost to create an LLC in California?

The secretary of state’s charge for forming a California LLC is $85. In addition, a $20 filing fee is required for the California LLC statement of information, which must be filed within 90 days of the LLC’s creation.

3. How can I avoid the $800 franchise tax?

You can delay forming your firm until January or specify a “future file date” on your articles of organization or incorporation when you file to prevent back-to-back California Franchise Tax payments.

4. Do I need to register my LLC in California?

Whoever operates a business in California must register and form their legal entity with the California Secretary of State’s Office. You must also file the necessary taxes, register as an employer, and obtain business licenses and other permissions from the appropriate cities or counties.

5. Do I have to pay franchise tax in California for the first year?

The minimal franchise tax does not apply to your first tax year. Your tax is higher than your California net earnings divided by the applicable tax rate or the minimum franchise tax after the first year.

6. What are the benefits of an LLC in California?

The main advantage of incorporating a limited liability corporation (LLC) in California is the liability protection it provides. Other benefits include:
1. Simplicity.
2. Name registration.
3. Tax options like S Corp.
4. Increased credibility.
5. Name registration.
6. Ownership flexibility.
7. Pass-through taxation.

7. Do I need an operating agreement for my California LLC?

Operating agreements are not required in California for LLCs, although they are highly recommended. An operating agreement will assist in protecting your limited liability status, eliminate financial and management conflicts, and ensure that you, not state law, choose the rules that govern your organization.

8. Is California waiving LLC fees?

According to the new laws, any LLC, LP, or LLP that files, registers, or organizes to conduct business in California for the first taxable year is exempt from the state’s $800 minimum annual franchise tax for the period beginning January 1, 2021, and ending December 31, 2023.

9. How is an LLC taxed in California?

California corporate taxes are paid by your LLC. If you’re taxed as a C Corp, your net income is taxed at a flat rate of 8.84 percent. In case you are taxed as an S Corp you need to pay a 1.5 percent tax on net income.

10. What is a franchise tax in California?

S corporations, standard limited liability companies (LLCs), limited partnerships (LPs), and limited liability partnerships (LLPs), as well as conventional corporations (C corporations) and LLCs electing to be treated as C corporations, are subject to California’s franchise tax, which is basically a tax on doing business in California.

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