How to Start an LLC in CaliforniaHow to Start an LLC in California

Learn how to form a California LLC yourself

Read our DIY guide to California LLC formation, with information on Registered Agents, naming rules, business licenses, and more.

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Have Incfile do the work for you $0 + State fee

registered agent Incfile can take care of all your LLC formation paperwork—and we’ll do it for free. Just pay the required California state fee ($75).
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Why Incorporate Your LLC in California?

California is a center of technology, entertainment, innovation and businesses that is changing the world. Some of the biggest brand names have started their business in California — from Dollar Shave Club and Snapchat to the big tech giants Facebook, Apple and Google. California is at the forefront of technology, and it’s brimming with top employee talent and beautiful locations to live.

For most business owners, the fastest and easiest way to start a business in California is by creating a California LLC. A limited liability company (LLC) is a type of business entity that’s ideal for startups and small- to medium-sized businesses. You get the advantages and protections of larger California corporations but with much simpler rules and regulations.

name your business

Briefly, the benefits of starting a California LLC include:

  • Separating and limiting your personal liability from your business liability and debts
  • Quick and simple filing, management, compliance, regulations and administration of your California LLC
  • Easy tax filing and potential advantages for tax treatment

Learn more about the benefits of the LLC business structure.

In this guide you’ll find information on starting your California business, searching for and naming your LLC, registering your business, getting a California Registered Agent, the fees you’ll need to pay, business taxes and much more.

STEP 1: Choose a Unique Business Name and Complete a California Entity Search

You will need a distinctive and original name for your California LLC that’s not used by any other business in CA. Incfile’s Business Name Generator is a great way to brainstorm company names — the tool also allows you to easily check the California Secretary of State’s register of businesses to make sure your name isn’t already being used by another company.

If you already have a name in mind, you can make sure it’s available by using the California business search on the CA Secretary of State website or Incfile’s free Business Name Search tool.

There are a few rules you’ll need to follow when choosing an LLC name, which you can learn about in the California business names section of this guide. One California rule, for example, is that your business name cannot include “Agency,” “Commission,” “Department,” “Bureau,” “Division,” “Municipal” or “Board.”

Incfile’s Business Name Search Tool

We’ll run a California business entity search for you.

See If Your Preferred Name Is Available

STEP 2: Provide an Official Business Address for Your LLC

Every California LLC must have a designated street address. That could be your home address (if you’re running the company from your residence), your company’s office building or any physical address of your preference. The address can be outside the state of California, but it cannot be a P.O. Box.

STEP 3: Assign an Agent for Service of Process for Your California LLC

Every CA LLC must have a “Registered Agent,” known in California as an “Agent for Service of Process,” when it is formed. This is an official position; the Agent for Service of Process is someone who receives official legal and tax correspondence and has responsibility for filing reports with the California Secretary of State.

This position can be filled by you, another manager in the business or a dedicated Registered Agent service. Your CA Agent for Service of Process must have a physical street address in California and must be present to receive important documents for your company during business hours.

At Incfile, all of our packages include a California Registered Agent service that is free for the first year and just $119 per year afterward. We also have a dashboard where you can log in and easily view any document your Registered Agent has received on your behalf.

STEP 4: File Articles of Organization with the California Secretary of State

Once you've gathered all the information for your California LLC, you’ll need to file a formal document (Form LLC-1) with the CA Secretary of State. This document is known as your “Articles of Organization,” and filing the document creates your California LLC. Here’s what is typically included:

  • Your business name and address
  • Details of your Agent for Service of Process
  • Management structure
  • Name of the incorporator

Download California's Form LLC-1 Here

You can file your Articles of Organization online on the California Secretary of State website, mail in a form, submit in person, or have Incfile do it on your behalf for free. The State of California charges a $75 fee to file and start an LLC in California.

File by Mail: Secretary of State
Business Entities Filings
P.O. Box 944228
Sacramento, CA 94244
Submit in Person: 1500 11th St.
Sacramento, CA 95814
(Open M-F 8am-5pm)
Note: If you drop off your Articles of Organization in person, you’re required to pay a separate, non-refundable $15 drop off fee. This gives your paperwork priority over mail-in documents.

You only need to file your Articles of Organization with the State of California once, but you will need to file a Statement of Information biennially for your LLC, which has its own fees. Your first Statement of Information (Form LLC-12) is due within 90 days of your entity formation date. This is also something Incfile can remind you to do or do for you if you choose to have us handle the paperwork.

Have Incfile Handle all the Paperwork for You for $0 + the California State fee
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What are the fees and requirements to form a business in California?

State Fee State Filing Time Expedited Filing Time
$75 15 Business Days 3 Business Days

Statement of Information

Frequency: Biennially

Due Date: During six-month period ending on last day of anniversary month of incorporation or qualification.

Filing Fee: $20

Important:The initial Statement of Information filing is due within 90 days of the entity formation date.

California Franchise Tax

Frequency: Annually

Franchise Tax Fee: $800 (minimum)
$800 payment for the LLC Franchise Tax is due by 15th day of the 4th month after your LLC is filed. The month your LLC is filed counts as Month 1, regardless if you file on the 1st of the month, the last of the month, or any day of the month, really. This means that if you were to file your LLC on March 22nd, then you must pay the $800 fee no later than June 15th (in this example, March is Month 1, April is Month 2, May is Month 3, and June is Month 4). Then, every year after your first payment $800 LLC Franchise Tax will be due by April 15th. You pay the $800 LLC Franchise Tax using Form 3522 called the LLC Tax Voucher.
(We do not assist in the filing of the Franchise Tax Report)

STEP 5: Get an Employer Identification Number (EIN) From the Internal Revenue Service

You will need an EIN to identify your business to the IRS. You use this number when filing and paying taxes or when submitting payroll information and payments for your employees. You can obtain one directly from the IRS, or we can get one for you as part of the California LLC business formation process.

STEP 6: Create a California LLC Operating Agreement

An Operating Agreement is a kind of “instruction manual” that outlines how you will run your business. It includes how decisions are made, how the business is divided amongst members and what happens if a member leaves the company.

California requires that LLCs have an operating agreement in place. This does not need to be filed with the Secretary of State but should be kept on hand.

Learn more about operating agreements here

Receive a personalized operating agreement when you select Incfle’s Gold package
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Other Important California LLC Info

Special Types of LLCs in California

A regular LLC is suitable for most business needs, but you also have a few other options in California.

Professional LLCs

Some states allow certain occupations to form “Professional LLCs.” These types of businesses typically have specialized requirements and licensing. California does not recognize or allow professional LLCs, and the state does not allow professional services to be provided by LLCs. Instead, if you want to provide professional services, you will need to form a CA corporation.

Foreign LLCs in California

If your business is already operating in another state and expanding to California, you’ll need to form a foreign LLC.

Read More Information from the California Secretary of State

The CA Secretary of State has plenty of information on forming and running a business in California.

More Information in This Guide

You’ll find plenty more insight and guidance on the other pages of this guide, including:

Naming Your California LLC

How to search the California business registry of the CA Secretary of State and find the right name. Includes information on naming rules, fictitious names, reserving a California LLC name and more.

California Registered Agents

Learn how to appoint a California Registered Agent, known as an “Agent for Service of Process,” to your LLC. Includes information on Registered Agent rules and searching for California Registered Agents.

Fees and Requirements for Your California LLC

Learn about the various fees you’ll need to pay and the requirements you’ll need to meet for both federal and California rules, including the California Franchise Tax. Includes information on Employer Identification Numbers (EINs), California and federal business licenses, your Statement of Information and more.

Business Taxes for Your California LLC

How to understand the various taxes you will need to pay to the federal and California government. Includes details of federal taxes like income and self-employment and California taxes like sales tax and income tax.

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