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How to start an LLC in California in 7 steps


start an llc in california

Starting a Limited Liability Company (LLC) in California marks the start of an exciting new venture for entrepreneurs in the Golden State. As you build a stable and profitable business you can depend on, remember that creating an LLC involves more than paperwork alone. This guide breaks down the process, from choosing a business name to weighing the costs and benefits. Regardless of your previous experience, it’s essential to learn the ins and outs of structuring your LLC


Follow along as we dive into the details of starting a business and set you on the path to success. Whether you’re an experienced business owner or just starting out in the entrepreneurial world, forming an LLC opens up new possibilities.



How to start an LLC in California in 7 steps




01. Pick your business name


To start a business in California, the first step is selecting a unique name for your LLC. This process is both creative and legal. Make sure your chosen name is not the same or too similar to other names on record with the California Secretary of State. It's important to end your chosen name with "LLC," "L.L.C.," or "Limited Liability Company" to comply with state requirements.


Here's how you can ensure your business name stands out and meets all legal criteria:


  • Check for availability: Use the California Secretary of State's online database to search for existing business names. You'll need to make sure the name you want to use is not currently in use or registered to another business.  

  • Follow naming guidelines: Avoid restricted words that could confuse your LLC with a government agency (e.g., FBI, Treasury).



Tip: If you're having trouble coming up with a unique name for your business, consider using a business name generator.



02. Choose your registered agent


Every LLC in California must have a registered agent, which is an individual or company that agrees to accept legal papers on behalf of your LLC. Your registered agent must be available during regular business hours and have a physical address in California.


To choose the right registered agent, consider the following :


  • They must be dependable and able to handle confidential documents.

  • They should be consistently available at the listed address during business hours.

  • Verify that they meet all legal requirements set by the state of California.



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03. Obtain state business permits


Depending on the nature of your business, you may need specific permits or licenses to operate legally in California. These could range from general business licenses to industry-specific permits.


To obtain the necessary permits in order to register your business, follow these steps:


  • Identify requirements: Check with local and state agencies to determine what permits you need.

  • Complete the applications: Fill out all required paperwork accurately and submit them to the appropriate authorities.

  • Pay any fees: Be prepared to pay any associated fees for obtaining your permits.



For example, if you plan to start a construction business, you'll need to register with the California Contractors State License Board and obtain a contractor's license. You may also need other permits related to building and safety regulations.


Additionally, businesses that handle hazardous materials or produce hazardous waste must comply with the state's Department of Toxic Substances Control regulations and obtain the relevant permits.




04. File Articles of Organization


Articles of Organization is a critical document that officially creates your LLC in California. You'll file this with the California Secretary of State, either online or by mail, along with the required filing fee. 


Filing involves these key actions:


  • Submit your business information: You'll need details like your LLC's name, registered agent information and management structure.

  • Fill out Form LLC-1: This is the specific form used for filing an LLC's Articles of Organization in California.

  • Submit and pay fees: Complete the submission process by paying the necessary fee of $70 to file an LLC. 


05. Draft an LLC operating agreement


Although not legally required in California, creating an operating agreement for your LLC is highly recommended. This internal document outlines ownership structures, member roles and operational procedures for this specific type of business


Here’s why an operating agreement is important:


  • Clarifies business rules and guidelines: It sets clear expectations for members regarding operations and conflict resolution. This contributes to the smooth running of an LLC.

  • Protects LLC status: Helps maintain limited liability status by proving that your LLC is a separate business entity.

  • Prevents misunderstandings: Reduces potential disputes among members by detailing policies and procedures for how the business should be run.



06. Apply for an EIN and pay relevant taxes


An Employer Identification Number (EIN) is like a social security number for your LLC. It’s necessary for hiring employees, opening bank accounts and filing taxes. The IRS provides free EIN registration through their website or via mail submission. Always research state-specific taxes that apply to your LLC, such as franchise tax or sales tax. In California for an LLC owner this means a 15.3% self-employed tax (12.4% social security, 2.9% Medicare). For more information, visit the California Comptroller's Office website



 07. Organize annual reports


California requires LLCs to file an annual report—also known as a Statement of Information—with the Secretary of State. This report keeps your business information current with the state and includes details like addresses and names of members/managers. There's a filing fee associated with this report and failure to file on time can result in penalties.


To ensure you’re compliant with this make sure to: 


  • Know due dates: Your California Annual Report is required each year on the last day of the LLC’s formation month. Determine your LLC's anniversary date by referring to the date your Articles of Organization was authorized. You can also search for your LLC using the Business Entity Search tool.

  • Maintain proper records: Keep accurate records throughout the year to simplify report preparation when due dates approach.

  • Submit and pay fees: Complete the submission process by paying the $20 filing fee.



How much does it cost to start an LLC in California


When forming an LLC in California, you should budget for the numerous expenses involved. These costs can vary based on the complexity of your organization and the additional services you require. 


  • Filing fee for Articles of Organization: The state requires a fee when you file your Articles of Organization. This is a one-time cost that is mandatory for all new LLCs. For an LLC it costs $300.

  • Registered agent fee: If you choose to hire a professional registered agent service, they will charge an annual fee. Costs vary, so shop around for the best deal that suits your business needs.

  • Business permits and licenses: The cost for permits and licenses varies widely depending on your industry and location. Some may be one-time fees, while others could be annual.

  • Operating agreement: If you hire a lawyer or use a professional service to draft your operating agreement, this will incur a fee. However, there are online templates available that can reduce or eliminate this cost if you're comfortable handling it yourself.

  • Employer Identification Number (EIN): Obtaining an EIN from the IRS is free of charge.

  • Annual report (State of Information) filing fee: There is an annual fee for filing your LLC's report with the state of California. This recurring cost keeps your business in compliance with state regulations.

  • State taxes: Depending on your LLC's earnings and tax structure, you may need to pay state income tax, sales tax or other business taxes.

Additional costs may include:


  • Legal or financial consulting fees: If you seek professional advice during the formation process, these services will add to your startup costs.

  • Domain registration and website creation: Establishing an online presence via a website is crucial in today's market. Costs here include domain registration and potentially hiring a web designer or using a website builder like Wix.

  • Business insurance: Depending on your industry, you might need various types of insurance to protect your LLC.




Who can start an LLC in California


Starting an LLC in California is a process that's open to almost anyone but there are a few requirements and considerations to keep in mind:



Age requirement


You must be at least 18 years old to form an LLC in California.



Residency


There's no requirement for LLC members to be California residents. However, your LLC must have a registered agent with a physical address in the state.



Legal status


Individuals, including non-U.S. citizens and people living outside of the United States, can start an LLC in California. Also corporations, other LLCs and legal entities can also be members of a California LLC.



Number of members


An LLC in California can be formed by one person (a single-member LLC) or multiple people (a multi-member LLC). There are no limits on the number of members an LLC can have.



Business purpose


While most types of businesses can form an LLC, certain professional services may require a different business structure, such as a professional corporation. It's important to check if your business type is eligible for an LLC structure under California law.



Compliance with other regulations


Depending on your business type, you may need to comply with additional regulations at the federal, state, or local level. This could include obtaining specific licenses or permits before you start operating.



Benefits of starting an LLC in California


Forming an LLC in California has a number of benefits that might be quite appealing to business owners. These advantages include legal protections and tax breaks, making it a popular option for enterprises.


Learn more: Benefits of an LLC



Limited liability protection


One of the primary benefits of an LLC is that it provides its members with limited liability protection. This means your personal assets are typically protected if your business faces lawsuits or debts.


Launching your business as an LLC is a great way to separate your business from your personal assets. Should your company face a lawsuit, an LLC can protect your home, car, or personal bank account from being impacted. Shylene D’Addario, VP and associate general counsel at LegalZoom


Pass-through taxation


LLCs enjoy pass-through taxation where the business income is only taxed once on the members' personal tax returns, avoiding the double taxation that corporations can face.



Flexibility in management


Unlike corporations, LLCs have a flexible management structure. You're not required to have a board of directors or hold annual meetings, which can simplify operations.



Ease of formation and maintenance


Forming an LLC in California is relatively straightforward and the ongoing maintenance requirements, such as filing annual reports, are less burdensome than those for corporations.



Credibility with customers and partners


Having 'LLC' after your business name can enhance your credibility with potential customers, suppliers and financial institutions.



benefits of starting an llc in california


Disadvantages of starting an LLC in California


When considering incorporating an LLC in California, it is critical to examine the pros and drawbacks. Understanding these will allow you to make an informed choice about whether an LLC is the best business structure for you. 


Here are some issues you may face with an LLC in California:



Franchise tax


All LLCs in California must pay an annual minimum franchise tax which can be a financial burden for new or small businesses.



Complexity in taxes for larger LLCs


For larger LLCs with multiple members, the tax situation can become complex, requiring the assistance of a tax professional to navigate them properly.



Rigid profit distribution rules


Profits in an LLC are distributed according to ownership percentages unless otherwise agreed upon in the operating agreement. This can be less flexible than other business structures.



Costs of formation and operation


The initial costs to form an LLC and ongoing operational costs like filing fees for annual reports can add up and may be higher than other business structures like sole proprietorships or partnerships.



Public disclosure requirements


While not as extensive as corporations, LLCs do have some public disclosure requirements that could be considered a disadvantage for those seeking privacy.



Why start an LLC over another business entity in California?


Choosing the right business structure is crucial when starting a new business. In California, forming an LLC is often preferred due to its numerous advantages. But it's important to compare it with other types of business structures to understand why an LLC might be the best choice for your business


Here's how an LLC stacks up against other business entities:


  • Sole proprietorship: Unlike a sole proprietorship, an LLC provides personal asset protection, separating your personal liabilities from those of your business.

  • Partnership: An LLC offers more protection for each member compared to a partnership, where each partner can be personally liable for the debts of the business.

  • Corporation: While corporations also provide limited liability protection, they’re also subject to double taxation (taxes on both corporate profits and shareholder dividends). An LLC avoids this with pass-through taxation.


LLCs also offer these unique advantages:


  • Operational flexibility: Corporations are required to have a formal structure with directors and officers, while an LLC can be managed by its members or managers, providing greater operational flexibility.

  • Fewer record-keeping requirements: An LLC has less stringent requirements for record-keeping and reporting compared to a corporation.

  • Profit distribution flexibility: Profits in an LLC can be distributed in any manner agreed upon by the members, unlike corporations that distribute profits according to the number and type of shares held.



You've formed your LLC in California, now what?


After successfully incorporating an LLC in California, the process of building and growing your business really begins. There are a number of things you should do to ensure that your LLC runs efficiently and maintains in compliance with state rules. These include:



Opening a business bank account


Keep your personal and business finances separate by opening a bank account specifically for your LLC. This will simplify accounting and tax filing.



Obtaining necessary insurance


Depending on your business type, you may need various insurance policies, such as general liability insurance or professional liability insurance, to protect your business.



Complying with tax requirements


Stay on top of your federal, state and local tax obligations. This includes paying any applicable sales tax, payroll tax and state income tax.


Additionally create a logo with a logo maker, establish your brand identity and build a professional website to present a cohesive image to customers. 



For more information on how to start an LLC by state




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