How to File for an LCC in California

Updated on January 22, 2024

Starting a limited liability company (LLC) in California provides business owners with personal liability protection as well as flexibility in taxation. The California Secretary of State website outlines the basic steps for forming an LLC, including choosing a business name, designating an agent for service of process, filing Articles of Organization and drafting an operating agreement. Additionally, you must obtain local permits and business licenses based on your LLC’s location and activities. Overall, forming an LLC establishes your business entity while limiting personal financial exposure.

Understanding LLCs

An LLC, or limited liability company, is a business structure that combines aspects of partnerships and corporations. LLCs provide liability protection for the owners, called members, so their personal assets are generally protected from business debts and claims. At the same time, LLCs have a flexible management structure and pass-through taxation like partnerships.

Some key things to know about LLCs:

  • LLCs limit personal liability for members while allowing business losses and profits to pass through to the members’ personal tax returns
  • LLCs can elect to be taxed as sole proprietorships, partnerships, S corporations, or C corporations
  • LLCs in California must register with the California Secretary of State by filing Articles of Organization
  • LLCs must have an operating agreement outlining financial and functional decision-making processes

Choosing a Name for Your LLC

When starting an LLC in California, one of the first steps is choosing a business name. Here are some tips for choosing an LLC name:

  • Make sure your desired name is available by checking the California Secretary of State business search database. If your name is taken, you’ll have to select a different one.
  • Choose a name that reflects your brand and what your business does. Using relevant keywords can help with SEO also.
  • Consider having California or CA at the end of your LLC name. This specifies where your business is registered.
  • You can’t use words restricted by California law in your business name, like “bank” or “trust.” Check the full list of prohibited words.

Taking the time to pick the right name sets your California LLC up for success down the road.

Selecting a Registered Agent

When starting an LLC in California, you must designate a registered agent. This is a person or company that agrees to accept legal documents on behalf of your LLC if you are sued or served papers. Here’s what to know about choosing a registered agent:

  • You can designate yourself, a company officer, or hire a professional service. Professional services charge an annual fee but handle all documents in a timely manner.
  • The registered agent must have a physical California address open during normal business hours. This cannot just be a P.O. Box.
  • Consider accessibility – your registered agent should be easy to contact and reliable in forwarding legal documents to your LLC in a timely way.
  • You must list your registered agent when filing your Articles of Organization to form your California LLC.

Choosing a reputable and responsible registered agent is important to stay compliant with California laws. Review options carefully as you start your LLC.

Filing Your LLC Paperwork

Once you have chosen your LLC name and drafted your operating agreement, the next step is to file your Articles of Organization with the California Secretary of State.

  • The Articles of Organization form formally registers your LLC with the state. This simple 2-page form requires basic information about your LLC, including the name, address, and who will manage it.
  • You must pay a filing fee of $70 when submitting your Articles of Organization.
  • You can submit the completed Articles of Organization form either online or by mail.
  • The processing time is approximately 5 business days for mailed filings and 1-2 business days for online filings.

Once your filing is processed by the Secretary of State, your LLC will officially exist as a registered business in California. You will receive a confirmation letter with your Entity Number, which is important for tax filings and opening up an LLC business bank account.

Remember to also file a Statement of Information form within 90 days of filing your Articles of Organization.

Drafting an LLC Operating Agreement

An operating agreement is a crucial document for any California LLC that lays out the financial and functional decisions about how your business will run. Here’s what you need to know about drafting one:

  • An operating agreement is not legally required in California, but it is highly recommended. Without one, your LLC will fall under the default state rules, which may not serve your business needs.
  • The agreement should detail ownership percentages, membership rights, rules for holding meetings, taking votes, adding/removing members, distributing profits and losses, etc. It makes business operations and decision-making much smoother.
  • You can draft your own agreement or work with an business attorney. While not legally required, having one review it is wise to ensure compliance with state laws and to protect all members’ interests.
  • Be sure to cover issues particular to your type of business, such as roles/responsibilities if you have multiple members, contributing initial capital and additional funding as needed, etc. Consider worst-case scenarios – what happens if a member wants out, dies, becomes disabled, or files bankruptcy?
  • Operating agreements can and should be amended as needed as your business grows and changes. Be sure all members properly approve and sign any amendments.

Having a detailed operating agreement sets clear rules and expectations for how your California LLC will operate, prepare for various situations and potential disputes, and move forward as a unified team. Investing the time and effort into it upfront is well worth it for smooth sailing later on.

Obtaining Tax Identification Numbers

One of the key steps in forming an LLC in California is obtaining tax identification numbers from federal and state agencies. This allows your LLC to pay taxes and comply with reporting requirements.

At the federal level, you must obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS. This is essentially your business’s Social Security Number. You can apply for an EIN online directly through the IRS website. It only takes a few minutes to complete.

For state taxes, you will need to register with the California Franchise Tax Board to obtain a California Tax ID Number. You can easily complete this step through the state’s online registration system when setting up your LLC.

Having both federal and state tax ID numbers allows your new California LLC to handle all required tax filings, payments, and other compliance obligations.

Pros and Cons of Starting an LLC in California

Starting a limited liability company (LLC) in California has several advantages, but there are also a few potential downsides to consider.

Here are some of the key pros and cons:

  • Pros
    • Limited personal liability – An LLC protects your personal assets if the business is sued
    • Tax flexibility – LLCs can choose corporate taxation or pass-through taxation
    • Credibility – The formal business structure presents a professional image
  • Cons
    • Higher taxes and fees – You have to pay an annual LLC tax and filing fees in CA
    • Paperwork – There is admin work needed to start and maintain the LLC

As you can see, while starting an LLC does involve some downsides, the upside when it comes to liability protection often makes it worthwhile for small business owners in California.

Cost Considerations

When starting an LLC in California, there are several costs to consider. The filing fee to register an LLC with the California Secretary of State is $70. You may also need to pay California franchise tax of at least $800 per year. Additionally, you may incur costs for:

  • An operating agreement ($40-$200)
  • A federal EIN (free-$200)
  • Business licenses and permits (variable costs)
  • An accountant and/or lawyer to advise on business structure and compliance ($150 per hour +)

Factor these costs into your business planning and budget. The state encourages free consultations to understand all requirements and expenses when starting an LLC.

Economical LLC Formation Options

When starting an LLC in California, it’s important to be cost-conscious and choose the most affordable formation option for your business. Here are some economical tips to keep LLC costs low:

  • Use an online service like LegalZoom to handle all the paperwork and filing with the California Secretary of State. This costs around $100-$200, saving you attorney fees.
  • File your Articles of Organization yourself through the California Secretary of State website. The filing fee is only $70, compared to $200+ that services charge.
  • Use a virtual address service for your registered agent address instead of a physical office space, costing around $99 per year.
  • Skip any unnecessary add-ons like seals, certified copies, or fancy binders that services try to sell you.

Following these economical tips, you can form your California LLC for under $300 in total fees. Focus your startup capital on business operations, not legal formation costs.

Pre-Formation Steps

Before officially forming your LLC in California, you’ll need to take some important pre-formation steps. This includes:

  • Choose a business name – Select a unique name that is distinguishable from other businesses in California. Check the California Secretary of State business database to ensure it’s available.
  • Appoint a registered agent – All California LLCs need a registered agent, an individual or business entity that agrees to accept legal documents on behalf of your LLC. This can be yourself or a third-party service.
  • File a Statement of Information form – You’ll need to file a Statement of Information (Form LLC-12) along with your Articles of Organization when forming your LLC. This identifies key information about your LLC.
  • Create an operating agreement – An operating agreement outlines the ownership structure, member responsibilities, distribution of profits and losses, etc. It’s an important internal governing document.
  • Obtain licenses and permits – Research if your LLC needs any specific licenses or permits to operate your chosen business in California and at your local city/county level.

Completing these key pre-formation steps allows for a smoother LLC formation process in California. Once these items are addressed, you can officially form your LLC by filing Articles of Organization with the California Secretary of State.

Comparing Business Entity Types

When starting a business in California, you have several options for structuring your company. Some of the most common business structures include sole proprietorships, partnerships, corporations, and limited liability companies (LLCs). Here is a brief comparison of some key factors to consider when choosing an entity type:

  • Liability protection – Sole proprietors and general partners have unlimited personal liability for debts and legal issues arising from the business. Corporations and LLCs provide liability protection for owners.
  • Taxes – Sole proprietors report business income and expenses on their personal returns. Partnerships, corporations and LLCs file separate tax returns. LLCs allow pass-through taxation where income flows through to owners’ personal returns.
  • Ownership flexibility – LLCs allow for greater flexibility in dividing ownership interests compared to corporations. Partnerships also allow flexibility but lack liability protections.
  • Ongoing compliance – Corporations have more extensive compliance requirements like issuing stock certificates and holding board meetings. LLC compliance is simpler with fewer mandated filings and formalities.

As this comparison shows, LLCs provide a nice balance of liability protection, pass-through taxation, ownership flexibility and ease of administration. That’s why LLCs are a popular choice for small businesses in California. However, consulting legal and tax advisors is highly recommended when deciding on an appropriate business structure.

After Filing Your LLC

Once you have filed your Articles of Organization and paid the filing fee to the California Secretary of State, there are some important next steps to take for your new LLC:

  • Obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS – This number will be used to identify your business for tax purposes.
  • Open a business bank account – Using your Articles of Organization and EIN, open a bank account in your LLC’s name to keep your business finances separate.
  • Create an Operating Agreement – This document outlines the ownership, structure, and rules for running your LLC.
  • Obtain necessary business licenses and permits – Check if your LLC needs any specific state or local licenses to operate legally.

Additionally, you will need to file a Statement of Information with the California Secretary of State within 90 days of filing your Articles of Organization and every two years thereafter.

Following these key steps after formally creating your LLC will set up the structure to help your business operate successfully in California.

Business Licenses and Permits

When starting an LLC in California, you may need to obtain certain business licenses and permits depending on your industry and location. Some common licenses and permits include:

  • Business license – Most cities and counties in California require businesses operating in their jurisdiction to obtain a business license. Fees typically range from $25-$100 annually.
  • Seller’s permit – If you plan to sell tangible goods, you’ll need a California Seller’s Permit to collect sales tax. You can apply online through the CA Department of Tax and Fee Administration.
  • Industry-specific permits – Certain industries like food service, childcare, medical services, etc. require special permits and licenses. Check with your local municipality to learn more.

The requirements vary based on location and business type, so do your research to ensure you obtain all necessary permits and licenses for your California LLC from the start. The CalGOLD database is a helpful tool to guide you.

Growth Considerations for Your LLC

As your LLC grows, there are some key things to consider. First, you may need to file taxes differently once your LLC reaches a certain size. Additionally, you’ll want to consider whether your current management structure still meets the needs of a larger company or if changes should be made. Furthermore, examine if your operations need to be adjusted or expanded by bringing on more employees, upgrading equipment, or moving into larger spaces. Finally, research what business licenses may now be required with increased revenues or employees. With some strategic planning, your growing LLC can be well-positioned for continued success.

  • Consider how increased size may impact tax filing requirements
  • Evaluate if current management structure should be changed
  • Determine if operations need upgrading with more staff, equipment, etc.
  • Research additional business licenses you may now need

Additional Resources

Forming an LLC in California involves meeting legal requirements and filings. Luckily, there are many useful resources available to guide you through the process smoothly. The sites below offer helpful information, forms, and tips for starting your California LLC.

California Secretary of State California government site with LLC filing forms and fee information.
Nolo guide on forming an LLC in California with legal considerations.

Additionally, speaking with a business lawyer or accountant can help ensure you complete all steps properly. With the right information and support, the LLC formation process doesn’t have to be difficult.


Starting an LLC in California provides numerous benefits for business owners, but does require following several key steps. You must choose a business name and register it with the California Secretary of State by filing the articles of organization. You’ll also need to create an FTB account to handle state taxes and pay the $70 filing fee. Additionally, be sure to:

  • Draft an operating agreement outlining financial and managerial details
  • Obtain any necessary business licenses and permits
  • Open a dedicated business banking account
  • Understand all ongoing compliance requirements

Forming an LLC establishes liability protection and credibility. However, dedicating time upfront to carefully plan and follow all legal steps will ensure your California LLC is properly set up for success.


What are the requirements to form an LLC in California?

Some of the key requirements include: choosing an available business name; designating a registered agent; filing Articles of Organization with the CA Secretary of State; creating an Operating Agreement; obtaining required licenses and permits; and more.

How much does it cost to start an LLC in California?

The filing fee to register an LLC with the California Secretary of State is $70. You may also have other startup costs like legal fees, permits, licenses, etc. Overall costs typically range from $800-$1,500.

What are the steps to form an LLC in California?

The main steps are: choose a business name; appoint a registered agent; file Articles of Organization; create an Operating Agreement; obtain an EIN; open a business banking account; register with state/local tax authorities; obtain business licenses and permits.

How long does it take to create an LLC in California?

It typically takes 1-6 weeks to complete all steps to legally form an LLC in California. Filing the Articles of Organization takes 1-2 weeks for approval. Overall time depends on how quickly you complete other requirements.

Do I need a registered agent when starting an LLC in California?

Yes, California law requires all LLCs to designate a registered agent when the Articles of Organization are filed. The registered agent handles official communications and legal documents on behalf of the LLC.

What are some of the advantages of forming an LLC in California?

Advantages include personal liability protection for owners; pass-through taxation; operational flexibility with less paperwork than a corporation; easier to raise investment capital; credibility with customers; and more.

Frank Gogol

A seasoned SEO expert, Frank has a long history of working with and for startups. Starting in mid-2018, Frank served as the SEO Strategist for Stilt, a fintech startup that provided fair loans for immigrants in the US and other underserved markets. While with the company, he scaled site traffic from zero to more than 1.5 million unique visits per month, driving the bulk of the company’s lead generation until it was acquired by J.G. Wentworth in December 2022. As employee #5 at Stilt, Frank was witness to, and part of, the successful building and sale of a fintech company, uniquely positioning him to create content for founders about all things startups.