How To Start LLC

Navigate the process of creating an LLC in California, from naming your entity to fulfilling state tax obligations. Highlighting key steps including selecting a registered agent and drafting an operating agreement.

By Brad Nakase, Attorney

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Have a quick question? I answered nearly 1500 FAQs.

How to create an LLC in California

1. Give Your LLC a Name

You must give your LLC a distinctive name. The name of an LLC reserved or filed with the California Secretary of State (SOS) records, whether domestic or foreign, cannot be the same or too similar. Additionally, the public cannot be misled by your name.

You can use the SOS business name database to see if your chosen business name is available. You have up to sixty days to reserve your company name before registering it. A Name Reservation Request form can be mailed to the Secretary of State office or reserved online through Bizfile Online.

A California LLC’s name has to include one of the following:

  • “L.L.C.”
  • “limited liability company”
  • “LLC”

It is possible to shorten the terms “company” and “limited” to “co.” and “ltd.” The terms “trust,” “bank,” “trustee,” “inc.,” “incorporated,” “corp.,” “corporation,” “insurance company,” “insurer,” and any other terms implying that the LLC is in the insurance field are also prohibited from being used in the LLC’s name.

Visit the SOS’s business entity names homepage and publication for business entity names for additional guidance on picking a name for your LLC.

2. Select an LLC Registered Agent

An agent (sometimes called a “registered agent”) is required for process service for each California LLC. A certified corporation or individual that consents to take court documents on behalf of the LLC in the event that it faces legal action is known as a registered agent. An LLC is not permitted to act as an agent for itself. Before being designated, the agent must consent to receive service of process as an agent of the LLC.

The LLC’s articles of organization must include each agent’s street address (cannot be a P.O. box) and that they are residents of California. The agent does not need to be connected to the LLC. They can be members, managers, or officers of the LLC. The Secretary of State keeps a list of private service firms (also known as commercial registered agents) who will function as service of process agents. This service comes with a fee.

3. Submit Articles of Organization to the California Secretary of State

Articles of organization must be filed with the Secretary of State in order to establish a California LLC. The articles have to contain:

  • The name of the LLC and its objectives
  • The primary office address of the LLC
  • The registered agent’s name and address
  • Details on the management structure (managerial or member-managed)

Using Bizfile Online, you may electronically submit your articles. A completed Form LLC-1 can also be mailed or delivered in person to the SOS. The fee for filing was $70 as of 2023.

4. Choose between manager and member management

There are two types of LLC management: manager-managed (run by managers) and member-managed (by the members of the LLC).

The majority of little multi-member LLCs decide to have member management in-house. However, LLCs have the authority to name management or a handful of managers to run the business, akin to how a corporation is run by its board of directors. Important decisions like taking out a loan, buying real estate, or altering strategic goals are put to a vote by managers. Managers may be members of the LLC or nonmembers in a manager-managed LLC.

Before deciding, compare LLC and Inc to understand their distinct legal and tax implications,

5. Draft an operating agreement

California does not mandate that an LLC have an operating agreement. While it’s not necessary, having an operating agreement for your business is strongly advised.

An internal document known as an operating agreement specifies the internal management structure of your LLC. It lays forth the managers’ and members’ obligations as well as your management plan for the LLC. This document, which demonstrates that your LLC is a legitimately independent business company from the owners, can also aid in preserving your limited liability. California’s LLC statutes will govern your LLC’s operations if you don’t have an operating agreement.

There are online LLC operating agreement templates that you may use as a basis for your own.

6. Submit your first and biennial reports

Within ninety days following the filing of their articles of incorporation in California, all LLCs, whether California-based or not, are required to submit a Statement of Information (Form LLC-12) to the SOS.

Every two years (biennially) following the first statement, a Statement of Information has to be submitted. The first five calendar months and the month in which the articles of organization were submitted make up the filing period. In the event that your articles were filed in March, for instance, you will need to file your biannual reports between October 1 and March 31 each of the next two years.

Form LLC-12 can be sent by mail or delivered in person to the SOS, or the statement can be filed online via Bizfile Online.

The informational statement needs to contain:

  • The name, SOS file number, and address of the LLC
  • The address and name of the LLC’s agent for process service
  • The LLC’s principal executive office street address
  • The LLC’s postal address
  • The name and full business or residential address of any manager(s) and chief executive officer, if any
  • In the event that no manager has been appointed or elected, the address and name of every member
  • A working email address, in case the LLC elects to receive notifications from the Secretary of State via email rather than regular mail
  • The general nature of the LLC’s main business activity

7. Fulfill Your State Tax Duties in California

The California Franchise Tax Board (FTB) receives California tax payments from all LLCs, including overseas LLCs, if both of them are not taxed as corporations. Instead, they are taxed as partnerships or sole proprietorships (disregarded entities) if they are registered, incorporated, or do business in California. (LLCs subject to corporation tax laws in California must abide by these regulations.)

In the event that your LLC was created in California in 2021, 2022, or 2023, you will be eligible for a one-year exemption from the state’s $800 minimum yearly franchise tax during the LLC’s first taxable year. All limited liability companies would be liable to the $800 yearly minimum franchise tax beginning in the second taxable year and continuing until they were dissolved correctly.

The minimum franchise tax that must be paid annually by all LLCs operating in California is $800 (as of 2023). Form 3522 (LLC Tax Voucher) sends the yearly tax to the FTB.

LLCs are also required to pay an extra fee depending on their total yearly income (2023) if their net income exceeds $250,000.

The deadline for filing California Form 568, LLC Return of Income, is the fifteenth day of the third month following the end of the LLC’s taxable year, which, in most cases, falls on March 15th. Certain LLCs with a single member are exempt.

Further details regarding California LLC taxes, together with links to the required forms and fee schedules, can be found on the LLC webpage on the FTB website.

8. Adhere to Additional Regulatory and Tax Standards

You must meet any additional regulatory and tax obligations that relate to your LLC. These could consist of the following:

  • EIN: Even if your LLC doesn’t employ anyone, it still needs to apply for a federal employer identification number (EIN) if it has several members. If you create a single-member LLC, you will only need to apply for an EIN if your LLC will be taxed as a corporation rather than as a sole proprietorship (a disregarded company) or if your LLC will employ people. By filling out an online application on the IRS website, you can obtain an EIN. It is free to do so.
  • Licenses for businesses: Additional state and local business licenses and permissions may be required, depending on the kind of business your LLC is involved in and where it is located. Visit CalGold online for additional details.
  • Employer and sales taxes: In certain situations, such as when you’ll be selling products and collecting sales tax or when you have workers, you’ll have to register with the relevant California taxing body. For example, you need to register with the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration if you plan to collect sales tax. Enroll with the California Employment Development Department (EDD) for employer taxes.

Extra Assistance in Establishing Your LLC in California

There is plenty of information to help you create your business on the SOS website. For assistance with forming an LLC, visit the SOS’s starting a company webpage. On the left side of the page, you will also find useful subjects such as samples, forms, and fees; name reservations; filing advice; commonly asked questions; and resources.

Speak with a California business attorney if you want individualized legal assistance. They can assist you with naming, LLC setup, formation document drafting, and navigating state laws, rules, and requirements.

Have a quick question? We answered nearly 2000 FAQs.

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