How to Start Your LLC in California

Starting your own small business entails a bit of risk, but you can form an LLC to protect your personal assets from being involved with your business risks. With an LLC, you’re able to keep creditors and damage seekers from suing you to get at your personal bank account (and even your house) to cover your business liabilities. If you’re based in California, it only makes sense to register your LLC with the California state government. You can find a detailed break up of costs to set up an LLC in California here.

If you are setting up an LLC for the first time in your life,the most sensible step to take here is to get some professional assistance with a reputable formation service. It doesn’t cost a lot, and you get the assistance you need to make sure your LLC application gets approved in the quickest time. In almost all cases of delays and outright rejection of an LLC application, it’s because the applicant made a mistake because they decided on doing things themselves without professional help.

Forming the California LLC

Here’s a quick overview of the steps involved if you’re forming an LLC in California:

Step1.Start with the Name

This isn’t as trivial as you might think. Your brand name will have far-reaching consequences regarding your overall success.

Choosing a name starts with complying with California business naming requirements. You can check out the California Code of Regulations to make sure you’re not violating any of the naming rules involved. However, here are some of the basic guidelines:

  • Obviously, you can’t use offensive words.
  • You can’t use any word or phrase that might cause people to mistake your LLC with a government agency. For example, just because your name is Frank Bernard Ironside doesn’t mean you can use your “FBI” initials as part of your LLC name.
  • Other words such as “university”, “attorney” or “bank” cannot be used, unless your LLC actually is officially part of those particular fields. If that’s the case, then extra paperwork may be involved. In addition, your LLC membership may require the addition of the proper licensed person (such as an actual licensed attorney).
  • The name you choose must be available in California. You can use the name search tool in the State of California to check that the name you choose is not yet used in the state. It may even be a good idea to check all state databases to confirm that your brand name isn’t used anywhere in the US, although this is not a strict California LLC requirement.
  • The name you choose should also be available as a web domain. Again, this isn’t a requirement, but it’s a sensible step nonetheless. You need a website to promote your business, and very few people these days trust a business that doesn’t have a website. Even if—for some strange reason—you’re not planning on setting up a website for your LLC, you should still buy the URL to keep others from using it.
  • Your name must include the phrase “limited liability company” as part of the name, although the words “limited”, “LLC”, or “Company” will also work (as well as the shortened forms of “limited” and “company”).

You can always go online and find an LLC name generator, if you’re having trouble coming up with your LLC name. While you’re at it, you may as well think about getting a unique logo for your business. You may find more details about naming your business in California in our detailed guide here.

Step 2. Pick Your Registered Agent

Every state requires that any LLC and corporation must have a registered agent. In California, this registered agent is officially called the Agent for Service of Process, although the responsibilities are the same.

The job of the registered agent is to receive crucial documents on your behalf. These can include official government correspondence, notices of lawsuits, various legal documents, and crucial tax forms.

While you’re technically allowed to appoint any adult (or even yourself) as long as you have an official California address, this job is too important. It’s required for the registered agent to be always there in that official address, to receive the documents during business hours. If you are your own registered agent, that means you can’t leave your office during official business hours.

This is another service that you can obtain along with your LLC formation service. It doesn’t cost much, either. A professional registered agent has a physical location in California, maintaining a separate address to help you keep the privacy of your own address. They can then also send you the copies of the documents they receive through email, or via an online storage.

Step 3. File Your LLC Articles of Organization

This is the official document you file that lists crucial information that the state of California requires from LLCs. The document will include the following:

  • The LLC name
  • The business address of the LLC, which is a physical location. It can’t be a P.O. Box.
  • The name and address of your Agent for Service of Process
  • The type of governing authority. Basically, you have to decide if the members will run the LLC themselves, or if you’ll appoint a manager to run the LLC.

Basically, you need to fill out the Form LLC-1 – Articles of Organization with the California Secretary of State. You can then complete and submit the forms online.

If, for some reason, you wish to submit the form by mail, then you can print out the form and then mail it to this address:

Secretary of State

Business Entities Filings

P.O. Box 944228

Sacramento, CA 94244

You’re also able to submit this in person. While the filing cost is $70 for online and mail submissions, you have to pay an extra $15 (that’s $85 in total) if you file this in person. You will need to go to this address for personal filing: 1500 11th St., Sacramento, CA 95814. It’s on the 3rd floor of the building.

It will take about 5 business days to process the application if you send it online. Filing through mail or in person may take a bit longer. However, you can pay an additional fee to expedite the process. It’s $350 to get it done within 24 hours, and $750 if you want the application processed that same day.

Once the Articles of Organization has been processed and approved, you’re theoretically done. You now have an official LLC.

However, in practical terms, you’ve just begun the process. You still have other steps to take, to actually get your LLC up and running.

The Additional Crucial Steps for Your California LLC

Step 4. File the Initial Statement of Information

Every LLC in California is required to fill out and file the Initial Statement of Information (Form LLC-12) with the California Secretary of State. This must be done within 90 days of the LLC formation.

You can do this online, which is the most convenient way to get it done. Still, it’s possible for you to download the LLC-12 form and then submit it via mail or in person.

If you’re going to mail the form, send it to this address:

Secretary of State, Statement of Information Unit

P.O. Box 944230

Sacramento, CA 94244

If you’re submitting in person, go to this address:

California Secretary of State Sacramento Office

1500 11th Street

Sacramento, CA 95814

Keep in mind that if you’re submitting online, there’s no fee. Via mail or in person, and there’s a $20 fee (and it’s non-refundable).

Step 5. Come Up with Your California LLC Operating Agreement

This is not a strict requirement. But you need to do this, especially if you’re part of a multi-member LLC. In addition, many other states do require it, and you may as well have one in place if you happen to decide to register your LLC in another state as a foreign LLC.

This is the official document that details the ownership information and operating procedures by which your LLC will be run. This makes sure that everyone knows the rules, so that conflicts can be reduced in the future. Everyone’s on the same page.

It names the members, and also lists the responsibilities and rights of each member. It clarifies as to how much money or which of the assets will go to which owner. It describes the voting procedures for choosing managers, and it also explains the buy-out procedures in case some owners want out.

Step 6. Obtain Your EIN

The EIN is the Employer Identification Number. It has other names, however, as it may also be called the Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN) or Federal Tax Identification Number (FTIN).

Whatever name you call it, it’s still that 9-digit number that basically acts as your LLC’s Social Security number. You have to obtain it from the IRS to identify and distinguish your LLC for tax purposes.

You need the EIN to operate your LLC, as without it, you cannot do the following:

  • Open a business account for your LLC
  • File and manage the LLC’s federal and state taxes
  • Hire employees to work for your LLC

It is also an IRS requirement to have an EIN, if your LLC has more than 1 member.

It doesn’t matter if you already have an EIN for your sole proprietorship. If you’re converting that sole proprietorship into an LLC, you will need a new EIN for that LLC.

You don’t need a Social Security number to obtain the EIN for your LLC. When you fill out the required form, simply leave the relevant section 9 section 7b) blank. You can then call the IRS at 267-941-1099 to finish your EIN application.

You can go online and request an EIN from the IRS. You can also download the required form and mail it to the following address:

  • Internal Revenue Service
  • Attn: EIN Operation
  • Cincinnati, OH 45999

It’s actually even possible to fax the form to this number: (855) 641-6935.

Regardless of the method you use to obtain the EIN, it’s a free process. There’s no fee involved.

Step 7. Separating Your Business Assets from Your Personal Assets

This is another important step. Don’t forget, the main reason that people (like you) who form an LLC instead of running a sole proprietorship is to protect your personal assets from covering your business liabilities. You still have other things to do to make sure you achieve this particular goal.

Open a Business Checking Account

You can’t run your business using your own bank account. That will just confuse matters, and some of your creditors may assume that your personal bank account and your LLC bank account are one and the same. It also confuses your accounting and tax filing.

By opening a separate checking account for your LLC, you formalize the separation of the LLC cash assets from your personal bank account. It also makes accounting and tax filing a lot easier.

Obtain a Business Credit Card for Your LLC

If you’re buying equipment for your LLC, then this is a convenient way to do it. Again, you shouldn’t use your own personal credit card. A separate credit card for the LLC also clearly separates your business expenses from your personal expenses.

In addition, the use of the LLC credit card helps to establish the credit history of the LLC. If you’re able to establish an excellent credit history, you can leverage that to obtain loans for your small business. Creditors aren’t as willing to lend money to organizations without adequate credit history.

Hire an Accountant

You don’t have to hire one as a full-time employee. You can just consult with an accountant, at least at first. But an accountant is extremely helpful for a business, especially if it’s your first time to run your own small business.

A professional accountant can make sure you pay the exact amount of taxes you actually owe. You don’t pay less than you have to, as that would invariably result in penalties and fines. But you don’t have to overpay, either.

You’re also able to focus more on running the rest of the business, by looking for more ways to boost business. The accountant can reduce the time you spend on bookkeeping and figuring out the payroll. In fact, the accountant can even discover profits or losses you may have overlooked in your records.

Step 8. Obtain Business Insurance

In today’s world, you can hardly move or operate anything without risk. That makes business insurance a worthwhile investment, because it reduces that risk greatly. In fact, the majority of small businesses today don’t run without obtaining some sort of liability insurance.

The most common types of business insurance you should consider include:

  • General liability insurance. This is the most popular type of liability insurance for small businesses. It’s a broad insurance policy that generally protects the business from lawsuits.
  • Professional liability insurance. This is if you’re running a professional LLC. It covers many types of business mistakes for which you can be sued, including malpractice claims.
  • Workers’ compensation insurance. This covers the things that may happen to your employees, for which you may be held liable. It can cover the deaths, injuries, illnesses of workers, if these are related to their jobs.

Step 9. Start Your Website (Optional)

As we’ve mentioned, hardly any business these days operates without a website. In fact, many businesses today are mainly online—there’s no physical shop for customers to visit or buy from.

The website is an efficient platform for marketing and advertising, without the excessive costs of overhead associated with shops and commercial shops.

With your website, you can display the wares you’re selling, and the products don’t have to occupy physical space. You can then use as many words and pictures as you wish to describe your products. The same goes if you’re offering services. You can describe your services, and even show videos.

Your website also allows you to run a blog and post helpful articles and guides. These blog posts may answer questions posted by potential customers on Google, and their Google search can then lead them to your website and your business.

The website also offers you the opportunity to display rave reviews from your previous customers as well.

In many cases, potential customers check your online presence to make sure that you’re running a legitimate business. If they don’t see a website with your LLC name on it, they may not be totally convinced that your business is legit. A website, on the other hand, is reassuring. It proves your credibility and professionalism.

You may think that a Facebook page or a page on LinkedIn is enough, but those options are insufficient. You’re still at the mercy of the people running those platforms. You need a website that you can control, absolutely.

It’s not even all that difficult to build and run your own website. There are plenty of website builder tools available online. These tools make it super-easy to build your own website without actually knowing anything about web design and development. In most cases, you’d be done in 3 hours or less.

Advertise Online

Aside from your own website, you can also use various advertising methods to publicize the existence of your LLC. Sure, you can use Facebook and LinkedIn. You can use various online methods, like posting on YouTube.

You can even use old-school techniques such as putting up posters around town if you’re offering a local service. It may also be possible to send out a press release as well.

Step 10. Compliance Maintenance

Once you have your LLC running, you may have to deal with the required paperwork and red tape. These can include:

Obtaining the Needed Licenses

These can include professional licenses, building permits, health permits (such as for restaurants), and even permits for signage. For California businesses, start with the CalGold website for information regarding permits. Don’t forget that your city or town may also have local ordinances concerning business permits.

Tax Filing Requirements

California may also have state taxes that pertain to your LLC business. You need to check whether your LLC is required to register for these types of taxes.

Sales Tax

This will apply if you’re selling a physical product. In general, you’ll need a seller’s permit which you can get from the website of the state of California. With this permit, you’re able to collect sales tax on pertinent sales.

Employer Taxes

This applies to your LLC if you have employees. You will have to register for the California Employer taxes. This is a set of taxes that includes the Employee Withholding Tax, the Unemployment Insurance Tax, and the Disability Insurance. You can register using the California Payroll website.

Federal LLC Tax Filing Requirements

You will need to report your income to the IRS every year, using the right form.

California Biennial Report

This is also known as the Statement of Information. You can file online with the California Secretary of State. This report is due every 2 years, at the end of the month in which you formed your LLC.

You can also download the form and then mail the business information. Or you can do this in person. This may be needed if some of your business information has changed.

You will need to pay $20 for every biennial report. Don’t be late, or else you’ll also have to pay a fine of $250. You can find detailed steps here.

California Franchise Tax

In general, you’ll need to pay $800 as your annual Franchise Tax if your revenue for the year is less than $250,000. For higher revenue, you’ll have to pay more. You can also do this online or through mail.

Final Words

You really should get the help of a professional LLC formation service, to make sure you’re doing everything right. They can help not just in forming your LLC< but in maintaining your business in good standing. They can help make sure you comply with all the pertinent requirements, so that you can focus on building and growing your small business.

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