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California Articles of Organization

You have a big idea, truckloads of ambition, and dreams of a thriving California LLC, and you’re mentally prepared to make it happen.

But the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu once said, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” and for you, that first step is filing the Articles of Organization.

With such grand plans, the last thing you might want to do is file paperwork, but completing the Articles of Organization is what authenticates your LLC, making it official in California. It’s perhaps the most important step in starting your California LLC. Following this guide will help take the tedium out of paperwork and get your business started quickly.

But before you dive into the Articles of Organization, you should have a few pieces of information ready to help streamline the process.

Choosing an LLC Name

Before anything else, you will need to decide on an LLC name. You must include a business name on your Articles of Organization, and if the Secretary of State deems that name unacceptable or unavailable, the document will be rejected, so make sure you nail down a good name right away.

You might have a perfect name in mind, but before you use it, make sure that it adheres to the state’s requirements. This means it must use the term “Limited Liability Company” or the abbreviations “L.L.C.” or “LLC,” and not use the words “bank,” “trust,” “trustee,” “incorporated,” “inc.,” “corporation,” “corp.,” “insurer,” or “insurance company.” Further, your name shouldn’t be misleading as to the LLC’s business purpose and it must be distinguishable from all other names reserved or registered with the Secretary of State. Unsure if your name is available? Perform a name search to find out.

Once you’ve found your perfect name, include it on your Articles of Organization to automatically register it. In the event that you’re not quite ready to file an LLC, you can place a 60-day hold on your name by submitting a name reservation request.


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Choosing a California Agent for Service of Process

An agent for service of process is your LLC’s liaison to the state, the mediator who takes care of all your important legal, tax, and compliance documents, keeping your business in good standing. The Articles of Organization requires an agent’s information, so touch base with one beforehand to confirm the appointment and responsibilities.

In California, your agent for service of process can either be an individual or a business entity. If an individual, that person must be a California resident with a physical address in the state. And if you use a business entity, like a registered agent service, it needs to be authorized for business in the state.

Quick Note: If your first choice doesn’t work out, don’t worry. You can always change your agent for service of process in the future.

Preparing to File Your California Articles of Organization

Now for the main event: the Articles of Organization. Here’s your opportunity to get your LLC officially on record and authorized to conduct business in California.

The Articles of Organization plays a huge role in your LLC’s formation; it’s the authorizing force that officially approves your LLC to do business in the state. Even so, the document isn’t exceedingly long or complicated. In fact, if you compile all the necessary information ahead of time, you’ll breeze right through it. Here’s the info it requires:

  • LLC name
  • Business street address
  • Business mailing address (if different from the street address)
  • Agent for service of process name and address (not a P.O. box)
  • Whether the LLC will be managed by members or managers
  • The LLC organizer’s name and signature

Don’t forget that, like most government forms, the Articles of Organization carries a fee: $70, to be exact. So have your payment ready when you file.

Finally, processing times vary. Fortunately, the Secretary of State keeps a running table of processing times organized by filing type here, so you can follow the progress of your submission. At the time of this writing, turnaround times were less than one week, no matter how you choose to file your documents. Speaking of, let’s discuss your options in this area.

Filing Options

All set? Once you’ve collected your information and payment, you’re ready to put this document on the books. Go ahead and file the Articles of Organization either online, by mail, or in person.

Online

Filing online is typically the quickest way to do it. Head over to California’s Bizfile website and click the button that reads “LLC Formation.” From there, you can complete the entire process from your desk.

Mail

You can download a paper application here. It includes both the Articles of Organization and the optional Mail Submission Cover Sheet. Complete and mail both documents, include a check or money order for $70, and mail everything to:

Secretary of State

Business Entities Filing

P.O. Box 944228

Sacramento, CA 94244-2280 

In-Person

If you live in Sacramento, you’re welcome to hand-deliver your form instead to the Secretary of State’s office at 1500 11th Street. In-person submissions incur an additional $15 counter drop-off fee but will be given filing priority over mailed documents.

To guarantee that your Articles of Organization is filed ASAP, you can request one of three expedited service options on hand-delivered forms:

  • 24-hour processing for $350
  • 4-hour processing for $500
  • Same-day processing for $750

Your document won’t receive expedited processing, however, unless it first passes preclearance, which determines if it conforms to the law. For more information, visit the Secretary of State’s Preclearance and Expedited Filing page.

Initial Statement of Information

The formation process doesn’t end when you file your Articles of Organization. California also requires entrepreneurs to file an initial Statement of Information within 90 days of filing their Articles of Organization. This is the same form the state uses for biannual reports, and it has a $20 filing fee.

The information required to file this document includes:

  • Your LLC’s name
  • 12-digit California Secretary of State filing number
  • Principal business address
  • Mailing address (if different)
  • LLC member names and addresses
  • Type of business

After this first Statement of Information, you won’t need to file another one for two years (more on this later).

What About Foreign LLCs?

The process outlined above works for domestic LLCs (those formed in California), but what if your business is expanding to California from another state? In this case, you can put that Articles of Organization aside, as it won’t be necessary.

Out-of-state businesses entering California must instead foreign qualify by mailing or hand-delivering an Application to Register a Foreign Limited Liability Company form to one of the addresses listed above. Like the Articles of Organization, this form carries a $70 fee with an additional $15 fee for in-person deliveries, and it also requires an initial Statement of Information filing. Whatever you do, don’t try to start doing business without first foreign qualifying, because this can lead to some severe penalties.

However, once you’ve successfully foreign qualified, you’re free to begin doing business in California.

Want Help Filing Your California Articles of Organization?

Let’s be honest: you’ve got a lot on your plate. Filing paperwork can take time away from your other tasks, ones more focused on setting your budding LLC up for success.

The good news is that you don’t need to file the Articles of Organization yourself. But if an attorney is out of your price range, hiring an LLC creation service is a great option.

There’s no shortage of business incorporation services out there, but not all of them are equal. Each one offers different packages, costs, and processing times, so it’s important to find the right fit for your LLC.

While each service has optional upgrades and feature packages, on the most basic level, they will review your business information, prepare your formation documents, and submit them to the California Secretary of State. They will complete everything outlined in this guide and notify you when your Articles of Organization have been filed. You won’t have to lift a finger.

There are other benefits too. Some services will include a year of free registered agent service when you hire them. Other services offer order tracking, notifications on future documents (like Statements of Information), assistance drafting your operating agreement, or coverage of certain LLC formation costs.

Important Post-Formation Compliance Issues

Once you’ve successfully filed your Articles of Organization, your LLC is an official business entity in the state of California. However, this doesn’t mean that your responsibilities have come to an end. There are several other steps you’ll need to take if you want to operate a compliant LLC for years to come.

Acquire a Federal Tax ID Number (EIN)

While an EIN isn’t a requirement for California LLCs, we strongly recommend that every entrepreneur obtains one. An EIN enables your LLC to hire employees, open business bank accounts, file taxes, and take care of several other important aspects of LLC maintenance. Even if you operate a single-member LLC with no employees, you should still have an EIN for your business.

Set Up a Financial Infrastructure

One other crucial step is to solidify the financial aspects of your LLC, first by opening a business bank account. You must have separate bank accounts for your personal use and for business purposes, as this will help you keep your personal and business assets separate, a vitally important consideration for any entrepreneur. If you commingle these assets, you leave yourself wide open for lawsuits, as it would be easy for someone to claim that your business is simply an extension of your own personality and not a separate entity from you as a person.

The other portion of this step is to set up an accounting system. This can either mean that you hire an accountant to take care of your LLC’s bookkeeping, or you could acquire high-quality accounting software like QuickBooks. Either way, you need a reliable means of keeping detailed records for each financial transaction your LLC executes. This is another vital part of keeping your personal and business assets separated, and it will also be enormously helpful come tax time.

Acquire Licenses and Permits

The next step involves obtaining any industry-specific licenses and permits your LLC may need to operate in compliance with state laws. Depending on the nature of your LLC’s business, you may require several permits or you may be able to operate your LLC without any state-level licenses.

Thankfully, California makes it very easy to figure out your business’ licensing needs. All you need to do is visit the state’s CalGold business permit assistance website and you’ll find the license and permit applications you require. Make sure to check with your county and locality as well, as there may also be licensing requirements for your business on these levels.

Obtain Business Insurance

This step isn’t a requirement, but it is a strong recommendation. The exact insurance policies your business needs will vary based on the type of products and services you offer, but most LLCs should at least have a general liability insurance policy to protect against common perils like slip-and-fall accidents. In some industries, you might need several different insurance policies to cover all of your financial bases, so do your research ahead of time to determine which types of insurance you should purchase.

File Your Statements of Information

Every two years, each LLC in California must file a Statement of Information. This report includes some basic information about your business and keeps the state updated regarding any important changes to your LLC’s structure. The information you’ll need to file this report typically includes your 12-digit California Secretary of State filing number, your principal office address and mailing address (if different), the names and addresses of your LLC’s members, the name and address of your agent for service of process, and your business type.

Frequently Asked Questions

About Filing the California LLC Articles of Organization

How long does it take California to form an LLC?

California posts real-time processing times on the Secretary of State’s website. We obviously can’t guarantee that you will experience similar turnaround times, but at the time of this writing, the state was processing LLC formations in two business days online, three days by using one of its eForms, and four days by hand or by mail. California also offers three options for expedited service if you’re really in a hurry:

  • 24-hour processing for $350
  • 4-hour processing for $500
  • Same-day processing for $750

Should I file my own Articles of Organization, hire an attorney, or use an online service?

This question largely comes down to personal preferences, but we do have some general insights. The DIY route can be quite a bit of work, as you’ll need to complete each step of the formation process on your own with no assistance. As for hiring an attorney, this can be prohibitively expensive for new businesses, as a lawyer can charge hundreds or even thousands of dollars to form your LLC.

You can think of business services companies as a middle ground between these options. While most of these companies charge a fee to form your LLC, that fee will be significantly less expensive than an attorney’s fee. At the same time, you still aren’t going it alone. Instead, you have an experienced professional guiding you through the entire process.

What does California require for LLC formations other than the Articles of Organization?

California requires all LLCs to file an initial Statement of Information within 90 days of submitting the Articles of Organization. In addition, while it’s not a strict requirement, we strongly recommend obtaining a federal tax ID number (EIN). An EIN allows your LLC to file taxes, hire employees, open business bank accounts, and more. Every LLC should have one, whether your state requires it or not.

How many small businesses are there in California?

Today, California has more than 4 million small businesses. Clearly, entrepreneurs in many different fields find California to be a great place to own and operate a business entity.

The Best California LLC Formation Services

If you want to use a reputable online service to form your California LLC, there are dozens of options. We invite you to check out our full list of the best available LLC formation services, but we’ll also share a few of our favorites with you here. Let’s take a quick look at the three best LLC formation services for entrepreneurs in the state of California.

ZenBusiness ($49 + State Fee)

ZenBusiness isn’t the cheapest LLC formation service available, but they are the most well-rounded service in our opinion. That said, ZenBusiness receives outstanding customer feedback, with more than 9,800 reviews available online and very few negative reviews among them. Finally, the fact that they give back to the community by boosting underprivileged entrepreneurs is an admirable trait.

Note: While it is not currently available, sometimes there are discounts to ZenBusiness online.

Northwest Registered Agent ($39 + State Fee)

Northwest has some major advantages of their own that make them well worth considering. First and foremost, Northwest Registered Agent has the best customer support in this industry, with highly knowledgeable representatives answering every phone call. In addition, they also include 12 months of registered agent service.

IncFile ($0 + State Fee)

Yes, IncFile will actually form your new LLC for free. This package isn’t a barebones offering either, as IncFile includes a year of registered agent service just like Northwest does. IncFile has a fantastic reputation when it comes to customer feedback, as the vast majority of its 27,000+ online reviews are positive. The only downside of their services is that IncFile’s customer support team isn’t exactly the most responsive in the industry. Sometimes it can take them quite a while to respond to messages, and they sometimes don’t reply at all, in our experience. Still, that’s a pretty small issue for a company that offers free LLC formations.