You have a big idea, truckloads of ambition, 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.
Quick Note: If you’d like to have an online service file the Articles of Organization for you or simply need to save time, hire an LLC formation service. Two popular options are LegalZoom and ZenBusiness.
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,” “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.
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
Additionally, if you’re filing via mail, you will also need to submit a Mail Submission Cover Sheet that includes:
- Contact person name and phone number
- LLC name
- Return address
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.
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.
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.
You can download a paper application here. It includes both the Articles of Organization and the 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
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.
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 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. 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 perks 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 has 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.
Which is the Best LLC Service?
All you need to do now is research every service extensively and make side-by-side comparisons for each option. Easy, right? Just kidding – we did all of that for you.
And from our meticulous research of reviewing and ranking the top LLC services, we’ve drawn the conclusion that IncFile and Northwest are your best overall options.
They might not have the brand recognition of LegalZoom, the industry giant, but both have amazing customer support, affordable prices, and include a year of registered agent service.