If you Google “start an LLC,” you’ll get a lot of results instantly. Most of them will be advertisements for different LLC formation services: LegalZoom, Incfile, Incorporate.com, Swyft Filings, ZenBusiness…the list goes on and on.
An LLC service is, for a lot of entrepreneurs, a lifesaver. Starting a business is a complicated process. It takes a lot of paperwork, and many people get overwhelmed by the legal procedures: filing for taxes, getting business licenses and permits, filling out the formation documents, and more.
Then, there are requirements for ongoing compliance in California, such as hiring a registered agent and filing biennial Statements of Information.
LLC services take on most of that burden for you: you give them a bit of information about you and your business, and the service starts your business on your behalf. This process is perfectly legal, and hiring one frees you up to focus on the more “exciting” parts of your business. Most LLC services also offer registered agent service, helping you with ongoing compliance.
California LLC Fast Facts
- LLC Formation Speed: Real-time updates here (currently four business days for online submissions and six business days for hard copies)
- Cost to File a CA LLC: $70, plus the service’s fee if you use one (you can add certified copies for $5 per page)
- How to File Your Articles of Organization: Online or by mail
- Biennial Reports: Due every other year (with the exception of your initial report, which must be filed within 90 days of forming your business); costs $20 to file
- State General Business License: Not required, but industry licenses may apply
- PLLCs: Not an option in CA
The Top 4 LLC Services in California
LLC formation services are a big help, but not all LLC formation services are created equal.
Between price differences, the extras offered (or excluded), and overall quality, some are better than others. And as a busy entrepreneur, you probably don’t want to spend your time sorting through the good ones and bad ones.
Luckily, we’ve done the hard work for you and compared the top LLC formation services. We’ve done our best to consider all the important categories, including cost, ongoing fees, customer service, and more. Based on those criteria, here are the four top LLC formation services.
|With a free business formation package that only requires you to pay your state fee, along with great rates for registered agent service, ZenBusiness’ outstanding customer satisfaction reputation is the icing on the cake. We firmly believe we’re one of the best business services companies in the world today!|
Thanks to competitive technology and a dedication to affordability, ZenBusiness is one of the only companies in this industry that offers LLC formation service for free! All you need to pay is your state’s fee.
If you upgrade to our Pro package ($199 annually), you’ll get our Worry-Free Compliance feature (including ongoing compliance assistance and up to two amendments per year), a custom LLC operating agreement, and prioritized processing.
- Formation package price: Starting at $0, plus CA LLC setup fee of $70
- Registered agent service: $99 for the first year, $199 after that
- Customer service: ZenBusiness offers outstanding customer service thanks to our midsized customer base and individualized attention.
- Ease of use: ZenBusiness provides helpful tools for tracking annual reports and more.
- Customer reviews: Overwhelmingly positive, with 4.8/5 stars on Trustpilot across 10,000+ reviews
|Looking for a totally free LLC formation service where all you pay is your state’s fee? Incfile has you covered. This company also receives strong customer feedback and offers reasonably priced registered agent service. Incfile is a well-rounded service provider.|
If startup costs are your primary concern, Incfile is a solid option. They are a free California LLC registration service and don’t require any fees until the second year.
Incfile doesn’t have as many bonus features as some of its competitors, but they do offer all the essentials at an extra fee — filing an EIN, registering a DBA, filing annual reports, and a few others.
- Formation package price: No cost beyond California’s $70 LLC filing fee
- Registered agent service: First year free, and then $119 per year
- Customer service: Good phone support, but email support is mostly unresponsive
- Ease of use: While there’s nothing fancy to Incfile’s order process, that’s a good thing. There aren’t a ton of messy gimmicks to sort through when ordering a package from Incfile.
- Customer reviews: Strong; over 98% are positive across 33,000+ reviews on Shopper Approved
Northwest Registered Agent
|If you value personalized customer support and registered agent service with 100% local scanning, give Northwest Registered Agent a look. At $225, its business formation service is pricey, but it is a fully featured offering.|
“We’re just not annoying” is their brand promise, and they stick to it. Northwest Registered Agent may have higher prices than many competitors for LLC formation service, but this company’s personalized customer support and strong registered agent service offering make it a solid choice for the right entrepreneur.
They also throw in a free year of registered agent service, which keeps your startup fees low. Overall, Northwest’s personalized customer support is a solid attribute, but you’ll need to pay higher prices to get it.
- Formation package price: $225, plus state fees
- Registered agent service: $125 annually, but the first year is free with LLC formation package purchase
- Customer service: Northwest’s “Corporate Guides” are highly knowledgeable individuals who provide higher-quality support than the typical call center representative
- Ease of use: Northwest keeps their order form simple — no need for upsells to clutter up the process
- Customer reviews: Primarily positive on most 3rd-party review sites; however, reviews are limited in number
|LegalZoom has significant brand power, with millions of customers served and broad advertising initiatives. It also receives solid customer reviews, although its pricing models are all average at best.|
If you prefer to work with a large, established brand, then LegalZoom is about as big as it gets.
Founded in 2001, LegalZoom’s offerings have grown from 10 initial online legal offerings to hundreds of different services. Compared to some other services in this guide, LegalZoom has a higher price tag. But if you’re looking for a one-stop legal shop, you’ll find a wide variety of other services.
- Formation package price: Starting at $79, plus state fees for a total of $149
- Registered agent service: $299 per year (first year for $249 if added to a formation package)
- Customer service: As a large company, LegalZoom’s customer service won’t have the same personal touch as other companies we’ve listed.
- Ease of use: Many upsells are presented, even before you have a chance to choose your package, which can make the process time-consuming and even confusing.
- Customer reviews: 6,000+ reviews available, 4.3/5 average score
What Is a California LLC?
Short for limited liability company, a California LLC is an entity type that combines the flexibility of a sole proprietorship with the personal asset protection of a corporation. We get it — that’s a lot of words. So let’s unpack what that means.
If you start selling handcrafted apparel from your house (which is totally legal), you’d be operating as a sole proprietorship. From a legal standpoint, sole proprietorships are the same entity as their owners.
That means everything the business “owns” – from fabrics to sewing machines and so on – are actually owned by the sole proprietor. The proprietor pays any and all taxes, too. And if the business is sued or taken to court, the owner can lose his or her personal belongings to pay the damages.
In contrast, registered entities like LLCs have personal asset protection because the business is considered a separate legal entity from its owners. The business itself can own assets, maintain a bank account, and be sued. And in turn, the members of the business cannot lose their assets if something goes wrong with the business.
But unlike corporations, LLCs don’t have a bunch of complicated requirements. That makes it a good choice for entrepreneurs who want to keep filings simple but still get asset protection.
Pros and Cons of Creating a Limited Liability Company
An LLC is one of the most popular entity types nationwide. But it isn’t the right type for everyone.
Only you can pick which entity type best fits you and your business; after all, you understand your business idea better than anyone. You have a clear vision for your products and services, both present and future.
To truly determine whether an LLC is right for you, it’s helpful to consider the advantages and disadvantages of LLCs.
- Easier to form and maintain than a corporation
- Personal asset protection
- Flexible taxation structure; can pay as a partnership or a corporation
- Business name is protected for exclusive use within state boundaries
- No authority to issue stock, so opportunities to raise capital are limited
- Fees are higher than partnerships or sole proprietorships
- Requires more paperwork than some entrepreneurs are comfortable with
How to Set Up a California LLC on Your Own
Technically speaking, you don’t have to use an LLC formation service like Zen Business or LegalZoom. These services are incredibly helpful, but you can save money by completing the process yourself.
You can read our complete guide to DIY an LLC setup in California, but here’s a quick look at the process:
Choose a business name
Every LLC in California needs a name that’s memorable and gives potential clients a good idea of what goods or services are available. The name also needs to be unique — both for legal reasons and so your business stands out from the competition.
Appoint a CA registered agent
Like we’ve mentioned in this guide, every LLC needs an agent who can accept service of process on your behalf. In all states, you can act as your own registered agent as long as you have a physical address in the state. That said, we generally recommend that you appoint someone else (like an online service) to act as your agent.
File the Articles of Organization
This document, once filled out and filed, officially forms your business in the state of California. You’ll need to provide some important information, including your contact information, your business address, signatures for your LLC’s members, and more. California has a $70 filing fee.
Setting up the LLC is as easy as 1-2-3; it’s the maintenance requirements that are a bit more complicated:
Register for and pay taxes
If you have employees, you’ll need to get an Employer Identification Number from the IRS. Then there are state-specific taxes, too. California has pretty heavy taxes. For LLCs taxed as corporations, there is a flat rate of 8.84%. The individual rate ranges between 1% and 13.3%. You will also need to account for sales taxes (7.25% plus local fees) and other miscellaneous taxes. More information can be found at the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration.
Get licenses and permits
There’s no general state business license in California, but that doesn’t mean you won’t need to get professional licenses. California offers a nearly comprehensive resource for business licensing: CalGold.
Create an operating agreement
Even single-member LLCs should create a “master document” that sets out how the business will operate, both now and in the future.
File your biennial report
Every other year, your LLC will need to file an annual report to update the state about the standing of your business. California has a $20 filing fee for this document.
Obtain business insurance
Every business with employees needs to maintain workers’ compensation insurance and a commercial vehicle policy for company-owned vehicles. You may also want to get a general business liability policy, too.
Get a business bank account
You should sign up for a business bank account so you can write checks and make purchases in the name of the business instead of pulling from your personal accounts (a legal no-no).
This is just the tip of the iceberg, though. For more detailed guidance, we recommend contacting an attorney or checking out the full California LLC Formation Guide.
Forming an LLC is possible on your own, and it’s cheaper to do so. But the process can be overwhelming. LLC formation services make it possible to start your LLC without all the hassle, but that convenience will cost you. Either way, starting a California LLC enables you to run a business that’s recognized by the state and federal government.