I researched and investigated the 10 leading California LLC services. I then picked the top 4 and tested each one. These are my findings and my top picks for the best California LLC formation service.
California LLC Summary of Facts
- LLC Formation Speed: Standard filings take 15 business days; expedited filings take 5 business days
- The cost to file a CA LLC is $70 plus the fee for the LLC service if using one (certified copies can be added for $5 per page).
- How to file your Articles of Organization online or by mail
- Biennial reports are due every other year (with exception of your initial report which must be filed within the first 90 days of your business is formed); filing costs $20
- State General Business License – Not required. However, industry licenses might be applicable
- PLLCs are not an option in CA
Best California LLC Formation Services
Although LLC formation services can be a great help, not all LLC formation services will be the same.
Some are better due to price differences, extras (or exclusions), and overall quality. You don’t have the time to sort through all of them.
We’ve done all the legwork for you and compared top LLC formation services. We have included important factors, such as cost and ongoing fees. These are the top four services for LLC formation.
#1 Northwest Registered Agent
Northwest Registered Agent has 50 offices in 50 states, and they have more industry experience than their competition.
You also get a year of free registered agent service. This keeps your start-up costs low. Northwest is our top choice, but it’s a service that puts customer service above all else.
- LLC Formation Plan: $39
- Registration agent service: $125 per year, but the first is completely free
- Customer Support: Northwest assigns an account representative to each customer, ensuring they receive prompt and personalized service.
- LLC Services: Northwest keeps the order form simple – no upsells clutter the process.
- User Reviews: Google reviews are great. Reviews on 3rd-party review websites are mostly positive.
Incfile can be a great choice if you are concerned about starting up costs. They offer a free California LLC registration and do not require fees for the first year.
Incfile may not have as many bonus features as its competitors, but they offer all the essentials for an additional fee: filing an EIN and registering a DBA, filing annual reports, and others.
- LLC Formation plans: $0, $199, $299
- Registration agent service: First Year Free, then $119/year
- Customer Support: Incfile recently increased their customer service team, which improved their response times. This is a significant improvement on their previous performance.
- LLC Service: Everything is straightforward when ordering a package through Incfile. There are not a lot of pricey and confusing add-ons.
- Customer Reviews: Strong. More than 98% of 21,000+ Shopper Approved reviews are positive
Thanks to competitive technology and a dedication to affordability, ZenBusiness has one of the most affordable formation-plus-registered-agent packages available.
You can choose the Pro package ($199 annually) for a flat annual fee to get business formation, registered agent service and an operating agreement template.
- LLC Formation plan: Starting from $49
- Registered agent service $99 per month, $119 annually
- Customer Support: ZenBusiness provides good customer service due to its smaller customer base and individual attention.
- LLC services: ZenBusiness provides useful tools to track annual reports. However, the ordering process can be confusing.
- User Reviews: Positive reviews on Trustpilot
LegalZoom is a great way to get involved with a well-known brand.
LegalZoom was founded in 2001 and has grown to offer hundreds of services. LegalZoom is more expensive than other services listed in this guide. LegalZoom is not the only option if you need a complete legal service.
- LLC Formation plan: Starting at $79 plus state fees for a minimum of $229
- Registered agent service $249/year (first year $159 if you add to a formation package).
- Customer Support: LegalZoom is a large company, so its customer service may not be as personal as the other listed companies.
- Easy of use: Many customers have complained that LegalZoom’s ordering process is confusing and lengthy. Numerous upsells are offered before you can choose your package.
- User Reviews: Mixed. Most negative reviews are due to a misunderstanding of the ongoing fees and package offerings
More and more entrepreneurs are turning to LLC services for creating business entities. The number is in the millions. Incfile alone has helped create over 500,000 businesses.
It can be difficult to start a business. There is a lot to do, so many people become overwhelmed by the legal processes: filing taxes, obtaining business licenses and permits, and filling out the forms.
Califonia has requirements to ensure compliance, such as hiring a registered agent or filing annual reports.
LLC services handle most of the work for you. They simply need to know a little bit about you and your company, and they will start your business for you. This is legal and allows you to concentrate on other aspects of your business. Many LLC services also offer registered agent services to help you maintain compliance.
What is a California LLC?
A California LLC, short for the limited liability company, is an entity type that combines flexibility and protection of a sole proprietorship with corporate assets. That’s not a bad thing. Let’s find out what this means.
You would operate as a sole proprietorship if you started selling handcrafted apparel out of your home. Sole proprietorships are legal entities.
This means that everything the business owns, from fabrics to sewing machines, is owned solely by the proprietor. All taxes are paid by the proprietor. If the business is sued or taken to court by a third party, the owner may lose all of his or her personal property to pay the damages.
Registered entities, such as LLCs, have personal asset protection. This is because the business itself is considered an independent legal entity. The business can have assets and bank accounts and be sued. If the business goes under, members of the company cannot lose their assets.
LLCs aren’t subject to a lot of complex requirements, unlike corporations. This makes it an attractive choice for entrepreneurs who want to keep their filings simple and protect their assets.
There are pros and cons to starting a limited liability company
An LLC is one the most common types of entity in America. However, it’s not the right type of entity for everyone.
Only you know your business best and can choose the entity type most appropriate for you. Your vision is clear for the future and your products.
It’s important to understand the pros and cons of LLCs to decide if an LLC is right for your needs.
- It is easier to create and manage than a corporation
- Protection of personal assets
- A flexible tax structure can be paid as a partnership (or a corporation)
- Exclusive use of a business name within a state is prohibited
- No authority can issue stock. Therefore, capital raising opportunities are limited.
- Some states have higher annual fees and taxes than sole proprietorships or partnerships.
- Some entrepreneurs may not be comfortable with the extra paperwork.
How to Create a California LLC On Your Own
You don’t need to use an LLC formation service such as LegalZoom or ZenBusiness. While these services can be extremely helpful, you can also save money by doing it yourself.
Our complete guide on how to set up an LLC in California is available here. But, let’s take a look at what it takes:
Select a business name
California LLCs need a memorable name that can give potential clients an idea of the products or services available. Your business name must be unique for legal purposes and to stand out from the rest.
Name a CA Registered Agent
As we have mentioned, an agent must be able to accept service or process on behalf of every LLC. As long as you are a state resident, you can act as your own registered agent in most states. However, we recommend that you appoint another person (e.g. an online service) as your agent.
File the Articles of Organization
Once completed and filed, this document officially forms your company in California. Some important information will be required, such as your contact information, business address, signatures of your LLC members and other details. California charges a $70 filing fee.
It’s easy to set up an LLC. However, it is the maintenance requirements that can be a little more difficult.
Register and pay taxes
You will need an IRS Employer Identification Number if you have employees. There are also state-specific taxes. California has very high taxes. Flat rate 8.84% applies to LLCs that are taxed like corporations. The individual rates range from 1% to 13.3%. Sales taxes (7.25 percent plus local fees), as well as other taxes, will need to be taken into account. You can find more information at the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration.
Get permits and licenses
California does not have a general business license. However, you will still need professional licenses. California has a comprehensive resource for business licensing: CalGold.
Create an Operating Agreement
Even single-member LLCs need to create a master document that outlines how the business will function in the future.
File your biennial report
Every two years, your LLC must file an annual report to update the state on the status of your business. California charges a $20 filing fee to obtain this document.
Get business insurance
All businesses with employees need to have workers’ compensation insurance. A general business liability policy may be an option.
Open a bank account for your business
Register for a bank account in your business name to write checks and make purchase transactions.
My Research for Choosing the Best California LLC Services
This is how I found which Limited Liability Company service (LLC service) is the best in California.
I formed an LLC a few years ago and did a lot of research before doing so. Because I have spent so much time on this subject, I believe I am very capable of finding and recommending the best LLC formation services. I also recommend using a registered agent service rather than being your own.
How did I research and choose the best LLC service in California?
My research approach included these four steps to select the best California LLC formation service.
Step 1: Reviews
I began by analyzing the reviews of online customers for the top 10 LLC services in California.
I spent many nights scrolling through the customer feedback on Trustpilot and Google Business Profiles (among other review websites) to discover which LLC services were new, which seemed questionable, and which were legitimate.
Step 2: Website Analysis
Once I had a good idea of who I could trust, I could go to their websites and see exactly what they offered.
To find out who offered what products or business services, I looked through pricing pages and looked at detailed breakdowns.
Step 3: Talking with real customers
Online customer reviews are only one way to learn. To truly understand the experience of using a service, it is important to talk to the people who use it.
I sought out the opinions of customers who I had recommended to me over the years in order to get a clear understanding of California LLC services. I wanted to know how easy the system was, how helpful and polite their support staff is, and how fast they process applications.
This direct feedback from customers helped me to see which promises were fakes and which were legitimate.
Step 4: Talking with their Sales Team
The last step was to talk to their sales team to find out how difficult they were with upsells.
I asked several questions that a first-timer would. Then I waited to see how many times I was encouraged to get additional services.
My Testing and Rating Criteria
While I was completing my investigative analysis, I was constantly evaluating these LLC formation services on the basis of these four aspects.
1: Features and Services
There are many steps involved in starting an LLC. If you have read at least half of the above, you will know this. Fill out and file your Articles of Organization. You will need an EIN to open bank accounts. Choose a premium registered agent in California to get an address in California. And a lot more.
To ensure you get as many completed projects as possible when you invest your money, I first assessed each LLC formation company on the business and product services they offer.
I checked if they charge extra for a lot of pricey add-ons that are not mentioned at first. I liked the very clear services and upfront with everything. The best value LLC formation services rose to the top.
3: Ease of use
It’s a good idea to sign up for a business formation service that offers a variety of products at a reasonable price without any trouble navigating their system.
I created an account with each California LLC formation service and attempted to register my fictional LLC. This was to ensure that all the systems were easy to use and simple to navigate.
4: Customer service
I was not satisfied with customer service experiences after the recent corporate trend to outsource customer support to unaffiliated phone centers. These representatives know little about the service they are supporting and the laws and regulations that it is subject to.
I did my best to test their customer service teams to determine the quality of their business formation services. I sent them polite questions, called them to inquire about obvious information, and jumped onto their online chat portals. I also complained of inappropriate things. I wanted to know how they dealt with my comments and requests, and how fast it took for them to reply.
My Findings for the Best California LLC Service
My investigative analysis resulted in my picking Northwest Registered Agent as the Best LLC Service for California.
My #1 Recommended LLC Formation Service
Northwest Registered Agent
Offices in 50 States
Northwest's Google My Business Profile