I researched and investigated 19 California LLC services. These are my findings and 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.
My Top 4 Picks for Best LLC Services in California
1. Northwest Registered Agent (Best LLC Service for Privacy)
My top pick for LLC formation service in California is Northwest Registered Agent.
Northwest provides business formations and registered agent services. Northwest has been providing LLC formation services for over 20 years.
They are known for exceptional customer service and are the industry leader in registered agent services.
California LLC formations with Northwest are discounted for our readers, just $39, and you also get a year of free registered agent service. This keeps your start-up costs low. Northwest is our top choice, and it’s an LLC service that puts customer service above all else.
Northwest RA Pros and Cons
#2 Incfile (Best Budget LLC Service)
Incfile is another LLC service that has been in business for nearly 20 years. can be a great choice if you are concerned about start-up costs. They offer free California LLC filing and registered agent services for the first year. A “free LLC” may be good for some, but Incfile needs to make money somehow. This can be done by upselling needed features at a lofty price.
If privacy is important to you, Northwest emphasizes customer privacy more than any other LLC service I know.
Incfile may not have as many bonus features as its competitors. Still, they offer all the essentials for an additional fee: filing an EIN and registering a DBA, filing annual reports, and others.
Incfile Pros and Cons
#3 ZenBusiness (Best New LLC Service)
Thanks to competitive technology and a dedication to affordability, ZenBusiness has one of the most affordable LLC services available. Formations start at $49 plus the state fee. ZenBusiness provides California registered agent services at an additional cost of $119/yr.
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.
ZenBusiness Pros and Cons
#4 LegalZoom (Best for Ongoing Legal Services)
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 the other California LLC services listed in this guide. LegalZoom is not the only option if you need a complete legal service. Rocket Lawyer is another option for LLC services and online legal services. LegalZoom gets pricey after the add-ons.
LegalZoom Pros and Cons
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 600,000 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.
California 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.
Now let me point out a few more names in the online LLC formation space. I’m not recommending any of these other services. I’m just mentioning them for your consideration.
Tier 2 – Other California LLC Services
Swyft Filings was launched in 2012 and are one of the latest services for LLC formation.
Prices start at $49 + state fee. If you need an EIN and LLC operating agreement, the price is $299 + state fee. Swyft Filings charges $149/year for registered agent services.
$299 + $149 = $448 + state fee
MyCompanyWorks has a basic LLC service package that costs $79 and includes assistance with Articles of Organization, Operating Agreement assistance, an online portal to store legal documents, compliance alerts, and assistance with registering with the California Secretary of State.
They have maintained mostly positive reviews online. You will need to buy their premium package for $279 if you want a California registered agent.
Inc Authority, like Incfile, allows you to file your company formation paperwork free of charge, but each offer comes at an additional cost. Ask the “free LLC” if they plan to sell your private information. I believe the “Free LLC” is a gimmick just to get you in the door. Yes, their filing service is “free” plus the state fee.
You will need to buy their $399 basic package if you require assistance drafting an Operating Agreement or accessing an EIN. You will also need to buy their premium $799 package if you want to receive express processing.
Tailor Brands is a bit different than the others on my list. Like their name says, they build brands. Tailor Brands promotes itself as a comprehensive business formation service that provides a complete list of services to entrepreneurs, including compliance and LLC formation, logo design, and branding features. Tailor Brands offers three formation plans.
Incorporate.com offers a $99 base package that includes very few services, similar to Rocket Lawyer or LegalZoom. They offer an online account and assistance in filing your Articles of Organization, and that’s nothing else.
CorpNet has been in business for over 20 years. They will file the initial LLC documents and provide compliance alerts to maintain good standing with the Secretary of State. All for $79.
MyCorporation is owned and operated by the check printing company Deluxe Corp. Their LLC formation services are like many others on our list. They charge $133 to prepare your Operating Agreement and process your Articles of Organization. Each additional, comprehensive service comes at an additional cost.
Incorporate Fast offers California LLC formation services at a low $99 price. This includes assistance with filing documents, assistance with filing them, and an Operating Agreement template.
They offer “same-day” filings. They will process and file your documents within 24 hours of receipt.
If you can upgrade to their $199 package, you get an EIN.
BizFilings, another California LLC service provider, charges $99 for the basic package. This includes assistance in filing your limited liability company formation documents and a year of their registered agent services. Like each of the LLC services, they have additional features for additional fees.
Similar to LegalZoom, Rocket Lawyer offers online legal services. They also offer LLC services such as registering an agent, filing your formation documents, and an online document storage portal. If you like having access to ongoing legal assistance for a fee, Rocket Lawyer might be a good fit for you.
Active Filings is another LLC formation service, they are based in Dania Beach, Florida. Active Filings has been in business since 2001 but is still a small player in this industry. According to the company website, they have only four employees.
Direct Incorporation offers the same LLC services that MyCorporation but includes a banking resolution as well as an Employer Identification number. They charge $174 for these services. If you need an LLC operating agreement, you need to get the next package at $297. They also offer logo design, trademarks, a business website, and email.
InCorp costs $99. plus state fees to file your Articles of Organization. Registered agent services are $129 per year.
Nationwide Incorporators offers basic LLC filing services for $200, and for $475, you get an LLC operating agreement. You get to talk to an attorney. Pricey!
SunDoc Filings has a $79 base package for filing your Articles of Organization. $70 for an EIN and $69 for an LLC operating agreement.
What is a California LLC?
a California LLC, short for limited liability company, is an entity type that combines the flexibility of a sole proprietorship with the financial protection of personal 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. The proprietor pays all taxes. 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.
Business 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, open a bank account, 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 still protect their assets.
Pros and cons of starting a limited liability company in California
An LLC is one of 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 set up 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 very helpful, you can save money by doing it yourself.
1. Choose a company name
California LLCs need a memorable name that can give potential clients an idea of the products or services available. Names should be unique for both legal and business reasons.
2. Appoint a Registered Agent in California
As we have mentioned, every LLC requires an agent to accept service of process on its behalf. You can be your own registered agent in most states as long as there is a physical address. However, we recommend that you appoint another person (an online service) as your agent.
3. File the Articles for Organization
Once completed and filed, this document officially forms your California business. Some important information will be required, such as your contact information, business address, signatures of your LLC members, and other details. California charges a $45 filing fee.
It’s easy to set up an LLC. However, it is the maintenance requirements that can be a little more difficult.
4. Register and pay taxes
You will need an IRS Employer Identification Number if you have employees. There are also state-specific taxes. California has graduated income taxes. Individual rates are between 5% to 6.9%, and corporate rates are between 1% to 6.5%. The Franchise Tax is the largest tax burden. Other taxes, such as sales taxes (6.5%) or miscellaneous taxes, will need to be included.
5. Get permits and licenses
California does not have a general business license, but many cities and counties do require one. You might also need to apply in order for an industry license.
6. Create a California LLC Operating Agreement
Even single-member LLCs need to create a master document outlining how the business will function.
7. Get your annual report.
California’s annual report is a companion to the annual franchise tax. You will file your California annual report with the Department of Finance and Administration and not with the Secretary of State. A minimum tax is $150 per year.
8. Get business insurance
All businesses with employees need to have workers’ compensation insurance. A general business liability policy may be an option.
9. Open a bank account for your business
Register for a bank account in your business name to write checks and make business purchases
My Research for Choosing the Best California LLC Services
This is how I found the best LLC service 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 19 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 for California LLC Services
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 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 my 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 about 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.