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Starting a business in the state of California? If you plan to set up an LLC or a corporation, you’ll also need to select a registered agent. The term registered agent isn’t widely known, but it’s fairly simple to understand. 

A registered agent is a point of contact for a business and is listed on business filings when a new business, specifically an LLC or a corporation, is formed.

How is an LLC formed in California?

To set up an LLC in California, you must fill out and submit paperwork to the state. Specifically, you need to file Articles of Organization (Articles of Incorporation if forming a corporation) with the California Secretary of State. This paperwork will require you to work through several steps to submit the paperwork. These steps include: 

1. Select a company name

Do you have a company name in mind? If so, check the name’s availability first. In California, and in most states, no two companies can have the same name. If a name is already in use, you’ll have to create a new name. 

California requires entrepreneurs to follow a few rules when creating a company name. The rules are:

  • The phrase “limited liability company” or “LLC” must be in the name
  • The name can’t refer to any government agencies (like FBI) that might confuse customers 
  • A name that refers to education or finances might require additional approvals. Words like “academy” or “bank” will prompt additional approval processes.

Business owners should also check the availability of a domain name so the company name and its website URL match. If the domain name is already taken, it may influence the name of your company. Check on domain availability before registering a business in California.

2. Select a registered agent

Every business that’s set up in The Golden State must list a registered agent and provide the required agent information. A registered agent is an official contact for your business. This person will receive important documentation on the company’s behalf, like tax documents or paperwork associated with lawsuits known as service of process documents. 

In California, a registered agent can be a person or company, but there are some requirements that must be met. More about these rules and who can serve as a registered agent is explained later on.

3. File Articles of Organization

To form a California LLC, official paperwork called Articles of Organization must be filled out and filed with the California Secretary of State. These formation documents will require the following information: 

  • The company name
  • Its purpose
  • How the company will be managed
  • The company address
  • The name, address, and signature of the registered agent

The process may be completed online and will cost $70. The charge is a filing fee issued by the state of California. An expedited service is available if paperwork is dropped off at the Sacramento Secretary of State Office for an additional fee.

When the paperwork is approved, the information becomes public record.

4. Create an operating agreement

California doesn’t require new businesses to file an operating agreement, but many entrepreneurs create one after setting up an LLC to provide structure and limit problems. 

The operating agreement explains how the company will operate and includes specifics like who the investors are, who’s responsible for day-to-day operations, how profits are doled out, and how investors are included.

Again, it doesn’t have to be filed with the state, but it’s a good idea to have one. 

5. Get an EIN

Once you’ve filed the Articles of Organization paperwork and created an operating agreement, you’ll need an EIN or an employer identification number. This number isn’t issued by the state, it’s issued by the IRS. By answering a few questions on the IRS website, this number is given to business owners instantly.  An EIN is needed to: 

  • Open business bank accounts
  • Hire employees
  • File taxes

6. File a Statement of Information

Within 90 days of filing an LLC, a business must file a Statement of Information as well with the Secretary of State. After that, this document must be filed every two years. This form asks for the following information: 

  • The company name and the secretary of state file number
  • The name and address of the LLC’s organizer
  • The street address of the LLC and its mailing address 
  • The name and address of all managers
  • An email address
  • A description of the LLC’s purpose

For a business entity to file this paperwork it costs $20.

What is a California registered agent?

A registered agent is responsible for receiving important documents on your company’s behalf. This point of contact will receive official documents, which could include tax notifications, legal documents, and legal notices. Should your company be sued, service of process papers, for example, are delivered to a company’s registered agent.

Do I really need a registered agent in California?

Yes. The state of California requires your LLC or corporation to list a registered agent. Without a registered agent’s name listed on your Articles of Organization, your company won’t be in good standing with the state. Penalties and state fees could be levied as a result. 

Can I be my own registered agent in California?

Yes. The person setting up the LLC can serve as the registered agent. By doing so, the LLC organizer agrees to be the contact person who will receive official documents on the company’s behalf. 

While the LLC organizer is a viable choice as a registered agent, others can fill this role as well. 

Who can be a registered agent in California? 

In addition to the person setting up the company, a California business can pick another person or a company to serve as a registered agent. A trusted friend, family member, or a neighboring business can be your registered agent. Your company may also decide to pay for a registered agent service (or corporate agent) to fill this role as well. 

Whether you opt for a person or a company, the state does have some criteria that registered agents must meet. A registered agent must:

  • Be 18 years old or older
  • Have a physical street address in California, not a P.O. box
  • Be available to receive documents during normal business hours on your behalf 

Why would a company choose to work with a registered agent service? 

A new business can work with a registered agent service. This service becomes responsible for accepting documents for your company and notifying you.

Why would a company work with a registered agent service? Reasons include: 

  • Convenience. To minimize administrative chores, entrepreneurs like working with a registered agent service as it can ease the workload. 
  •  Multi-state company. To make sure official documents aren’t missed, entrepreneurs with multiple companies in multiple states like having a service as their registered agent.
  • Privacy. A registered agent service gives a small business additional privacy, particularly if they’re being sued. If a company gets sued the papers are served to the registered agent’s address, not to the office address where the owner might be working with customers at the time. 

List of California registered agent services

There are many professional registered agent services available in the state. A quick Google search will provide a list of choices, but here’s a quick look at a few possible companies to work with:

  • Northwest Registered Agent: Northwest is one of the most recognized names in the registered agent business. The company has decades of experience and local offices scattered across the U.S. to serve small businesses like yours. The cost for a registered agent service is comparable to others. Business owners can also take advantage of additional services like report filing.
  • ZenBusiness: ZenBusiness is fairly new to the market, but they’ve grown a strong following. Business owners love the affordable rates for a registered agent service, which are as low as $99 per year. The company offers worry-free compliance too, to help business owners file the necessary reports on time.
  • Incfile: Incfile is another trusted name for business services, including its registered agent services. Business owners can get a registered agent free for a year. That’s right, free. After the first year, the price kicks in at $119. An online dashboard, automatic mail forwarding, and tailored notifications also come with the service.

How much does a registered agent service cost in California?

Entrepreneurs interested in working with a registered agent service are likely curious about the cost. A registered agent service with mail forwarding is inexpensive compared to one with more extensive services like scanning your mail or delivering reminders about annual reports.

While costs vary, you can expect the price to range between $50-$300 a year.

How does an owner select a registered agent in California?

A registered agent is listed on the LLC formation papers known as the Articles of Organization. When a person sets up an LLC or a corporation, the paperwork will ask who will serve as the company’s registered agent. The name of the person is added to the form and a signature is required as well. 

Can a company change its registered agent?

Yes. A registered agent can be changed. In California, the change is made by filing a Statement of Information form with the state. There is a $20 fee to do so.

What’s a statutory agent?

While researching what a registered agent is, you may have come across the term statutory agent. A statutory agent and a registered agent are the same things. A registered agent is also called a resident agent or a service of process agent in some states. 

What’s a commercial registered agent?

When forming an LLC, you might be asked if your registered agent is commercial or non-commercial. If the registered agent is a person or a company it’s considered a non-commercial agent. If you’re working with a registered agent service, your company has a commercial registered agent.