Choosing a Registered Agent for your California LLC
Before filing your Articles of Organization with the California Secretary of State (discussed in the next lesson), you need to choose a Registered Agent for your California LLC.
Our in-depth guide will teach you all about Registered Agents and help you make the best decision for your business.
What is a California Registered Agent?
A California Registered Agent is a person or company who agrees to accept legal mail (known as “Service of Process”) on behalf of your California LLC.
The California Secretary of State may also use your Registered Agent’s address as your LLC’s “point of contact” for official notices sent to your business.
Note: A California Registered Agent may also be called a California Agent for Service of Process. They mean the same thing.
Why do I need a California Registered Agent?
You need a California Registered Agent because the law requires it (as per Section 17701.13 of the California LLC Act).
This means that all LLCs in the state must have a Registered Agent in order to operate legally.
A California Registered Agent is a key component to how the court and legal systems work.
By requiring all California LLCs to keep a Registered Agent on file with the state, the delivery of legal mail and court documents can be properly tracked.
What does a Registered Agent do?
Simply put, they are a “receiver” and a “forwarder” of important documents.
What is legally required of a Registered Agent?
California Registered Agents are required by law to:
- maintain a California Registered Office (a physical address, not a PO box)
- keep regular business hours
- accept Service of Process and legal documents on behalf of businesses
- forward the documents to businesses right away
Who can be a Registered Agent in California?
You have 3 options when forming an LLC in California:
- You can be your LLC’s Registered Agent in California.
- A friend or family member can be your LLC’s Registered Agent.
- You can hire a California Registered Agent Service, also known as a Commercial Registered Agent.
Being your own California Registered Agent
You can be your own California Registered Agent if you:
- have a physical street address in the state, and
- are available during regular business hours.
- have a physical street address in the state, and
- be available during regular business hours
Pro: Being your own Registered Agent will save you money.
Con: Your name and address will be on public record. There are also some risks to be aware of.
Risks of being your own Registered Agent in California
As mentioned above, you can be your LLC’s Registered Agent in California.
Besides the address privacy we mentioned, there are some additional risks.
They are not extremely likely to occur, but if they do, you could lose your liability protection. And the California Secretary of State has the power to administratively shut down your California LLC if you’re not in compliance with the state laws.
This can happen if you don’t “continuously maintain” (always have) a Registered Agent on file, or if the Secretary of State is unsuccessful in reaching your LLC’s Registered Agent.
Additionally, if a process server (the person who delivers court documents and notices of lawsuits) is unsuccessful in reaching your California Registered Agent (or is unsuccessful in serving your LLC through the Secretary of State), a court case can proceed in your absence and you might not even know about it. Worse, the court could enter a default judgment against your LLC if you aren’t there to defend yourself.
Why might a process server be unable to reach my Registered Agent?
There are a few reasons a process server might not be able to reach your California LLC’s Registered Agent:
- You, a friend, or family member are not there during business hours
- You/they are on vacation or out of town
- You/they moved and you forgot to file a Statement of Information with the California Secretary of State
Asking a friend or family member to be your LLC’s Registered Agent
Another option is to ask a friend or family member to be your California Registered Agent.
Just like you, they need to:
Of course, you’ll want to ask them for permission first. You can also send them a link to this article so they’ll know what their responsibilities are.
And they should also be aware that their information will be listed on public record.
Pro: Listing a friend or family member as your own Registered Agent will save you money.
Con: Their name and address will be on public record. And using a friend or family member might be less reliable than being your own Registered Agent or hiring a Registered Agent Service.
What are the downsides of my address being on public record?
Many people prefer to keep their home address private.
And they might not realize that being their own Registered Agent puts their name and address on public record.
This means that anyone can search on the Secretary of State’s website and find their information.
The worst part is that dozens of websites “scrape” the state’s records and republish them on their own website. And pretty soon, when someone Googles your name, your home address is listed on multiple websites.
If you’d like to keep your address off of public records, we have a simple solution for that, which we’ll discuss below.
Hiring a California Registered Agent Service
A California Registered Agent Service specializes in receiving legal mail for your LLC.
Hiring a Registered Agent service is a good idea if:
- You want more privacy (keeping your address off public records).
- You don’t have a physical address in the state.
- You aren’t available during normal business hours.
- You don’t want to deal with the paperwork and responsibilities.
- You want help forming your LLC.
Note: Registered Agent companies also offer LLC formation services, so they can form your LLC for you. And they can help with your LLC annual requirements.
How much does a Registered Agent Service cost?
Most Registered Agent Services in California cost between $100 and $300 per year.
The California Registered Agent Service we recommend is Northwest Registered Agent ($125 per year).
Why we recommend Northwest Registered Agent
Northwest Registered Agent is our #1 recommendation (and the Registered Agent Service we personally use) because:
- they’ve been in business for over 20 years,
- have great customer service,
- and, most importantly, they protect your privacy.
How does Northwest protect my privacy?
They keep your address off public records: When you hire Northwest Registered Agent, you can use their California office address (instead of your home address) throughout your LLC filing.
They don’t sell your personal data: Unlike most companies in the industry, Northwest never sells customer data.
Pro Tip: Selling customer data, and aggressive marketing, are actually how most companies in the industry make money. After you sign up, they aggressively market to you and then they sell your personal information to other companies.
Northwest has integrity. They protect your privacy, and they don’t sell your personal data.
Special discounted pricing for LLC University® readers
In addition to being your Registered Agent, Northwest can also form your LLC.
Northwest usually charges $100 + state fees to form an LLC. However, we’ve negotiated a special discounted rate (60% off) for LLC University® readers.
California Registered Agent FAQs
Can I change my Registered Agent at any time?
Yes, you can change your Registered Agent at any time.
This can be done by filing a Statement of Information with the Secretary of State. This filing can be filed online or by mail and the cost is $20.
How much does it cost to get a Registered Agent in California?
The cost of California Registered Agents ranges from $100 to $300 per year.
Here is a list of some of the most popular Registered Agent Services and their fees:
- Northwest Registered Agent is $125 per year
- Our #1 recommendation for privacy
- ZenBusiness is $199 per year
- MyCompanyWorks is $99 per year
- Harbor Compliance is $99 per year
- IncFile is $119 per year
- Rocket Lawyer is $150 per year
- LegalZoom is $299 per year
To learn more about how these companies compare against each other, check out Best Registered Agent Services in California.
Note: If you want to save money, you can be your own Registered Agent in California.
Does an out-of-state LLC need to register in California?
If your out-of-state LLC is doing business in California, then yes, you need to register it in California.
This is called a Foreign LLC registration.
How do I know if I’m doing business in California?
The California Franchise Tax Board considers you to be doing business in the state if you:
- make sales in California,
- have a physical business address there, or
- your employee payroll meets the Franchise Tax Board requirements.
How do I register a Foreign LLC?
To register a foreign LLC, first you’ll need to select a Registered Agent:
- If you, a friend, or family member have a physical address in California, you/they can be your LLC’s Registered Agent.
- Otherwise, you can hire a Registered Agent Service.
The Registered Agent Service we recommend is Northwest Registered Agent.
Next you’ll need to obtain a Certificate of Good Standing from the state where your LLC was originally formed. You can get this in most states from the Secretary of State. Certificates of Good Standing usually aren’t very expensive.
Then you’ll complete an Application to Register a Foreign Limited Liability Company.
You must also file an initial California Statement of Information with the Secretary of State’s office within 90 days of registering your LLC.
What is an Operating Agreement for an LLC in California?
A California LLC Operating Agreement is a written contract between the LLC Members (LLC owners).
This legal document includes detailed information about LLC ownership, who owns the company, and how the LLC is managed.
Single-Member LLCs and Multi-Member LLCs should draft an Operating Agreement, keep it with their business records, and give a copy to all Members.
We’ve created a free California LLC Operating Agreement template for you to download.
Do I need a California business address?
The only address on your LLC filing that needs to be in California is the Registered Agent address.
The other addresses in the filing can be inside or outside of California. And these addresses can be a business address or a home address.
Can a family member be a Registered Agent in California?
Yes, a family member can be your Registered Agent in California, if they meet the legal requirements.
To be your Registered Agent, your family member must have a physical address in California. (PO Boxes aren’t allowed). And they must be available at that address during normal business hours.
Are there any drawbacks to using a Registered Agent Service?
As we see it, the only real drawback to using a Registered Agent Service is that it costs more than being your own.
Is there a difference between Registered Agent, Agent of Process, or Statutory Agent?
No, there is no difference between Registered Agent, Agent of Process, and Statutory Agent.
These terms all mean the same thing.
What if I never get sued? Is it still worth hiring a Registered Agent Service?
Simply put, it doesn’t matter. Having a Registered Agent is a legal requirement. So “is it worth it” is a silly question.
Having said that, there are benefits of hiring a Registered Agent Service (such as keeping your address off public records).
How does the Secretary of State know my Registered Agent?
Your LLC Articles of Organization (the paperwork that forms your LLC) lists your Registered Agent’s name and address on it.
And you submit this paperwork to the Secretary of State.
If you change any of your LLC’s information, paperwork reflecting the change is also submitted to the Secretary of State.
This way, the Secretary of State always knows who your Registered Agent is.
How does Service of Process work?
Service of Process for an LLC is the delivery of court and legal documents.
When an LLC gets sued, it needs to be officially notified.
The person who is suing (the plaintiff) usually hires an attorney to prepare the lawsuit. Once they’re ready to start the lawsuit, the attorney hires a Process Server (a person who delivers legal documents).
The Process Server will then “serve” the Notice of Lawsuit to the LLC’s Registered Agent (and let the court know it was legally delivered). Then the Registered Agent will forward the notice to the owner(s) of the LLC.
How do I cancel my Registered Agent Service?
Before you cancel your Registered Agent Service, you have to file a “Change of Registered Agent” with the Secretary of State. This form updates the state with your new Registered Agent information.
You have to do things in this order because California law requires that your LLC always have a Registered Agent.
Once your Registered Agent information has been updated with the state, you can cancel your service with the Registered Agent company.
Most Registered Agent Services have an online dashboard where you can login. And inside, is often an option to cancel their services.
If you don’t see that, you’ll need to call or email the Registered Agent company to cancel their services.
What’s the best California Registered Agent option to choose?
If you want to save money, the best option is to be your own Registered Agent or ask a friend or family member (they need to have a physical street address in California).
If you want privacy (keeping your address off public records), the best option is to hire a Registered Agent Service.
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California Courts: Service of Process
California Code of Civil Procedure: Article 4
California Revised Uniform LLC Act: 17701.13
California Revised Uniform LLC Act: 17701.14
California Revised Uniform LLC Act: 17701.15
California Revised Uniform LLC Act: 17701.16
California Secretary of State: Service of Process
Berkeley Law: Frequently Asked Questions – Subpoena FAQs
California Secretary of State: Agent for Service of Process FAQ
California Code of Civil Procedure: Article 4 Section 416.10 – 416.90
California Secretary of State: Guidelines for Access to Public Records
California Secretary of State: FAQs – Personal Information in Public Filings