Last updated July 29, 2021
California LLC Registered Agent
How to form an LLC in California
This Quick Start Guide is a brief overview of how to form an LLC in California.
California LLC Costs:
California state fee: $70
Statement of information: $20 (every two years)
Annual franchise tax: $800 (every year)
★ Check out Northwest vs LegalZoom
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.
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 in case your business gets sued.
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.
As per Section 17701.13, your LLC’s Registered Agent must have a physical street address located in California. A California Registered Agent address can’t be a PO Box address.
Your California Registered Agent should also be available (generally speaking) during normal business hours (9am – 5pm) in case Service of Process arrives. Service of Process for an LLC includes the delivery of legal documents such as complaints, summons, and subpoenas.
Your California LLC’s Registered Agent is a key component to how the court and legal systems work. By requiring all California LLCs to have (and continuously maintain) a Registered Agent on file with the state, the delivery of legal mail and court documents can be properly tracked.
This is similar to how ‘certified mail return receipt’ works, but in the legal world, this is how process servers – (people delivering court and legal documents) – create a record that something was delivered.
Can I be my own Registered Agent in California?
Yes, you can be your California LLC’s Registered Agent, as long as you have a street address located in the state.
You actually have 3 options when forming an LLC in California:
Option 1: You can be your LLC’s Registered Agent in California (are there risks?)
Option 2: A friend or family member can be your LLC’s Registered Agent.
Option 3: You can hire a California Registered Agent Service, also known as a Commercial Registered Agent.
Registered Agent Information is Public Record in California
While you do have the option to be your California LLC’s Registered Agent (or use a friend or family member), you may not want to have your address listed in the public records.
The information you enter in your Articles of Organization becomes public record with the California Secretary of State.
Not only is this information searchable by the public, but other websites download the state’s records and republish them on their own website. Then things begin to multiply as other public record websites take that same information and list it on their website again (and the process repeats itself).
Pretty soon your address is listed on various websites and people can easily find it by doing a google search.
There is a solution though if you’d like to keep your address off public records. We’ll discuss this below.
What’s the best California Registered Agent option to choose?
Option #1 (You):
If you have a street address located in California, are available during business hours, and don’t mind your address being on public record, then you can be your LLC’s Registered Agent.
Option #2 (Friend or Family):
If you don’t have a street address located in California, but you have a friend or family member who does, they can be your LLC’s Registered Agent. They’ll need to be available during business hours and they shouldn’t mind having their address listed on public record.
Option #3 (Registered Agent Service):
If you don’t have a street address in California (or you’d rather not use it for this purpose), you can hire a Commercial Registered Agent in California.
Commercial Registered Agent Service in California
Note: The terms “Registered Agent Service” and “Commercial Registered Agent” mean the same thing. We will use them interchangeably.
A California Registered Agent Service specializes in receiving Service of Process (legal mail) on behalf of your LLC.
Most Registered Agent Services in California cost between $100 and $300 per year.
The California Registered Agent we recommend is Northwest Registered Agent ($125 per year).
Why we recommend Northwest Registered Agent
Northwest Registered Agent is our personal recommendation (and the service we use ourselves) because they’ve been in business for over 20 years, have great customer service, and they let you use their address in your entire LLC filing in order to keep your address off public record.
How to keep your address off public records:
Many filers in California start businesses from their home. For this reason, it’s important to know that all addresses that are listed in your LLC’s Articles of Organization (Registered Agent Address and Business Address) get listed on public records.
If you were thinking of using your home address, but would rather keep it off public records, you can hire a Registered Agent that will allow you to use their address throughout your Articles of Organization. Northwest Registered Agent offers this unique service at no additional cost. They offer Registered Agent services for $125 per year and they’ll let you use their address throughout your Articles of Organization.
Any mail that is sent to your LLC will be scanned by them and uploaded to your online account.
Special discounted pricing for LLC University® readers
Northwest usually charges $100 + state fees to form an LLC. However, we’ve negotiated a discounted rate (60% off) for LLC University® readers.
Special offer: If you hire Northwest to form your California LLC ($39 + state fee), they’ll include their registered agent service free for the 1st year.
(to learn more about Northwest, check out our Northwest Registered Agent review)
Risks of being your own Registered Agent in California
As mentioned above, you can be your own Registered Agent in California.
Besides the address privacy we mentioned, are there any risks to being your own Registered Agent?
In short, there are 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.
A few reasons a process server might not be able to reach your California LLC’s Registered Agent:
- you, your 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 Change of Registered Agent with the California Secretary of State
Next Step: California LLC Filing Form (Articles of Organization)
Once you determine who will serve as your California LLC’s Registered Agent, you can then proceed to the next lesson: California LLC Filing Forms.
If you plan on hiring a California Registered Agent Service (a Commercial Registered Agent), please do so before going to the next step. You’ll need their address for your Articles of Organization.
California Courts: Service of Process
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
California Revised Uniform LLC Act: Section 17701.13
California Government Code: Article 3 (business programs)
Berkeley Law: Frequently Asked Questions – Subpoena FAQs
California Secretary of State: Agent for Service of Process FAQ
California Secretary of State: List of Registered Corporate Agents
California Secretary of State: Guidelines for Access to Public Records
California Secretary of State: FAQs – Personal Information in Public Filings
California Code of Civil Procedure: Article 3 (manner of service of summons)
California Code of Civil Procedure: Article 4 (persons upon whom summons may be served)