Having a California registered agent is a requirement of every registered business in the state.
You can’t complete the formation of your LLC (or other company structure) in California (and other states) without having designated a registered agent.
A registered agent provides:
- An official registered office address for the business
- A postal address to receive correspondence
- A physical address for receiving any service of process (in a lawsuit for example)
Who Can Be a California Registered Agent?
In simple terms, a California registered agent is a person or business entity that has a physical address in the state (a post office box is not sufficient).
So that means that you can:
- Serve as your own registered agent (if you are resident in California)
- You can designate a friend or family member – or your lawyer or accountant – as your registered agent
- OR … you can do what most people do and hire a reputable online business services company to provide registered agent service.
Requirements of a California Registered Agent
There a number of requirements to be a registered agent in California, which is why most people choose to go with a registered agent service.
The California Secretary of State’s office provides the requirements for registered agents in the state:
- individual who resides in California, or a corporation, designated to accept service of process (court papers) if the business entity is sued. If a corporation is designated as agent for service of process, that corporation must have previously filed a certificate pursuant to California Corporations Code section 1505.
- A business entity cannot act as its own agent for service of process and no corporation may file a certificate pursuant to California Corporations Code section 1505 unless the corporation is currently authorized to engage in business in California and is in good standing on the records of the Secretary of State.
No matter who you choose to be your registered agent, they need to be physically present at the address provided to the state during standard business hours.
What will my California Registered Agent do For Me?
Aside from allowing you to form your LLC or other company structure in the state of California, your California registered agent service supports you business in three main ways: administrative, legal and compliance. It also offers a couple of advantages in terms of privacy and discretion, which we will detail below.
Your California registered agent service will receive all your mail and either forward it on to you, or scan it and upload it to a portal where you can view it.
This includes all correspondence with the state of California relating to your business.
The registered agent provides a physical address to receive hand-delivered service of process (SOP) paperwork regarding any legal action being taken against your company. We all hope this doesn’t happen, but it is always a possibility and a registered agent is required to fulfil this function for your company. If your registered agent receives any legal documents, they will let you know and forward the documents to you promptly.
Your registered agent helps ensure that your business files any required paperwork on time. Each state has its own schedule of required corporate filings – annual reports, tax payments or documents etcetera.
A registered agent service keeps track of these dates (which are subject to change) and emails your to remind you when filings are due. This ensures your business remains in good standing and doesn’t receive any fines or other actions including dissolution.
As an example, all businesses in California must file a periodic report. For LLCs this is due every second year rather than each year as is conventional in other states. California corporations and LLCs must file the Initial Statement if Information within 90 days after formation. The initial fee is $25 for corporations or $20 for LLCs. Among the taxes due, it is worth noting businesses in California have to pay a franchise tax of $800 every year.
Privacy & Discretion
Having a registered agent service as opposed to using your own address gives you more privacy. For example, if you use your home or private office, that will become publicly available on the California business register.
There’s also the additional discretion that a registered agent service provides – no one wants their neighbour, employees or clients to be present when a business has to accept service of process in the event of legal action.
The other key advantage using an online registered agent service (we reviewed our favourites below) as opposed to going it alone or using a local company is that a national firm allows for expansion to other states.
If you are setting up in another state, then you’ll need a registered agent there too. Doing it with a service means you can pay a little extra and add that state to your account and they will deliver documents for that entity via the same online account dashboard that you are familiar with.
Our Top California Registered Agent Services Reviewed
We recommend choosing one of the four national registered agent services below to be your California registered agent (hint, sometimes it is simplest and best to choose the same service to form your California LLC and be your California registered agent as there are savings to be made and it is simpler that way).
Each service has it’s own pros and cons, which we have summarized below. Once you have chosen, click on the Get Started link on the corresponding service and get the best available price to set up your California Resident Agent.
Price: $99 per year
Best customer service
|Northwest Registered Agent|
Price: $125 per year
Price: $119 per year
Best no frills
Price: $99 per year
Price: $299 per year
Forming a Business (LLC) in California
Of course choosing a registered agent is just one part of forming a business entity in California.
We’ve summarised the other main steps for forming an LLC (the appropriate entity for most situations) well as showing you where appointing a registered agent fits in the process.
- Choose a business name. Be sure to choose something that’s unique to your business, is easy to pronounce (helps with word of mouth) and fits with your business. It also needs to not be an business name that is already in use in California. You can check this with the California State Department via its Business Entity Search.
- Appoint your registered agent. We discussed this throughout so won’t repeat ourselves here other than to say we recommend a registered agent service.
- File your formation documents: The main document you need to file initially is the Articles of Organization. Annual filings will include the annual report, but you don’t have to do that until your LLC (Limited Liability Company) is up and running.
California Business Fast-Facts
- Size of California economy: $3 trillion in Gross Domestic Product
- Business Formation Speed: five days standard filings; 1 or 3 business days for expedited filing over the counter (cost of $350 or $15 depending which option).
- Cost (state fees) to Form a Business: $100 for LLCs
- Annual Reports: Due on the first day of the LLC’s anniversary month (ie the month in which it was formed). Costs $20.
California Registered Agent Service FAQs:
How much does a Registered Agent Service Cost?
A registered agent service is typically around $100 per year (although some can cost several hundred dollars per year).
What about a California-only (as opposed to national) registered agent service?
There are local firms that offer a registered agent service and they are perfectly fine for some people. The only area in which these local firms suffer in comparison to the four services that we prefer is their dashboards are usually not as user friendly and these firms can’t service your needs if you need to expand into another state.
How to Change Your California Resident Agent?
It is possible of course to change your California registered agent if you have an existing service. To do this you need to fill out the correct form and submit it to the State Department of Assessments and Taxation (check this link for details).