California Incorporation Services
To start a corporation in California, you must file Articles of Incorporation with the California Secretary of State. You can file the document by mail or in person. The Articles of Incorporation cost $100 to file. Once filed with the state, this document formally creates your California corporation. However, to actually ready the corporation to do business, you must complete several additional steps.
Starting a California Corporation Guide:
- Choose your California corporation filing option
- Submit the California Articles of Incorporation
- Create California corporate bylaws
- Get a Federal EIN from the IRS
- Open a corporate bank account
- Obtain any required business licenses
- File the California Statement of Information
- Pay taxes on the corporation’s income
California Corporation Filing Options
Free PDF Download
California Articles of Incorporation free download. When you're done filling out the form, submit it to your state.
Do It Yourself Online
Our free account and tools will walk you through starting and maintaining a California corporation. All for free.
20 Day California Corporation
Includes registered agent service, bylaws & more.$350 Total
California Articles of Incorporation Requirements
To form a California corporation, you must complete and file the Articles of Incorporation with the California Secretary of State. See the document below and click on any number to see what information is required in the corresponding section.
Your name must include the word “Corporation,” “Company,” “Incorporated,” “Incorporation,” “Limited” or an abbreviation for one of these words like “Inc.”
This street address will become part of the permanent record of your California corporation. Hire Northwest as your registered agent and you can use our California address as your business address.
You can list an individual California resident (such as yourself) or a registered corporate agent (like Northwest). Personally, we’re fans of Northwest.
If you have an individual as your registered agent, you’ll need to list the address where they’ll be available (and which will become public record). Have a registered corporate agent like Northwest? No need to list our address—it’s already on file with the State of California.
List how many shares you’re creating. You must have at least one. You’ll distribute some or all of these shares later on at your organizational meeting. Want to have different classes or series of shares? You won’t be able to use the standard Articles of Incorporation form; you’ll have to draft your own Articles instead.
Someone has to sign your Articles of Incorporation, and that person is your incorporator. Your incorporator doesn’t have to be a director, officer or anyone in the corporation—just someone you authorize to sign the form. We’ll be your incorporator when you hire Northwest.
How much does it cost to start a California corporation?
The base state filing fee for California Articles of Incorporation is $100 for mailed filings, plus $5 if you need a certified copy. If you’re willing to hand deliver your Articles to the Secretary of State’s Sacramento office, you can pay an additional $15 special handling fee (also called the counter drop-off fee) to get the state to prioritize your filing over other filings received by mail. Additionally, California requires corporations to submit an Initial Statement of Information within 90 days of forming with the state, which comes with its own $20 fee, plus a $5 disclosure fee.
Paying the $15 special handling fee speeds up the filing process for your Articles of Incorporation by about a week or so, but the state also offers several faster options, including 1-day processing for an additional $350 expedite fee and same-day processing for an additional $750 expedite fee. Fortunately, the state waves the $15 special handling fee if you decide to pay for one of the more expensive expedited filing options.
When you hire Northwest, we’ll submit your Initial Statement of Information alongside your Articles of Incorporation, bringing your state filing fee to $125 total ($100 + $25), and you’ll have the option to pay $350 for 20-day processing, $405 for 12-day processing, and $740 for 1-day processing. If you choose either the 12-day or 1-day processing options, we’ll send a courier to Sacramento to submit your Articles and Initial Statement in person. All options include a full year of our registered agent service and the assistance of our expert Corporate Guides.
How long does it take to start a California corporation?
Unlike domestic LLCs, which can file their organizing documents online at the state’s “bizfile” portal, corporations must submit Articles of Organization by mail or in person. Currently, California processes mailed filings in around 20 business days and hand-delivered filings in around 12 business days when you pay the required $15 special handling fee. 1-day and same-day filing options are also available if you’re willing take a trip to Sacramento and willing to pay some truly exorbitant expedite fees. When you hire Northwest to start your California corporation, you’ll have 20-day, 12-day, and 1-day filing options to choose from.
Does a California corporation need a registered agent?
Yes, your California corporation needs a California registered agent. Registered agents go by a lot of different names in California: registered agent, resident agent, agent for service of process, statutory agent, etc. These are all just different names for the same thing: the person or business authorized to accept legal notifications for your corporation.
One option is to appoint an individual California resident. You can even appoint yourself—although you’d have to give up a good chunk of privacy and free time. Registered agents have to list their name and the address where they’ll be available in their Articles of Incorporation. Your Articles are a public document and part of the permanent record of your corporation. A publicly-listed address can mean a mailbox full of junk and unwanted visitors on your doorstep. Your agent also has to actually BE available at the address listed during business hours. Not in meetings. Not running errands. Not at the beach.
A better option is to appoint a registered corporate agent like Northwest. We list our address throughout your Articles to help you maintain your privacy. We’re ready and waiting to accept all your legal notices, and we even scan and send them to you the same day, so you can manage your business from anywhere you choose to be.
Create Bylaws for Your California Corporation
Do I need bylaws?
California has plenty of required public filings that help the state keep tabs on you (and make sure you’re paying all your taxes), but bylaws fall into an entirely different category: internal documents. You don’t submit internal documents to the state, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t important. Bylaws are the most critical internal document of your California corporation.
Why are corporate bylaws important?
Your bylaws define how your corporation works internally. Your bylaws will explain who’s on the board of directors, what the scope of their powers are, how long they’ll stay, how they’ll be replaced, and how many members it’ll take to vote on a resolution. You’ll list the details of your corporation’s stock, such as classes, series and voting shares. You’ll list the officers and their responsibilities. Essentially, your bylaws spell out exactly how your company will run and how much authority each person will have—pretty important stuff.
And despite being an internal document, people outside your business will need to see your bylaws too. California has some seriously strict banking regulations, so you’ll likely need your bylaws (along with your EIN and approved Articles) just to open a corporate bank account. Potential investors, lenders, and partners will all want to see your bylaws as well.
Do I have to write bylaws?
Not from scratch. We know how crucial bylaws are to your corporation. That’s why we give you free corporate bylaws when you hire Northwest to form your California corporation. We give you other free corporate forms as well, from resolutions to meeting minute templates. We want to work with your business for years to come, so it’s important for us that you start off on the right foot. We’ve spent years refining and improving our docs. Check out the free corporate forms we provide to help corporations form and maintain their businesses.
Get an EIN for Your California Corporation
Do I have to get a tax ID number (EIN)?
Yes, the IRS requires corporations to get a federal tax ID (also known as an EIN or FEIN). The IRS uses this number to identify your business on federal tax filings. Your EIN is useful for more than just taxes though. California has particularly stringent banking regulations for businesses, so you’ll almost certainly need your EIN just to open a bank account. You’ll typically need your EIN for local licenses and permits too. You may be able to use your personal social security number in some of these situations instead, but who wants to do that? You can get an EIN directly from the IRS at no cost. Want to skip the extra application? Hire Northwest to get your EIN for you. Just add on EIN service during checkout when you sign up for our services.
Open a Bank Account for Your California Corporation
To open a corporate bank account, you will need to bring the following to the bank:
- A copy of the California corporation’s Articles of Incorporation
- The California corporation’s bylaws
- The California corporation’s EIN
If your bylaws don’t specifically assign the power to open a bank account, you may also want to bring a corporate resolution to open a bank account that states that the person going to the bank is authorized by the business to open the account in the name of the corporation.
We recommend calling your bank ahead of time before going in and asking what their requirements are. Most banks don’t open corporate accounts nearly as frequently as personal accounts, so some bankers may be unfamiliar with their own bank’s requirements. As frustrating as that may be for you, calling ahead will help save you from being super annoyed when you walk into the bank.
Obtain a Business License
Does a California corporation need a business license?
Yes, your California LLC is required to have a business license. Licenses are issued at the local level, so you’ll have to apply for a license from the city or county where your LLC is registered. Requirements, fees, and renewal times are vastly different throughout the state, so a little investigation into your area’s specifics could save you from sticker shock down the road.
File California Corporation Reports
What is the California Statement of Information?
Within 90 days of formation and every year afterwards, your corporation has to pay a $25 filing fee and submit a California Statement of Information to update the state on your corporation’s ownership and contact information. The yearly report is due at the end of your anniversary month (the month you formed). If you file late, the penalty is huge: $250.
Worried you’ll forget? Northwest can help. When you sign up for our services, we’ll send you reminder notifications for your reports. For total peace of mind, you can even hire us to file your Statement of Information for you each year.
How much does a corporation in California cost each year?
At least $825 in state filing fees and taxes. Every year, California corporations must submit a Statement of Information and pay the $25 filing fee. Corporate taxes (even for S corps) are a minimum of $800.
Pay Corporate Taxes
What are the taxes for a California corporation?
California taxes of one kind or another affect pretty much every entity, from LLCs to corporations. Plan on paying at least $800 a year in entity-level taxes, no matter what entity you have.
The California corporate net income tax is a flat rate of 8.84%. There’s a minimum tax of $800. S corporations pay a 1.5% tax on net income with a minimum tax of $800.
The state sales tax rate is 7.25%. Cities and counties typically tack on their own sales tax as well, making the average total sales tax rate 8.171%.