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California Contractor License Bond Guide

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California Contractor License Bond Guide

In the state of California, contractors must get a contractors license bond to renew, reactivate, or get a new contractor’s license from the Contractors State License Board (CSLB). These bonds are required to protect consumers and employees from faulty work or dishonest conduct.

Contractors could previously provide alternative methods to cover the costs of a surety bond, but this changed on January 1, 2019 because of Assembly Bill 3126. Contractors cannot use credit union certificates, savings and loan association investment certificates, savings account passbooks, or certificates of deposits in lieu of filing any required bonds.

In addition to a contractors license bond, you may need to file other bonds like the bond of qualifying individual or a disciplinary bond. We put together a guide on getting the California contractor license bond to help you navigate these bond requirements.

How does a California contractor license bond work?

A California contractor license bond is an agreement between the surety, the state of California, and the contractor. This agreement is made between three parties

  • The principal is the person who needs the bond. In this case, it is the contractor.
  • The obligee is the entity requiring the bond. The CSLB is the obligee here. They require contractors to get bonds to issue a license.
  • The surety is the entity who is issuing the bond. By providing a bond, the surety is guaranteeing that the principal will follow all laws and requirements by the obligee. If the principal fails to follow these requirements, then the surety also agrees to fully cover the costs of damages up to the bond amount. Any costs paid out by the surety must be repaid in full to the surety by the principal.

If the principal doesn’t follow the requirements, then the surety agrees to cover the costs of damages up to the bond amount. Any costs paid out by the surety must be repaid in full to the surety by the principal.

You can look through our surety bond guide to learn more about how surety bonds work.

What does this bond cover?

A California contractor bond covers any damages caused by the principal. For example, if you don’t complete a construction project per the terms of your contract, then the client can place a claim on your bond to cover the damages. Unlike insurance, you’ll need to fully repay any claims paid out by the surety.

What are the requirements for a contractor license bond in California?

A contractor license bond in California must be in the amount of $15,000, written by a surety company that is licensed through the California Department of Insurance, and written on an approved form by the Attorney General’s Office.

Below, we’ve laid out all of CSLB’s requirements for contractor license bonds:

  • The bond must be $15,000.
  • The bond must be written by a surety company that is licensed through the California Department of Insurance.
  • The bond must be written on an approved form from the Attorney General’s Office.
  • The business name and license number on the bond must match the information on file with the CSLB.
  • The bond must have the surety company’s attorney-in-fact signature.
  • The bond must be received by CSLB’s Headquarters Office within 90 days of the effective date of the bond.

All of these requirements can easily be met if you work with a good surety bond agency. Working with the wrong surety bond agency can cost time and money. Bad bond agencies may not have experience in the specific surety bond you need. Others may take a long time to process applications and delay your ability to work.

Take a look at our guide to picking a surety agency to learn about the things to look out for when you’re applying for your surety bond.

What Other Types of Surety Bonds Do California Contractors Need?

California contractors may need a bond of qualifying individual or a disciplinary bond, depending on the scenario. We’ll go into each bond in-depth below.

Bond of Qualifying Individual (BQI)

The CSLB requires contractors to get a bond of qualifying individual if an applicant’s license is qualified by a Responsible Managing Employee (RME) or a Responsible Managing Officer (RMO) who doesn't own at least 10% of voting stock in the corporation.

RMOs who own more than 10% must submit a BQI exemption certification. Each qualifier must comply with bonding requirements if there are more than one.

You may need a qualifying individual if you don't meet the requirements of your license. The qualifying individual has direct control and supervision over your business operations. All of these requirements are set forth by the Business and Professions Code Section 7071.9.

A BQI follows the same requirements as a contractor license bond with a couple of differences:

  • The BQI amount must be $12,500.
  • The business name, license number, and the qualifier’s name on the bond must match exactly what’s on file with the CSLB.

Disciplinary Bond

The CSLB requires disciplinary bonds if your license was previously revoked for breaking Contractors’ License Law. You can find these requirements under Business and Professions Code 7071.8.

A disciplinary bond has some overlapping requirements with contractor license bonds, but has additional requirements:

  • The registrar determines the bond amount based on the seriousness of violation. It cannot be less than $15,000 or greater than ten times the amount of the contractors’ bond.
  • The disciplinary bond is filed in addition to other required bonds and cannot take the place of or be combined with other bonds.
  • The company’s license must remain current and active while the disciplinary bond is one file.
  • The disciplinary bond must remain on file and current with the Registrar for at least two years. The registrar may require a longer filing period.

After you get these bonds and your contractor license, you’ll also need additional surety bonds to pursue construction projects.

For example, you’ll need a bid bond before you can bid on public projects. Look into these construction bonds ahead of time so that you’re prepared to start on jobs after you complete your licensing requirements.

Can I Get a California Contractor License Bond with Bad Credit?

The surety company determines the percentage of the total bond amount you pay for your contractor license bond. The percentage of the bond can range from one to 10 percent and varies based on your personal credit score and financial history.

When you have bad credit, you pose a greater financial risk to the surety company in the event that a claim is made. It is possible to obtain a California contractor license bond with poor credit, but the percentage you pay will be higher.

How Do I Renew My California Contractor License Bond?

The CSLB should send you a contractor license bond renewal application approximately 60 days before your license expires. If you don’t receive a renewal application within 45 days of your expiration date, you can order a renewal application online or call the CSLB.

The CSLB must receive your renewal application before your license bond expires to avoid any time in which you are unlicensed as a contractor in California.

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Frequent Questions

What is the difference between being bonded and insured?

Being bonded and insured are two different things and are both typically required depending on your state. For contractors, “bonded” means that you purchased a surety bond that financially covers claims made. Anything paid out by the surety must be repaid in full. “Insured” means that you have insurance that you purchased an insurance policy that will financially cover claims made. You do not have to repay the insurance company in full on claims made.

Can I get bonded with bad credit?

Yes. You can apply and get bonded with bad credit. Our agency is the largest writer of bonds in the county, which allows us to approve contractors for bonds when other agencies cannot.

Are these the same as contract bonds?

No. Contractor license bonds ensure you will abide by the laws of your state, city or municipality when performing contracting work. Contract bonds guarantee public projects will be completed properly and are a separate bond type. You can learn more about contract surety bonds by visiting the contractor bond center.

Do I need a state or local bond?

It depends on who is requiring the bond of you, the local municipality, county or state. Depending on your location, it is possible you may need both a local and state bond, as contractor license bond requirements can vary drastically. You can select your state to see a full list of contractor license bond requirements.

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