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How to Reserve Your Business Name

Blue name tag labeled "Hello my name is"

Name reservation is the process of filing with your state to temporarily claim a business name before you actually make your business official. You can reserve a name for an LLC, corporation, or limited partnership in advance to guarantee that the name will be accepted when you submit your formation documents to the state. Reserving a business name is usually pretty simple. You do a quick search to make sure the name is available, submit a form, and pay a filing fee. We’ll explain why you’d want to reserve a business name and how to do it.

When (and When Not) to Reserve Your Business Name

Most of the time, you’re not actually required to reserve your business name. However, there are exceptions. For example, when you start a business in Alabama, the Alabama Secretary of State requires business entities to submit a Name Reservation Request Form before forming the business with the state. But in most states, reserving a business name is optional.

If you’re ready to file your formation paperwork right away, you probably don’t need to reserve your business name. You can simply submit your LLC Articles of Organization or Articles of Incorporation to the Secretary of State (or equivalent agency in your jurisdiction). However, if you need more time to get your ducks in a row before you submit your formation paperwork—and you don’t want another business to steal your awesome name—reserving your business name is a good idea.

State Requirements for Business Names

Before you try to reserve your dream business name, you should make sure that the name meets your state’s requirements. Each state has its own laws about what a business name can and should include. For example, most states require registered business names to include an appropriate business entity identifier, like “LLC” for limited liability companies or “Inc.” for corporations. Some states also have restricted words that business names can’t use without special permission, such as “bank” and “insurance.”

You can find out your state’s name requirements in your state’s legal statutes, the Secretary of State (or equivalent) website, or in Northwest’s state-specific business guides.

Checking Business Name Availability

You can’t reserve a business name if it’s already being used by a registered business in the same state. Most states have an easy online business search tool you can use to look up your business name and see if it’s currently in use. Be sure to search for both the singular and plural version and other slight variations, as states will sometimes reject names that are overly similar to an active business name, even if they’re not identical.

If you’re in one of those rare jurisdictions that doesn’t have an online business search tool, (We’re looking at you, Guam) you can call the business services office in that jurisdiction and ask about business name availability.

Learn How to Do a Business Name Search in your state.

File a Name Reservation Form

Each state has a different process for reserving business names, but most have a name reservation form you can fill out and submit to the Secretary of State for a fee, either online, by mail, or in person. The filing fee for name reservation varies widely by state. For example, the filing fee for the Kentucky Name Reservation Form is only $15, whereas for a Connecticut Name Reservation Form, the fee is $60.

How long can I reserve my business name?

The length of time you can reserve a business name varies by state, but the average time is 120 days. In California, you can only reserve a business name for 60 days, whereas in Ohio, name reservation lasts for 180 days. Some states will also let you renew your name reservation.

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