If you are forming an LLC or a corporation in Pennsylvania, the first thing you need to do is a business name search. This search checks all the registered business entities in the state to see if the business name you want to use is available. Like all other states, the state of Pennsylvania requires each LLC or corporation registered in the state to have a unique business name. So, before starting your business, it’s important to run a business entity search to verify if the name is available through the Pennsylvania Department of State before registering your LLC or Corporation. There is no fee to search.
Something to keep in mind is that even though each Corporation and LLC name must be unique, it may not stop someone else from using that name. To protect your business name, consider getting a trademark.
How to do a Pennsylvania Business Name Search
Step 1: Visit the Business Name Database
Go to the Pennsylvania Department of State website.
Step 2: Search your Business Name
Enter the name you would like to use in the “Business Entity Name / ID” field. In this example, we will look up “Lawn & Order” and click “Name Availability Check”. It is recommended to search by “Starting With,” “Any Words,” and “Sounds Like” in the drop-down menu to search your name thoroughly. Checking the “Only Active Corporations” will limit the search to only entities that are in good standing with the state.
Step 3: Review Results
Searching the registered names, we get a list of all the businesses with the words “Lawn & Order.” To be able to register a corporation or LLC name in Pennsylvania, the name must be distinguishable from the other names registered. If you were looking to form an LLC with this name, you wouldn’t be able to since there is already one registered.
To find more information about any of the registered business names, click on the link in the “Business Entity Name” column to see a detailed report. In this example, we will look up “Lawn & Order LLC.”
While the name “Lawn & Order LLC” is not available, we can do an example search for one that is. This time we will look up “Cowboy Cleaners,” which brings a result that says, “No results found for search term.” Even if the name looks like it is available, the Department of State will do their own search to avoid confusing potential customers with a business name that sounds like someone else’s. Typically words that sound alike but are spelled differently, and even abbreviations will make names show up as available but won’t be approved.
These are the basics of searching for a business name in Pennsylvania. Even when the name of the business you want looks like it is available, the Department of State will make a final determination at the time of filing to ensure the name you picked isn’t too similar to other registered names.
What information can be looked up in the database?
The database search can find several pieces of information about the business. Some of the highlights include:
- Business Name
- Entity type – Corporation, Limited Liability Company. Etc.
- Status – Active means the entity is in good standing with the state, and all reports and filing fees are up to date. Inactive results may be available to register.
- Citizenship – Domestic means the business initially formed in the state. Foreign means an out-of-state entity that wants to do business in the state of Pennsylvania.
- Entity Creation Date – Date the entity was first filed with the Department of State.
- Effective Date – The date the entity first became active.
- Address – This could be the business’s physical address, or it could be an address where business records are stored.
- A copy of the Certificate of Organization and other documents can be purchased.
How to Register a Fictitious Business Name (Sole Proprietorships and Partnerships)
A sole proprietorship or partnership operating their business under a name that is different from the owner’s legal name will register for a Fictitious Business Name, which is also known as “Doing Business As,” DBA, Assumed Name, or Trade Name.
What are the requirements to name an LLC in Pennsylvania?
In addition to the name being unique, the name of the LLC must include a special designator such as Limited Liability Company, LLC, L.L.C., etc., in addition to not using restricted words such as bank or insurance, unless the entity is licensed to operate as such.
Can an LLC name be reserved?
If there is a name you want but are not ready to register the LLC, you can file the Name Reservation Form (SSCB:15-208). The name reservation will hold a name for up to 120 days, at the cost of $70.
How do I form an LLC?
Before starting your business and forming an LLC, be sure to do the business entity search first to make sure the name is available to use. Once you know the LLC name is available, learn how to form a Pennsylvania LLC by reading our step-by-step guide on filing the Certificate of Formation.
While not required in Pennsylvania, an Operating Agreement, which contains the rules for how the LLC operates, is a document worth considering, especially for multi-member LLCs.
After forming a Limited Liability Company, be sure to get an Employer Identification Number (EIN). This is a “social security number” for the business. There is no cost to get one through the IRS.
Also, be sure to check for Pennsylvania business licenses and permits to ensure the business is legal to operate.