The first step in forming an LLC or corporation in Wisconsin is to verify the business name is available to use. Each business entity that is registered with the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions must use a unique name. See our step-by-step guide to learn how to quickly search available names by using the state’s Business Entity Database.
How to do a Wisconsin Business Name Search
Step 1: Register Online
Step 2: Search your Business Name
Enter the name you would like to use in the Name Search. In this example, we will look up “Lawn & Order” and then click “Search Records.”
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 Wisconsin, 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.
Step 3: Review Results
To find more information about any of the registered business names, click on the link in the “Entity Name / Type” column to see a detailed report. In this example, we will look up “Lawn & Order LLC.” In this example, we will use the second link as the first one has been dissolved (See “Status” column)
While the name “Lawn & Order” by itself may not be available, other variants are such as “Wisconsin Lawn & Order.” Searching for this business name brings a result that says, “Sorry, your search returned no records.” Even if the name looks like it is available, the Department of Financial Institutions 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 Wisconsin. Even when the name of the business you want looks like it is available, the Department of Financial Institutions will make a final determination at the time of filing to ensure the name you picked isn’t too similar to other registered names.
Something to also 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 since business names for a sole proprietorship or partnership are not registered by the Secretary of State and are not required to be unique. To protect your business name, consider getting a trademark.
Related: Should I trademark my business name?
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
- Registered Effective Date – Date the entity was first filed with the Department of Financial Institutions
- Status – Organized means the entity is in good standing, and all reports and filing fees are up to date. Other results include “Administratively Dissolved,” “Dissolved,” Delinquent,” and “Involuntarily Dissolved.” The names of these inactive results may be available to register.
- Entity type – Corporation, Limited Liability Company. Etc.
- Registered Agent’s information – A Registered Agent is the singular point of contact for the entity should a legal, or tax notice need to be sent to the business. This is often one of the owners, and if their home address is used, that address becomes public information. Many people find this concerning and use a Registered Agent service like Northwest Registered Agent, so their home address isn’t listed.
How to Register a Fictitious Business Name (Sole Proprietorships and Partnerships)
The Department of Financial Institutions Business Entity Database provides information on corporations and LLCs registered in Wisconsin. The names of sole proprietorships and general partnerships are not centralized. Instead, they are registered with the County Clerk’s office in the county where the business is located.
To register, 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 Wisconsin?
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 you want a name but are not ready to register the LLC, you can file the Name Reservation Application. The name reservation will hold a name for up to 120 days, at the cost of $15.
How do I form an LLC in Wisconsin?
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 Wisconsin LLC by reading our step-by-step guide on filing the Articles of Organization.
While not required in Wisconsin, 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 Wisconsin business licenses and permits to ensure the business is legal to operate.