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How to Change Your Business Name – Legal and Regulatory Steps Explained

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How to Change Your Business Name – Legal and Regulatory Steps Explained

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: February 29, 2012 Updated: January 9, 2013

Changing a business name is a costly and disruptive process, especially for established businesses. You can’t just start calling it something different. Print and online marketing materials and bank accounts will have to change, websites adjusted, domain names registered, email addresses updated, and so on. 

This is all assuming your chosen new name is even available!

So before you take the leap, familiarize yourself with these steps. Most of them are required by law, but others are simply good business practice.

Check Trademarks

Trademark infringement can carry a high cost for your business. Before you pick a name, use the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s trademark search tool to see if a similar name, or variations of it, is trademarked.

Check Available Domain Names

Before you do anything to change your business name, be sure you can claim it online. You can do this with a simple web search, but you should also check whether a complementary domain name (or web address) is available. You can use the WHOIS database of domain names.  If the name you want is available, claim it right away. This guide explains how to register a domain name.

Notify Your Secretary of State

All business types, except sole proprietors, should first notify their Secretary of State to change names in their articles of incorporation.  States will have online forms for this, and usually charge a small fee. During this process, you’ll find out whether your new name is already in use in your state by another corporation or partnership. You can do this via online state databases of registered business names and fictitious names.

File a New “Doing Business As” Name

If you previously filed a “Doing Business As” Name, or DBA, with your local government, you’ll need to repeat this process with your new name. Read more from SBA.gov about the DBA registration process and get links to your state government office.

Revise Business Licenses and Permits

Check with your state, county or city to determine the process involved in updating or obtaining new business licenses and permits. There is typically a fee for this process.

Let the Tax Authorities Know

The IRS and your state and local revenue agencies will need to be notified of any change of business name. Here’s what you need to know:

  1. Notify the IRS – Depending on your type of business, follow the process below:
  • Sole Proprietors – Send a signed letter notifying the IRS of the business name change to the same address where you file your return.
  • Partnerships – Notify the IRS on your current year partnership income tax return (Form 1065). If you’ve already filed your return for the current tax year, you’ll need to write to the IRS at the filing address.
  • Corporations – Notify the IRS on your current year corporation income tax return (Form 1120). If you have already filed, write to the IRS notifying them of the name change at your regular filing address.
  • LLCs – If you are a single-member LLC, follow the same process as sole proprietors. For multi-member LLCs, follow the partnership process.

Read more about this process on the IRS’ Business Name Change page.

  1. Notify State and Local Revenue Agencies - Requirements for notifying your state vary; locate your state revenue agency via these links from SBA.gov: State tax Resources.

You May Need a New EIN

Generally, sole proprietors, corporations, and partnerships don’t need a new Employer Identification Number (EIN) if they change their business name. However, there are certain situations where these entities may need to obtain a new EIN, like if a partnership incorporates or one partner takes over as a sole proprietor. Likewise, if a sole proprietor incorporates or takes on a partnership, a new EIN is needed. This easy-to-read guide from the IRS – Do You Need a New EIN – explains under what circumstances a business needs to obtain a new EIN.

Update Business Documents, Contracts and Agreements

In addition to updating your marketing material, developing a plan to notify customers and building your new brand, you should also revisit and update business loan paperwork, lease documents, bank accounts, etc., that will all need to reflect your name change.

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About the Author

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed.

About the Author:

Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

Comments:

This is a great article. It helped us a lot in the process of changing our pest control company's name. We made sure that the domain name, social media usernames, etc. were not taken before we followed the steps in this article and added a Trade Name to our LLC. It was a smooth and successful transition.
I think it should just rename as needed. Because if not it will have a huge impact to the brand. Customers also takes time to get used to the new name.
This article is very informative; however, no info was provided on how to notify the SBA of a business name change. Does anyone have info regarding that? This is thinking myself
Changing your business can be a hassle if you don't cover all your bases! The hardest part for us at The Schreiber Law Firm (www.ronschreiber.com) when we changed our name was the online branding and marketing strategies. First came the domain name, but then all marketing and social media graphics and material had to be changed next. Following those was all social and directory listings that took awhile. We aren't saying don't change your business name, just know beforehand what you are getting yourself in to and what exactly you need to do to successfully change it. Great article by the way! Very helpful information here and definitely something that should be utilized by a a business owner about to change their business name. Thanks for this!
Don't forget that you need to be able to obtain the exact match .com domain name as well. If you can't get the domain you may be forced, down the road, to change your name again. Often, we found, that many people have to change their name down the road because they don't have the domain name.
This article is very informative; however, no info was provided on how to notify the SBA of a business name change. Does anyone have info regarding that?
I'd like to link this article to my blog. Very aptly covered. Every aspect of company incorporation, trademarks, business contracts and agreements is so well covered. Thank you!

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