One question that small business owners commonly ask is how to change their business name. It’s only natural for a business to grow, evolve or change direction over the course of its lifetime. The name you hatched in the early days may no longer fit your business’ market, activities or brand personality now. The question is: is there an easy way to officially change the business’ name without having to start all over again?
From a legal perspective, the process of changing a name is more involved than just notifying your customers and changing your marketing material. However, it isn’t as complicated as you might think. The specific steps depend on how you are operating your business: are you a sole proprietor or an LLC/corporation. We’ll cover both situations in this article.
How to Change Your Business Name Step-by-Step
How to Change your Business Name: Sole Proprietors and Partnerships
If you have never set up an official business structure with the state and are operating as either a sole proprietor (single owner) or general partnership (multiple owners), then the steps to change an existing business name are pretty straightforward.
First, you will need to cancel the existing fictitious business name (Doing Business As/DBA) with the state or county. You can contact your local government office where your registration was filed to get the appropriate paperwork. Once your original DBA is cancelled, you can file a DBA for your new name with this same office. You can either work directly with the local government office or have an online legal service handle these steps for you.
Once you have the new DBA, you’ll need to take care of a few remaining issues:
- Contact your bank to find out if you will need to open a business bank account for the new DBA, or if you can just convert your existing account.
- Check with your county, city or other local office to determine if you need to update existing business licenses/permits or get new ones for the new DBA.
- If you have an EIN (Employer Identification Number), you can review the IRS’ bulletin “Do I need a new EIN?” to determine if you need to apply for a new EIN for the new DBA. In most cases, you will not be required to apply for a new EIN if you only changed the business name.
- Notify the IRS of your new name. This can be done by sending a signed letter outlining the business name change to the same address where you file your tax return.
How to Change your Business Name: LLCs and Corporations
If you have registered your business as an LLC or corporation, you have two different options for changing your business name, depending on whether you want to abandon the original name entirely or just operate under a new name for marketing purposes.
Option 1: File an Amendment with the State to Officially Change your Business Name
If you have no interest in ever using your original business name ever again, then the best course of action is to file an Articles of Amendment with the state where you filed your LLC/corporation. This document is used whenever you make any changes to your business, such as changing the name, business address or officers of the company. It’s a straightforward document and you can either file it directly with the secretary of state’s office yourself or have an online legal filing service take care of the paperwork for you.
Keep in mind that if your business is registered in other states as a foreign entity, you will also need to file Articles of Amendment in each one of those states. And, in some cases you will need to have a Certificate of Good Standing from your state of incorporation/LLC formation in order to file the amendment in another state.
Once you’ve filed your Articles of Amendment and officially changed your business name with the state, you’ll need to look into the following:
- Contact your bank to find out if you will need to open a business bank account for the new name, or if you can just convert your existing account.
- Check with your county, city or other local office to determine if you need to update existing business licenses/permits or get new ones under the new name.
- You can review the IRS’ bulletin “Do I need a new EIN?” to determine if you need to apply for a new EIN for the new name. In most cases, you will not be required to apply for a new EIN if you only changed the business name.
- Notify the IRS of your new name. For LLCs, this can be done by sending a signed letter outlining the business name change to the same address where you file your tax return. For corporations, you can notify the IRS on your current year corporate income tax return, Form 1120. Or write to the IRS at your regular filing address and notify them of the name change.
Option 2: Keep your Original Name as the Official Name with the State but File a DBA for the New Name
In some cases, you may not be interested in abandoning your original name altogether, but want to operate under a new name for marketing/branding reasons. For example, you may have acquired trademark rights for the original name and don’t want to abandon this property. In this scenario, you can keep your original name as the official name that is registered with the state, but file a DBA for the new name with your local state/county office.
Once you’ve filed the DBA, you will need to:
- Contact your bank to find out if you will need to open a business bank account for the new DBA, or if you can just add the DBA to the new account. This step is necessary if you plan on accepting checks or conducting other financial transactions under the new name.
Keep in mind that whether you are filing an Articles of Amendment or filing a DBA, you should check the availability of your new name before moving forward with any of these steps. You don’t want to accidentally infringe on another business’ name or trademark.
Searching the USPTO’s online database is a first step toward finding any similar and potentially conflicting names. But, you should also perform a thorough search that includes state trademark databases and business directories. You can have a trademark lawyer or online legal filing service help you with this important search. If your search shows that your proposed new name is available, then go full steam ahead with these legal steps to change it.
A business name is the cornerstone of your company’s brand image. If your name no longer reflects your brand, market or products, it’s more than possible to change it. Just be sure to follow the proper legal steps to avoid potential issues.
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