Search for a Corporation
What is a Corporate Search?
A Corporate (or a Limited Liability Corporation, LLC) Search can be done any time you want to gather more information about a company or wish to verify existing information. It can also be used if you are starting a new corporation and want to ensure your preferred name is available. Additionally, many states supply Certificates of Good Standing for corporations, which can offer added assurance that the company you choose to do business with is in compliance with all state regulations.
How to Search for a Corporation
There are a few general guidelines for conducting a corporate search that you can follow wherever you are, but since corporations and LLCs are registered at the state level, each state will have a slightly different process for their search. All states will have an online database that’s run through their Secretary of State’s website.
- Search by File Number: The easiest way to search for a corporation is by file number (sometimes called a Business Registry Number) since this will be a unique number assigned only to one business. By searching by file number you limit the risk of entering a name wrong or spelling something incorrectly. However, you may not always have access to the file number, in which case you’ll have to search by the name.
- Corporation Name: The next best way to search for a corporation or LLC is by their name. When you register a business in a state, you can’t use a name that’s already been registered by someone else, so each company will have a unique name making it relatively easy to look them up. Note that two businesses may have names that are very close to one another (maybe only a letter or two off), so it’s important to double check spelling or else the right report won’t come up.
- Search other governmental databases: Usually people will want to check information through the Secretary of State to verify names, dates of incorporation, or standing before doing business with a new company, but there are other government databases that you can run a corporate search through as well. Depending on the state you could also search the Department of Justice website to check if any complaints have been filed against a corporation. You may also look to industry-specific government pages for businesses in sectors like agriculture, real estate, insurance, or banking for more information.
Where to Search for a Corporation?
Each Secretary of State webpage will have a slightly different layout, but it should be fairly obvious where to conduct an entity search. Often, this is clearly indicated on the home page since it’s such a common function. You can also do a quick web search for “find a business” followed by the state’s name. Note that just because you’re doing business with a corporation in your state, doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ve registered their business in that state. Many businesses will choose their state of incorporation strategically to take advantage of favorable tax laws.
What Will Come up From a Corporation Search?
In any state you’re in, a corporation search will give you the same set of information in the form of a corporate report. A corporate report is a document that verifies a company's information including its registered name, address, the file number, and often names of the president, secretary, shareholders, or the members of an LLC.
Note that depending on how the corporation is structured, the name listed could be those of the registered agent. A registered agent may be the president or manager, but it is often a law firm that represents the company and the address listed will be that of the law firm. The registered agent is responsible for all state and federal communication and guarantees that any correspondence sent to their location will be addressed in a timely manner.
Why You Might Search for a Corporation
There are a number of reasons why you may be searching for a corporation.
- Suing a company: When suing a company or starting litigation of any sort, it’s essential that you have the corporate name exactly right. One letter off could mean that your lawsuit is thrown out. Before proceeding, look up the corporation’s true name and double check the information against your files. You may only know the business through their DBA (Doing Business As) name and that won’t be accepted for a legal filing.
- Learn more information about a company: While a corporate search won’t give you the most comprehensive information, it will tell you the full name of the business, when they were incorporated, and often the names of the principal shareholders or president. It will also tell you if the company is in good standing, meaning they’ve kept their registration current with the state. This can let you know that you’re doing business with a reputable business.
- Seeing if a name is available: If you’d like to start your own corporation or LLC, the first thing you should do is search for the business name you wish to use. No two companies can have the same name in the same state, so if you do a search and nothing comes up you know your preferred name is available. If it’s already listed, you’ve got to come up with something new.