You’ve reached an impasse. After a few brainstorming sessions, you settled on a perfect name for your LLC, and even better, you performed a name search and discovered that it’s available.
But there’s a problem: you still need to get some details squared away before you actually start your business. Now, with your LLC months away from formation, you’re worried, because your name is so fantastic, someone might take it in the meantime.
This is a totally valid fear and a common predicament for LLC organizers. Fortunately, there’s a simple solution. All you need to do is lock down that name by reserving it with your state’s government. This will protect it from would-be name-snatchers while you prepare to launch your business.
Want a closer look at reserving an LLC name for your specific state? Check out our comprehensive step-by-step guides through the drop-down below.
Is My LLC Name Available?
You can’t place a reservation if your name is already taken by another business, so your first step should be to confirm that it’s available.
This preliminary step is pretty easy and shouldn’t take longer than a couple of minutes. That’s because each state has a search tool that you can use to find out if any other companies are already operating under that name. Can’t find your state’s search tool? We’ve compiled all 50 here.
If your name is free, go ahead and reserve it or form your LLC. But if you find another identical or very similar name, you’ll need to modify yours to make it distinguishable. Each state has different definitions of distinguishability, so read through your state’s requirements before moving on.
When Should I File a Name Reservation?
As mentioned above, name reservations are particularly useful when you have a name in mind but aren’t yet ready to start your LLC. If you’re ready to get your business running right away, however, you’re better off skipping the reservation and simply using that name on your formation documents, as this will automatically register it with the state.
And be careful, because name reservations aren’t indefinite. They last for a specific amount of time (usually a few months) and then expire. So, don’t place your hold too early, or else your reservation could run out before you start your LLC.
Note: Alabama is the only state where a name reservation is mandatory to start your business, and Florida doesn’t offer name reservations, so keep that in mind if you’re forming a business in either state.
How Long Will My Reservation Last?
Now you’re trying to plan out your LLC formation timeline, penciling in dates to search for registered agents, file your Articles of Organization, apply for business licenses, and meet with your business partners.
It’s important to know when you plan on officially forming your LLC because the name reservation lengths fluctuate between states. They can range anywhere between 30 days and one year, but they usually last either 90 or 120 days.
Some states allow you to renew your reservation before it expires, and this typically involves filing another document and paying an extra fee. Check with your specific state’s website to learn about its name reservation protocol.
After your reservation expires, however, your perfect name is sent back out into the wild, where any other business can use it. So, if you don’t want to lose your name, familiarize yourself with your state’s reservation window and make sure to start your LLC before it closes.
What Are the Steps to Reserve a Name?
In every state, reserving a name involves filing a specific form, often (but not always) called a “Name Reservation Request” or something similar. How you file this form, however, varies.
Many states offer document filing both by mail and online, but some only use paper applications and others only accept online submissions. The forms usually include instructions on how to complete and submit them, and most forms will ask for three main pieces of information:
- Your name and address
- Your entity type (LLC, Corporation, etc.)
- The name you want to reserve
Upon receiving your request, the state will confirm that your name is available and if it is, they’ll place it on hold for you. Congratulations! That name is safely yours to use. Keep track of how long it’s been since your reservation began, especially if you plan on renewing it before it expires.
Placing a name reservation usually costs a small fee, ranging anywhere between $10-75. A few states even offer them for free!
Need Help Forming Your LLC?
Reserving a name is just one (optional) step in the LLC formation process. Can you DIY it? Absolutely. Many LLC organizers have done so successfully before. But if you’re struggling with the name reservation or any other step in the process (or if you simply don’t have enough time) there’s nothing wrong with seeking help.
Business formation services can take over and handle everything for you – name reservations, formation paperwork, registered agents, annual reports, the whole enchilada, and all without breaking the bank.
There are a bunch of great LLC formation services out there, but a few truly stand out from the crowd. Here are three that we recommend:
- ZenBusiness ($39): ZenBusiness truly has it all. They provide complete LLC formation service along with a full year of registered agent service for one incredibly low rate, and they also have stellar customer feedback. It’s hard to go wrong with an offer like this, especially if you use our discount to get 20% off.
- Northwest Registered Agent – $39: Northwest has outstanding one-on-one personalized customer support, which is a big advantage in this industry where some competitors outsource support to massive third-party call centers. Like ZenBusiness, Northwest includes a year of registered agent service, and they also charge just $39 with our discount ($225 without it!).
- IncFile (FREE): IncFile has an LLC formation package that is free of charge, as long as you pay your own state fee. That’s obviously an enticing offer, especially when you consider that they also provide a year of registered agent service. Throw in their strong customer feedback, and IncFile is an excellent choice for LLC formations.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Reserving a Business Name a Required Part of the LLC Formation Process?
In most states, no. Alabama is the only state that requires a separate name reservation before you form your LLC, while in all other states this is an optional step (and in Florida, business name reservations aren’t available at all). If you’re ready to get your business up and running, you can go ahead and form your LLC.
When Is the Best Time to Start an LLC?
Whether you reserve a business name or not, we think you should start an LLC before you begin conducting business. While it is entirely legally acceptable to operate your business as a sole proprietorship or general partnership before forming an LLC, doing so subjects you to a number of risks that LLCs don’t have to worry about.
For example, informal business structures don’t have limited liability protection, so any lawsuit filed against the business can include the owner’s personal assets as well as the business assets.
Should I Hire a Business Services Company to Reserve My Business Name?
We usually love hiring companies like ZenBusiness and Northwest Registered Agent for a wide range of business services, including business formations, registered agent service, and much more. That said, LLC name reservations are so simple that we don’t see any reason not to just file them yourself.
Reserving your perfect name gives you the peace of mind that you won’t lose it to anyone else, and you can prepare to form your LLC with renewed excitement. While this is just the first step, and an optional one, you want to start off on the right foot.
And remember, if at any point you feel overwhelmed by the number of balls in the air, you can always enlist an LLC formation service to help. Either way, once you’ve got your name locked down, you’re on your way to a successful formation process and business future.