An IRS corporation name search is the process by which a new business checks to make sure the name it plans to use is not already taken by another entity. This is one of the first steps in setting up your company. You need to know what your operation will be called before you can open a bank account or make business cards and other printed materials. This kind of search takes time, and you have to know where to look.

An IRS corporation name search helps you avoid trademark infringement. A thorough search on the front end means you are less likely to have to change the name of your business later.

Where Do I Look?

  • The easiest place to start your search is your favorite online search engine. Just enter the name you'd like to use and analyze the results. If you immediately find a corporation that is already using the name or even one that is very similar, you may want to reconsider. Also, use the free online trademark searches available.
  • Contact your county clerk's office or the office that handles business registrations, and ask them to check their records for the business name you want to use.
  • Contact the division of your state's government that handles the establishment of new corporations. The staff there can check to see if your name is already in use by another entity, or they may give you instructions on how to check their database on your own. Your state may also have a trademark database that you can search. The secretary of state's office should be able to help you access it.
  • The United States Patent and Trademark Office maintains an online database called the Electronic Search System. Search it for your proposed name to see if it is already in use. 

What Happens Next?

Contact the Internal Revenue Service to apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN). As part of that process, you'll provide the name you want to use. The IRS representative who processes your application will check their records to be sure your chosen business name is available.

More About the EIN

The EIN is a nine-digit number similar to an individual's Social Security number. It is used on payroll checks, for issuing 1099s to contractors, and for receiving payments for contracted services. This number is private and can only be verified by someone with proper authorization from the company (except for nonprofit or exempt organizations). Trusts also have an assigned EIN, but their authorized representative is the executor or the trustee.

The EIN is used when filing tax returns and other IRS documents, so it is important to use the correct number. The IRS will reject forms with incorrect numbers. If an authorized representative needs to verify an EIN, they can call the IRS at 800-829-4933. Once the representative gives the proper identification, the IRS can give the EIN over the phone. A company representative can give authorization to someone else using IRS Form 2848 Tax Information Authorization. The EIN is required to complete this form, so if your authorized representative doesn't know it, he or she will still have to call the IRS to get it.

Running a credit check is another way to confirm an organization's EIN. An authorized representative can obtain the credit report to confirm the company name and address associated with the EIN.

Exempt and nonprofit organizations are an exception to this rule. Exempt organizations are those with a not-for-profit status, so their information is publicly available. The EIN of a charitable organization can be checked online with the Exempt Organization Select Check tool on the IRS website. This is helpful to do if you are thinking of making a contribution to an entity and want to be sure it is tax deductible.

You can also see if the charity is in good standing with the IRS. Nonprofits still have to file tax returns verifying income and can lose their status if they don't do that. The site will tell you if the tax-exempt status of that organization has been revoked for failure to file tax returns, usually IRS Form-990. 

If you need help with an IRS corporation name search, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.