If you are starting a small business or sole proprietorship in Florida under a name that is not your own, you must register your fictitious name with the Florida Division of Corporations to protect it from infringement. This process is not required for the formation of corporations, limited liability companies, or limited partnerships, which have separate filing requirements. The filing process for fictitious names is straightforward; you can register your business name easily online. However, you do not actually "reserve" a business name in Florida, you only register it.
Publish a notice listing your legal name and fictitious name in a general-circulation newspaper in the county where your principal place of business is located. You must publish a notice listing your legal name and fictitious name in a newspaper. Florida law requires this step before you can register your name.
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Go to the Florida Secretary of State website. In the left column on the home page, click on "Corporations." On the next page, click on "E-Filing Services" at the top of the page, and then click on "Fictitious Name Registration" from the pull-down menu. Read the disclaimer and click on "Add Fictitious Name Registration" at the bottom of the page. This will take you to the "Application for Registration of Fictitious Names." Fill in the required fields, including the fictitious name you are registering. "Sign" at the bottom of the form by entering your name.
Review the information you've entered carefully. You may not alter the fictitious name once you've registered it; if you've made an error -- even as minor as a single punctuation mark -- you will have to cancel the registration and start a new one. Click on the "Continue" button at the bottom of the page. The page will give you a document tracking number and the appropriate fee required for registering.
Select your payment method on the lower half of the same page. Options include "Credit Card Payment," "Sunbiz E-File Account Payment," and "Check by Mail" payment. The Sunbiz E-File Account selection allows you to set up an account for all online filing fees you will need for your business, including annual and quarterly reports and tax filings. If you pay by check, you must print out this page and send it with your payment. Turnaround time for check payments and hardcopy applications is about two weeks; online registration can be completed within 48 hours.
Operating a business under an unregistered fictitious name violates Florida law and is considered a second-degree misdemeanor.
A fictitious name registration merely informs the public that you are operating your business under a name different from your own legal name. The registration itself does not create any legal right to use that name.
For assistance with hardcopy applications, contact the Division of Corporations, Fictitious Name Section at 850-245-6058. For technical support with online filing or payments, contact the Internet Support Section at 850-245-6939.
If your business changes ownership, the owner on record with the state must cancel the fictitious name registration and re-register within 30 days of the ownership change. You must submit a hardcopy registration.
Registration is good for five years, and expires on the last day -- December 31st -- of year five. In the final year, you may renew the registration any time between July 1 and December 31.
If you are filing a hardcopy application, mail it along with your payment to the Division of Corporations/Corporate Filings, P.O. Box 6327, Tallahassee, FL 32314.
Founder/president of the innovative reference publisher The Archive LLC, Tom Streissguth has been a self-employed business owner, independent bookseller and freelance author in the school/library market. Holding a bachelor's degree from Yale, Streissguth has published more than 100 works of history, biography, current affairs and geography for young readers.