How to Check for a Business License

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When your business partners with other businesses or professionals, it is important to know whether they are reputable and properly licensed. Online reviews or recommendations from colleagues can cover the reputable part, but what about making sure everything is in place from a legal perspective? There are many ways to find business license information for just about anyone as well as ways to check on professional licensure.

Knowing Which Licenses to Search

Knowing which licenses to search can be complex, especially when different layers of licensing are involved. For instance, if you are seeing a therapist at a local group practice, she likely holds a professional mental health license, and the practice probably also holds business licenses. To look up a professional's license, you will need to be in touch with the licensing board, while business licensing information is typically available from local, state or federal governmental agencies.

Licensing or Certification?

Some professionals are not required to obtain business or professional licenses in order to set up shop. Your favorite business coach who works online in a state that does not require coaches to obtain a business license might not have any licenses at all. As a coach and not a therapist, business coaches do not need professional licensure.

In order to ensure they practice as ethically as possible, ask about professional certifications and then look up the organizations that certified them. You should be able to find their standards of practice or take heed if there are none.

Find a Business License Locally

Business license requirements vary by location and business. Some areas require businesses to pull licenses on multiple levels. For instance, a clothing boutique might need to have licenses from the city, county and state, or a county license might be all that is required. Some independent contractors might not be required to have a business license at all.

Start by going to the websites for the city, county and state in which the business is located. Some areas even have help lines that you can call in order to inquire about licensing rules, including information about local businesses that are already registered.

Business Permit Lookup

Once you find business license information, you might also discover that permits are required for the work a professional is completing for you. This is especially true in the case of building and renovations. The city's planning and inspection departments keep public records of permits. You might be able to access those online or by visiting the office to get copies of the records in person.

Secretary of State Business License Lookup

The secretary of state where a business is located should offer a business license lookup option on their website. In most states, your search results will tell you the date the business was formed, whether or not it is currently active and the type of business it is. For instance, it might say that a business is a limited liability company, a sole proprietorship or a nonprofit.

Nonprofit Status Lookup

For nonprofits that claim to have a 501(c)(3) status, once you complete a state-level business license lookup, you need to obtain verification on a federal level. The IRS has a tax-exempt organization search page on their website. You can search for an organization by name or employer identification number and then click on the appropriate listing. That listing will give you the organization's name and EIN as well as grant you access to their IRS determination letter and past tax information.

Check Contractor License Number

When hiring a contractor to partner with you or your business, it is important to check contractor license number information against your state's database. The contractor license board is often found under the department of consumer affairs website for your state. Search options typically include searching by name, business name or license number.

Check Lawyer License

The American Bar Association has a lawyer licensing page that links you to your state's bar association search page. From there, you can enter a lawyer's identification number, name or location. The results page will show the lawyer's name, ID number, location, contact information and whether he is currently eligible to practice law in that state. As in many other professions, lawyers need a license in each state in which they practice.

Licenses for Mental Health Professionals

Not all professionals who help people with mental illnesses are licensed mental health professionals. Trauma recovery coaches, inpatient psychiatric hospital staff and others many not be required to be licensed. Sometimes, they must work under the supervision of a licensed mental health professional but not always.

Ask your mental health professional if she maintains any licensures so you can verify them with the appropriate board. Many states have separate boards for licensed professional counselors, marriage and family therapists, psychologists, pastoral counselors, social workers and more. Psychiatrists are licensed through the medical board, while nurse practitioners are licensed through the board of nursing.

Medical Professional Licenses

Like mental health professionals, finding licensing information for medical professionals can be more complex than checking a contractor license number or checking for a legal license.

Your state medical board maintains information on all physicians and physician specialties, while the nursing board covers all nurses, including nurse practitioners and nurse midwives. The department of health and human services maintains information on other medical professionals, like nurse aides, feeding assistants and more.

Teaching License Search

Teachers who educate children in public school settings are required to maintain a current teaching license, and you can check on their license through your state's teacher licensing board. You can normally search by name or license number to see if a teacher is licensed and if the license is current. Private school teachers are not always required to be licensed, but private schools may have other requirements for their teachers, and you can ask about background checks.

Real Estate Agents and Brokers

Business real estate deals often involve a lot of money and some risk, so ensuring your real estate agent or broker is properly licensed can help protect your bottom line. The real estate commission in your state should have a website where you can search by name, business name, license number and city. Listing results should show you whether she is active or not and what type of license she holds.

Cosmetology License Search

Cosmetology licenses are required for anyone who cuts, styles or colors hair, but shampooers are exempt. Many states offer specialized cosmetology licenses for nail technicians and additional licenses for those teaching in cosmetology schools or running their own salon. Your state's cosmetology board website should have a page where you can search by name or license number. Search results will show you the license type, class and expiration date.

When the License Isn't Listed

When you complete a license search with the appropriate parties but do not see a business or individual listed, double check your information and try again. Sometimes, it is an honest mistake, and people are not trying to deceive you. It could very well be that the website has a technical glitch, the professional is practicing in an unlicensed profession, his legal name is spelled differently or he is listed with another board.

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About the Author

Anne Kinsey is an entrepreneur and business pioneer, who has ranked in the top 1% of the direct sales industry, growing a large team and earning the title of Senior Team Manager during her time with Jamberry. She is the nonprofit founder and executive director of Love Powered Life, as well as a Certified Trauma Recovery Coach, certified HRV biofeedback practitioner and freelance writer who has written for publications like Working Mother, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Houston Chronicle and Our Everyday Life. Anne works from her home office in rural North Carolina, where she resides with her husband and three children.