It is possible to access public records of a business through the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which maintains an online database of current records and a searchable historical file, or through a local public or university library, such as the Library of Congress, which may have paper copies of certain records, according to Business Reference Services. The SEC database includes electronic copies of quarterly and annual reports and insider trading reports, states the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
Other records available through the SEC include public statements, registration statements for IPOs, special reports and studies, enforcement actions, and proposed and final rules, according to the SEC. The public can search for electronic copies of these various records by clicking the appropriate link on the SEC website, or by submitting a written request to the SEC for records not available online.
Investment houses, such as Merrill Lynch, Deutsche Bank, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney and Credit Suisse First Boston provide reports on public companies for a fee, states Business Reference Services, a division of the Library of Congress. Local libraries may contain a Business and Company Resource, which also provides records on public companies.
It is considerably harder to find public records of private companies because they are not required to file with the SEC, notes Business Reference Services. Some sources that may have public records or more information on private businesses include local business journals such as the "American City Business Journals," and Dun & Bradstreet, which provides, for a fee, a report on information voluntarily given to it by private companies. Business Reference Services maintains a list of other sources available for obtaining public records on private companies.