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What is a DBA?

A DBA, which stands for “doing business as,” is an operating name used for a business other than its registered, legal business name. A DBA is also referred to as a fictitious business name, assumed business name, or trade name.

Do I need a DBA?

The short answer—possibly.

The long answer—it depends on your state, county, and city laws, as well as your entity type. Most states usually require businesses like sole proprietorships and general partnerships to register for a DBA in order to operate under a name other than the owners’ legal names.

Why Should I File a DBA?

Often, a business’s legal name doesn’t properly represent the business.

Every business already has a legal name. For LLCs and corporations, the legal name is chosen at the time of business formation, and is reflected on the Articles of Organization or equivalent document. For sole proprietorships and partnerships, the legal name is the full name of the owner or partners. For any entity type, the legal name can be too general, too lengthy, or no longer represent an evolved or expanded business.

For your business to operate under a different name, a DBA may be legally required by the state or county. This is especially true of sole proprietorships and partnerships. DBA laws are typically for the protection of the consumer, so that the consumer knows the true, legal name of the company with whom they are doing business.

DBA Examples

Obtaining a DBA is especially useful for a partnership or sole proprietorship, since these businesses are legally named as their personal names. For example, the legal name of Jack Brown’s sole proprietorship is “Jack Brown.” To have his carpentry business catch attention and become memorable, Jack Brown can file a DBA to legally go by “Jack the Stripper.”

DBA registration can be beneficial for LLCs and corporations as well. For example, if an LLC wants to expand its business services or open new branches, the LLC might opt for a DBA. If Jack Brown has his own whiskey-selling business named Whiskey Jacks LLC, but has decided to expand his business to also sell cheese, he can open another store under the same LLC and choose the DBA Monterey Jack’s.

DBA Advantages

Some of the advantages of a DBA filing can include the following:

  • Layer of personal privacy
  • Better business branding and identification
  • Distinct identities for multiple branches or product lines

DBA Disadvantages

Some of the disadvantages of a DBA filing can include the following:

  • Layer of personal privacy
  • Better business branding and identification
  • Distinct identities for multiple branches or product lines

Multiple DBAs

A single business can have multiple DBAs. There is typically no limit to the number of DBAs a business can have, although it’s worth noting that each DBA usually incurs a filing fee and a periodic registration fee.

Multiple DBAs can be high-maintenance. In some states, a business needs to renew its DBA registrations periodically, and in each city and county where the DBA is used.

DBA vs. LLC

It’s important to understand that a DBA is not equivalent to an LLC.

Although a DBA adds a privacy layer of separation between your business’s legal name and the publicly perceived name, it is not a separate business entity with limited liability legal protections, like an LLC or corporation, and won’t need a separate EIN or tax return filed.

If you’re a debating over whether to form an LLC or file a DBA, we generally recommend forming an LLC.

 

How to File a DBA

The DBA filing requirements vary depending on your state, and can even vary depending on your county or city. Begin by checking with your Secretary of State or county clerk to find out which office or agency deals with DBA filings.

The DBA for a business can be either slight, or completely different from the legal business name, and can’t use any misleading terms such as “corporation” or “LLC” if it isn’t one of those business entities. You can perform a DBA name search on our Business Name Search page or through most Secretary of State websites to make sure your desired DBA isn’t taken (necessary for states that don’t allow duplicate DBAs).

Here are the general guidelines for preparing and filing for a DBA:

  • Perform a DBA name search
  • Complete and file the DBA registration forms for your specific state, county or city
  • Provide a Certificate of Good Standing (applicable to LLCs and corporations only)
  • Pay the necessary filing fees, typically between $10 – $100
  • Receive your DBA certificate (wait times vary by state)

While DBA filing forms can vary significantly, you’ll typically need to include at least the following information:

A few states require a business to publish a DBA notice in a local newspaper on a state-specific schedule. Ignoring this requirement can result in either fines or revocation of your DBA or business license. Speak with the proper state or county authority to find out more specifics on how to meet this requirement.