What is a DBA name?
In the business world, DBA stands for “doing business as” and its meaning is quite literally the name your business operates under. In other words, a DBA is essentially just an “AKA” or also known as for a business entity. Why do DBA names exist? Well, often times business entities — whether they’re a sole proprietorship, LLC, partnership, or corporation — represent themselves with a name that is either slight, or completely different from their legally filed business name. Filing for a DBA is essentially just asking for legal permission to represent yourself or your business with a different name. A DBA can be similar to the legally filed business name or it can be drastically different than the legally filed business name.
Note: DBA names are also referred to as a fictitious business name, assumed name, or trade name.
DBA vs. Fictitious Business Name vs. Assumed Name vs. Trade Name
It’s worth noting that not all states use “DBA” verbiage. Various states have different names for DBA filing/registration. While one state might refer to it as a DBA, another might call it a Fictitious Name, an Assumed Name, or a Trade Name. At the end of the day though, the terms DBA, Fictitious Name, Assumed Name, and Trade Name all refer to the same thing.
Don’t want to read? Just know that the following terms are all synonymous in context:
- Doing Business As (DBA)
- Fictitious Business Name
- Assumed Name
- Trade Name
A) If John Smith, as a sole proprietor, wanted to start a photography business and operate under the guise of “Smith Photography,” then he would simply register a DBA or assumed name with his state or county clerk. After being approved, he could then legally represent himself and operate as “Smith Photography.”
B) If your LLC’s legal name was “Business Formation LLC” but you wanted customers to know you simply as “Active Filings” or anything besides “Business Formation LLC.”
Do you need a DBA?
Short answer: No.
In most states businesses are not required to establish a DBA. Furthermore, a DBA is not required to form a corporation, limited liability company or limited partnership. However, if you conduct business using a name other than your personal name or the name on your LLC/corporation’s legal formation documents, many states will require you to file a DBA.
Another consideration is that although it may not be required by law, if you intend to open a business checking account or get a business loan, the bank may require a DBA.
Can a business have multiple DBA Registrations?
A single company — whether it’s an LLC, corporation, or otherwise — can have multiple DBAs (i.e. multiple fictitious names) that are all ultimately under the same holding company. It should be noted, however, that each DBA registration will incur a filing fee. Although DBA filings are almost always cheaper than forming a separate LLC or starting a new corporation, there are legal ramifications that should be considered. Which brings us to our next point…
DBA vs. LLC — Does a DBA provide liability protection?
Although a DBA or fictitious business name will add a conceptual layer of separation between your business’ legal name and its publicly perceived name, a DBA does not offer liability protection. While a business can operate under multiple fictitious business names, ultimately they will all be treated/maintained as a single entity. To be clear, a DBA is in no way equivalent to an LLC.
If you’re a sole proprietor debating over whether to form an LLC or file a DBA, we generally recommend going the LLC route. Why? For much of the same reasons we explained above in the “Do you need a DBA?” section. Opting to start an LLC not only grants you liability protection, but it also allows you to be taken seriously by banks, lenders, and other businesses.
How to file a DBA
DBA filing requirements vary from state to state or even county to county, but all DBA filings will involve dealing with your county clerk or state government office. Today, most states offer online filing/registration in addition to traditional non-electronic filings. If time is of the essence, we recommend going the online route. Not sure which government website to consult in your state? The IRS’s List of State Government Websites is a good place to start. Also, keep in mind that various states refer to DBA filings with different terms. If you’re having trouble finding information on your specific state’s DBA filing process, try searching for the alternative terms (e.g. How to file a fictitious business name? Trade name registration. Or, how to get an assumed name certificate?) in your state.
With all that said, here are some general process steps to go through first:
- Check name availability.
- Although some states do allow duplicate DBA filings, it’s good to ensure that your business/brand won’t be mistakenly confused with another entity.
- In an increasingly digital world, it’s important to make sure a decently reflective domain name is available.
- Pay the filing fee.
- Be prepared to pay the state’s filing/registration fee(s). Fees typically range from $10 – $100 per DBA.
- Awaiting your Assumed Name Certificate / Fictitious Name Certificate
For Florida’s Fictitious Name Registration, for example, the online registration process via Sunbiz requires that:
- The name you register must be advertised at least once in a newspaper that is located within the county where your principal place of business is located (Chapter 50, Florida Statutes). However, proof of advertisement is not required. You, the applicant, certify the name has been advertised when you sign the application.
- Review the instructions for filing a fictitious name registration.
- Gather all information required to complete the form.
- Have a valid form of payment.
Why file a DBA
Part of business incorporation requires adhering to legal requirements, including registering any different names that business might be conducted under. If the name used by a business differs from the one registered with the state, a fictitious business name (or DBA) must be filed.
A fictitious name (or assumed name, trade name or DBA name- Doing Business As) is a business name that is different from your personal name, the names of your partners or the officially registered name of your LLC or corporation. The different names are basically because some states use different terminology for a fictitious business name.
DBA Filings vary jurisdiction by jurisdiction. In some cases, a DBA can be filed at the state level, but most of the times, it is filed at city or county level. Some few states require the publication of a notice.
Many new corporations may look to expand by opening several divisions or locations, and sometimes use different names. Filing a DBA can be a smart idea to test new ventures before forming a new legal entity.
DBA filing is for all entities
DBA registration is applicable to all types of business entities, including:
- Nonprofit Corporations
- Limited Liability Companies (LLC)
- Sole Proprietorships