Also called a fictitious business name, trade name, or assumed business name, a Doing Business As (DBA) filing lets the public know you’re the true owner of your business.
Do you need one for your business?
You’ll need a DBA if one of the following scenarios applies to you:
1. You’re a sole proprietor or general partnership and want to conduct business using a name that’s different from your own name. For example, if Jane Doe wants to open a gift boutique called Things That Matter, she would need to file a DBA. In some states, you’re allowed to use your personal name in addition to a description of your product or service without filing a DBA. For instance, Jane Doe may not need to file a DBA if she wants to call her business Jane Doe’s Gift Boutique. You will need to file a DBA if your business name indicates a group (such as, The Doe Group) or if you only use your first name (i.e., Jane’s Gift Boutique).
2. You have incorporated or formed a limited liability company (LLC) and are operating your business under a name that is different from the name of your company or LLC. To illustrate this scenario, suppose Jane Doe has formed an LLC called Jane Doe Gift Boutique, LLC and Jane also wants to operate her business under the name Janesgifts.com; the LLC would need to file for a DBA for Janesgifts.com. Similarly, if Jane wanted to expand into interior design consulting, then Jane Doe Gift Boutique, LLC would need to file a DBA to do business as Jane Doe Interior Design Consultants.
The DBA designation was created to protect consumers by preventing deceitful business owners from operating under a different name to dodge legal trouble. When you file a DBA, you typically need to print an announcement in the local newspaper, so your community knows who owns the business.
What benefits does a DBA deliver?
Above all else, registering a DBA keeps you in compliance with the law. And for sole proprietors who want to avoid complexity and expense, a DBA lets them use a business name without creating a formal a corporation or LLC. Filing a DBA gives the sole proprietor the freedom to use a business name that will help them market their products or services while establishing a separate professional business identity. Realize, however, that while forming an LLC or corporation protects your business name at the state level, a DBA won’t protect your business name from being used by others—that would require trademark protection.
If you’re a sole proprietor, you will need to file a DBA to open a bank account and receive payments in the name of your business from your customers. Most banks will ask for a copy of your filed DBA before they’ll open your account, so you’ll want to file sooner rather than later!
An LLC or corporation may operate multiple businesses without having to create separate legal entities for each business when they have DBAs. For instance, if Jane Doe plans to open several different boutique shops, restaurants, or websites, she might want to set up one corporation with a relatively generic name and then file a DBA for each shop, restaurant, or website.
Essentially, a DBA will help you expand your business while controlling costs and minimizing the amount of paperwork you have to deal with.
How do you file for a DBA?
From state to state and county to county, the requirements for filing a DBA vary. In some states, you register for DBAs at the county level (and individual counties may have different forms and fees). In some states, you register your DBA with the State Secretary of State or another state agency.
Depending on the state you’re located in, you might also need to publish a notice in your local newspaper and then provide proof to the state that you have done so.
To review the different requirement for DBA filings in your state, you can visit the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) website or use a professional legal document filing service to make sure you’re meeting all county and state requirements.
How soon should you register for a DBA?
You should file for a DBA before doing any business under your fictitious business name. Some jurisdictions give you some leeway and will allow you to file shortly after you first use the name. With a DBA a prerequisite to opening a bank account and forming contracts with customers, however, I recommend filing for one upfront. I also encourage you to try our free business name search tool before filing your DBA to see if your preferred business name is available.
Filing a DBA is an affordable way to keep your business in good legal standing from the very start. Ready to begin?
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