People starting an LLC often ask questions such as “Does my LLC name have to match my business name or website name?” or “Do you have to put LLC in your business name.” The questions arise because the term, business name, has many meanings. To help you, we have compiled advice from attorneys and startup experts to answer your LLC name questions.
Legal Name vs Tradename
The short answer to the name question is: Your LLC name does not have to be your business name or match your website name for marketing purposes. But for the legal and financial aspects of doing business, you should use the exact LLC name registered with your state.
Here’s how it works.
The term “business name” is not a legal designation. It’s a generic term that’s used to refer to a variety of names that are associated with businesses. An LLC or corporate name is a business name. Brand names, trade names, DBAs, assumed names, fictitious names, trademarks, or service marks are all commonly referred to as business names, too.
You don’t have to put your LLC in your business’s tradename, brand name, DBA, fictitious name, or any other type of business name you use for marketing. And the LLC name doesn’t have to match your website name. In fact, it’s common for businesses to use one or more names that are different than their official name.
When you do have to use your LLC name
Your LLC name is your company’s legal entity name listed on its state business registration. You’ll need to include the designation “LLC” or a similar designator (these vary by state) in your business name on your state business registration application. And, you’ll need to use the LLC name exactly as it’s registered with your state for signing contracts, opening a bank account, and other legal and financial dealings.
Read on to learn more about when your LLC name needs to be used, when and how to use a trade name, what are the legal requirements for LLC names, and if you should add your LLC name to your business cards or website.
How to Name Your LLC: Legal Regulations and Rules
Every U.S. state has slightly different rules regarding LLC names; however, these legal regulations and rules are common to the majority of States.
State differences tend to be minor, such as allowing different abbreviations for LLC, such as “L.L.C.” or “L.C.” However, most states require an LLC designator to be included in the name of a business that is legally registered as an LLC.
Some states list more disallowed professional terms if unrelated (unrelated to your type of products) including Underwriters, Surety, Trust, Insurance, Realtor, and Attorney.
- Must include one of these words – You need to use a designator such as Limited Liability Company, LLC, or LC (allowed designators vary by state) to indicate that your business legal entity is an LLC
- Cannot match an existing LLC name – Your LLC name can’t be the same as one already registered with your state.
- Cannot contain words for other business entity types, such as incorporated or corporation – This would be misleading to consumers.
- Cannot contain words unrelated to your business products or services – We mean words such as bank, medical, or legal. If your company doesn’t provide these services, you can’t use words reflecting that you do. If you’re planning to start one of these types of businesses, consider forming a professional LLC (PLLC) or a professional corporation (PC).
✔ Wondering if your domain name and business name should match? Here is our expert advice →
LLC Name vs Business Name Uses
When do you have to use your LLC name and when can you use your business name instead? The example below shows where a company registered as “ABC Associates, LLC” would have to use its LLC name and when it could choose to use the business name “Alex and Cindy Caterers” instead. The word “YES” indicates situations in which you must use the official LLC name. The word “Optional” indicates where you can choose whether to use the LLC name, the business trade name, or both.
(Or trading name, trade name)
|ABC Associates, LLC
|Alex and Cindy Caterers
|LLC Business Registration
|Bank Accounts and Credit Cards
|Vendor Credit Applications
How to do business under a different name
As noted above, you’ll need to use the LLC name for legal, financial, and regulatory matters. So how do things work when the business name you’re known by is different from the LLC name? How can you cash a check that a client makes out to the tradename, when the bank needs your LLC name to open a bank account? What about signing contracts and other business matters?
There are two ways to use a business name that’s different from your official LLC name. Register the alternative name as a “doing business as” name with your state or local officials.
Form a separate LLC or corporation for the alternative business name.
Option 1 – Register the name as a DBA of your LLC
The easiest and least expensive solution is to register the alternative name as a “doing business as” (DBA) name with state or local officials. In some locations, a DBA is called a fictitious name, a trade name, or an assumed name.
Registering the alternative name as a DBA does not make it a separate business entity. Instead, it’s a legal acknowledgement that your registered LLC business and the DBA are the same company with the same ownership.
Once you officially register your DBA, you can provide your bank with whatever documentation it needs to let you cash checks made out to the DBA. If you want to use the assumed name when you sign a contract, you’d sign it with the business’s official name plus the words “doing business as” and the DBA name.
DBA Name Example
Suppose you are a programmer and start a business building websites. You form and LLC and the company Smith Websites LLC and open a bank account in the LLC name. You acquire a lot of customers and discover there’s a need for other IT services you could provide. So, you set up and operate a website at SmithITandWebServices.com. You use the name, Smith It and Web Services, on your business cards, sales literature, and other marketing. There’s usually no problem doing those things.
But that’s not the official name of your business. So, in most locations, you won’t be able to cash checks made out to Smith It and Web Services. And you won’t be able to conduct any other legal or financial transactions under that name.
To solve the problem, you register Smith It and Web Services as a DBA. Once the DBA registration is approved, you’ll be able to deposit checks made out to Smith It and Web Services in your business bank account.
If you need to use the DBA on a legal document or anywhere else, you’d include the business’s official name and the DBA. For instance, you might sign a document as John Smith, President, Smith Websites LLC, DBA Smith It and Web Services. If clients ask for a W-9 form, you put the official name of the LLC on line 1, and enter the DBA name on line two, “Business name/disregarded entity name, if different from above.”
How much does it cost to get a DBA?
The fees for registering a DBA range from under $10 to about $150 depending on where your business is located. However, in most localities the fees are under $100. Depending on your location, getting the DBA approved may take several months, so register the name as soon as you suspect you’ll be using it.
Find out what it costs to get a DBA in your state
Option 2 – Form a separate LLC for the alternative name
In some circumstances, you might want to set up the alternative business name as a completely separate LLC. Doing so would allow you to operate it as a totally separate business from the original name.
Setting up the alternative business name as its own LLC or corporation is a more expensive option than registering the name as a DBA. However, doing so is sometimes desirable.
Examples of when a separate LLC might be advisable for the alternative name are:
- You want to maintain separate income, expenses and profit records for each name
- You don’t want to separate the liabilities of each business from the other.
- One operating name represents a spinoff of a line of products and has different owners or investors
Using a Trademark or Service Mark
If your business makes a number of products you may have created marketing names for each of them, just like cereal manufacturers have names for different types of cereals they sell. In this case, the name of your product would be a trademark (or a service mark, if it’s a service). You wouldn’t sign contracts with the trademark name and couldn’t cash a check made out to the trademark name (unless you had also filed a DBA for it). You would include a disclosure on packaging, sales literature, your website and other places indicating that the product is a trademark of your LLC.
Search for LLC Name Availability
As you learned above, one of the legal requirements and rules for LLC names is that they must be unique and not taken by another business registration in your State.
Here’s how you can can search:
- DIY LLC Name Search – Use your State’s business registration database and search for your LLC name availability. Use these links to your US State LLC Name databases
Know that there are complex legal rules that differ by State. These types of slight word variations listed below do not qualify as creating distinguishability and thus will not be acceptable as LLC names uniqueness because they are deceptively similar:
- Single, Plural and Possessive Words
- A, An or The
- And, Or and &
- Hyphens, Periods and Commas
Links to US States LLC Name Search Databases
Washington D.C. Department of Consumer & Regulatory Affairs: Business Filings Search
(you need to create a CorpOnline account)
FAQ: LLC Names
Do I need to put LLC on my business cards?
In most States, it is not legally required to include your LLC designation on your business cards, however, it could be an advantage to add LLC onto your business cards.
Including your full business name with LLC communicates to clients your professionalism. It also notifies them that they are engaging in business with a legal entity – your LLC – and if they choose to sue your company they will not be able to get your personal assets.
Most brand name companies do not elect to include LLC on their business cards because they want customers to focus on their branding message.
Do I need to put LLC on my website?
No and yes.
No, you do not have to include LLC in your company name on your graphic banner headers on your website pages. Here is where you focus on your brand name.
Should I put LLC on my logo?
In most cases, no you should not include LLC in your logo. Logos are visual representations of your branding messages and do not need to contain extra legal abbreviations to get in the way.
Some professions and States require including LLC in logos for attorneys, bankers, and insurance agents. Check with your business lawyer.
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