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Get a DBA Name for Your District of Columbia Business Today

If you own a business in the District of Columbia, you may have considered using a “doing business as” (DBA) name rather than the legal name of your business. Obtaining a District of Columbia DBA name provides an opportunity to operate your business under a different title. Choosing the right DBA name is an important consideration, as it can be beneficial for many reasons, such as brand development.

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Getting a DBA name in Washington, D.C., can be simple if you know the correct steps. Explore our comprehensive guide on understanding, obtaining, and maintaining a great DBA name for your business. 

We will outline the formal process to acquire a DBA name, your legal obligations, and D.C.-specific considerations for your small business in Washington, D.C. 

What is a District of Columbia “doing business as” (DBA) name?

A DBA name is an alias for your business that ideally correlates with your brand and website to quickly show potential customers what your business is about. A new business can operate under this alias without using its full legal title. 

However, a District of Columbia DBA name is NOT a business entity type, so registering this name does not affect the business structure type or how you do taxes. In Washington, D.C., your DBA name is also referred to as your business’s “trade name.”

Some businesses find the use of trade names to be beneficial as a brand-building tool and to make the business easier for potential customers to search for online. District of Columbia DBA names are required to be unique and meet some basic requirements — such as not using entity designators like “LLC” or “Corp.” The word “company” is allowed, though.

There are two primary categories of businesses seeking DBA names, but there is no difference in the forms required to be filled out in the District of Columbia:

  • Sole proprietorship or partnership: If your business is a sole proprietorship or partnership, you may seek a DBA name so that you can operate under a legal business name. Otherwise, without a DBA name, your business will be referred to by your personal legal name. If you wish to build a brand outside of your name alone, a DBA name is a great tool to do so.
  • Corporation or limited liability company (LLC): If your business is a corporation or an LLC, you may wish to operate under a different name for any number of reasons. Examples include launching a new line of products or services or dropping a designator like “LLC” or “Inc.” from your name.

Registering a DBA name gives you the ability to use a trade name for your business through a simple and cost-effective process. There are numerous advantages to using a DBA name for your business:

  • Branding: Operating with a DBA name gives you the ability to share your branding voice right in your business name. Choose a name that resonates with customers and expresses what your business does. If it can align with an available “.com” domain name, this presents an excellent brand-building opportunity. 
  • Ability to use a DBA name in business transactions: A formally registered DBA name can be used to conduct official business, including vendor and banking transactions under this name. For example, if your legal business name is “The Smiths’ Corporation,” but your customers or vendors tend to write checks to your business as “Smiths’,” registering this exact name as a DBA name can be helpful for banking records. 
  • Avoid compliance issues: Having your DBA name officially registered can prevent compliance issues or legal headaches caused by a name being used that does not match your business name exactly. Since your DBA name in Washington, D.C., can be easily renewed online every two years, you can maintain your DBA name and prevent these concerns. 
  • Multiple names can be used for new or different business divisions: If you have been known as “John’s Formal Wear,” and you are creating a new line of athletic wear, you can add a DBA name like “John’s Athletic Wear” to represent this new division of your business, for example. Filing a DBA name is an inexpensive way to segregate or expand on your current business without having to incur the expenses of filing a new LLC or corporation. In Washington, D.C., there is no limit on the number of DBA names you can have under one business. 

Read on for a detailed overview of how to choose, obtain, and maintain a DBA name in the District of Columbia. We will show you how to choose your DBA name, register it formally, and renew it or manage any name compliance changes in the future.

How do I choose a District of Columbia DBA name?

The main point to consider when choosing a DBA name is how the name will support your marketing efforts and effectively communicate your brand. Choosing a distinctive name that stands out among the competition and conveys the nature of your business is ideal. Markers of a great DBA name include one that is memorable and simple.

In the District of Columbia, your DBA name should be distinguishable from other registered DBA names. In addition, choosing a unique name avoids confusion and supports your goal of creating a powerful brand. Washington, D.C., specifies that your trade name must also be distinguishable on the records from any name of a domestic or foreign filing entity, any reserved or registered organization name, another registered trade name, or the name of an agency of the United States, District of Columbia, or another state. 

To determine if a DBA name is already in use, visit the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) Business License Verification website and perform a name search. You may also want to check the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) database before finalizing your DBA name to ensure no other business has trademarked the name already.

District of Columbia law prohibits the use of entity qualifiers like “LLC” or “Incorporated” in your trade name, but “Company” can be used. A trade name in the District of Columbia can also not be the same as your corporate name. 

However, under certain circumstances, the Corporations Division will allow you to register your trade name using the corporate name without the signifier. For example, if your corporate name is “ABC, Inc.,” you can register your DBA name as “ABC,” although it may not be necessary. 

Currently, a trade name registration in Washington, D.C., is valid for two years, and renewal is required to keep the DBA name active.

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Your DBA name should coincide with your website when possible, so considering a DBA name that allows you to choose a related domain name is also a savvy move. ZenBusiness offers Domain Name Registration services to support your business in registering your new domain name and establishing a website with a strong online presence. Even if you are not ready to launch your website, you may still want to verify that it is available before registering your DBA name and consider acquiring the correlating domain to prevent others from using it first.

How do I register a District of Columbia DBA name?

Once you have verified on the business license verification website that your desired District of Columbia DBA name is not already in use, you have two options for registering your DBA — online or via mail. Here are the steps for both:

Online

Register your DBA name online using these steps:

  1. Visit the DCRA CorpOnline website and create an online profile.
  2. Enter the DBA name you wish to register, ensuring it meets the necessary requirements discussed above.
  3. Provide the following information about your business:
    1. Name of the owner or authorized person registering the trade name
    2. Type of organization applying for a trade name
    3. Complete business name and address
    4. Registered agent’s name and address
  4. Pay the $55 filing fee. 
  5. Submit your registration form online.
  6. Print the confirmation page for your records.

By mail

  1. Download and complete the FIRST page of the Trade Name Registration Form. (Note: this file also includes renewal, cancellation, and amendment forms on pages 2 through 4.)
  2. Provide the following information about your business:
    1. Name of the proposed trade name
    2. Name of the owner or authorized person registering the trade name
    3. Type of organization applying for a trade name
    4. Complete business name and address
    5. Registered agent’s name and address
  3. Provide payment for the $55 registration fee. Checks should be made payable to “DC Treasurer.”
  4. Mail the form and payment to the following address:

Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs

Corporations Division

P.O. Box 92300

Washington, DC 20090

How do I manage ongoing DBA name compliance in the District of Columbia?

While some states have advertising requirements to be completed within a certain time frame of registering a DBA name, Washington, D.C., currently does not have any. However, advertising your new trade name is always a good idea, especially if you are launching a new domain name to coincide with it around the same time. 

The District of Columbia does have specific renewal requirements. Trade name renewal must be done by April 1 of the second year of registration and continually renewed by April 1 every two years after that. If you miss that window, you still have until August 31 to renew, but you will incur a late fee. Starting September 1, you risk losing your trade name altogether. The previous filing is canceled, and you will be required to re-register your DBA name if it is still available. 

A standard renewal fee is $55, and if you miss the window and incur a late fee, it is another $55.

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More District of Columbia DBA Name FAQs

How much does it cost to register a DBA name in the District of Columbia?

Here is a recap of all the filing fees associated with registering a DBA name in Washington, D.C.:

Trade name registration application: $55 (same fee amount whether registering online or via mail)

  • Trade name renewal: $55
  • Renewal late fee: $55
  • Trade name amendment application: $55
  • Trade name cancellation: $55

Additionally, if you desire expedited service, you have the following options:

  • Expedited same-day service: Additional $100 fee
  • Expedited 3-day service: Additional $50 fee 
  • An expedited service fee is required for walk-in customers that received service at the Business License Center. Expedited service does not apply to mail-in customers but is available for certain filings at the CorpOnline site

What is the processing time to register a DBA name in the District of Columbia?

Washington, D.C., does not provide an estimate on the processing times to complete your DBA name request, although some business owners have reported the process taking approximately three weeks.

However, online filing is always faster than mailing in forms, and paying the additional fee for expedited service can speed up the process further and offer a specific return time.

Do I need a DBA name for my District of Columbia business?

While a DBA name is not a requirement (as long as you’re using your business’s legal name), it is advantageous for many kinds of businesses. For example, even if your business is legally named “Jim’s Books, LLC,” and you want to be referred to as “Jim’s Books,” it can be worth it just to drop the “LLC” from your business name.

If I register a DBA name in the District of Columbia, can another business use the same name?

While DBA names are generally not exclusive, the District of Columbia does require newly registered DBA names to be unique and distinguishable from others, even from those in use in other states. However, a DBA name alone is not the same as a trademark, nor does it override other trademarks. 

The best approach is to choose a unique DBA name to protect your brand. You can verify that your desired name is not already in use on both the DCRA website and the USPTO website before choosing your District of Columbia DBA name.

Can a business in the District of Columbia have multiple DBA names?

Yes, businesses can typically use a variety of DBA names to differentiate distinct areas of their operations. For example, if a landscaping business also offers handyman services, the business could create two unique DBA names, such as “Fred’s Lawn and Landscape” and “Fred’s Handyman Services.” Each DBA name would still represent the primary business but offer different branding opportunities for each area.

Is a DBA name the same thing as a fictitious business name in the District of Columbia?

Yes, in Washington, D.C., a DBA name is typically referred to as a “trade name” and can also be called a “fictitious name,” so any of these titles for a DBA name are interchangeable. “Trade name” is the officially used title on DC.gov.

Do I need a DBA name in the District of Columbia if I use my own name for a sole proprietorship?

No, but a DBA name can be advantageous for a sole proprietorship, as you are not able to conduct business under any other name than your legal name unless you have one. A DBA name gives you the ability to build your brand under more than just your legal name, which will help give insight to your customers as to what products and services you offer.

Will using a DBA name affect how my business is taxed in the District of Columbia?

Since a DBA name is not a business structure, it will not alter the way your business is taxed. Your business will continue to be taxed based on the business entity type it was originally formed. A DBA name will not impact how you are taxed.

Reach out to the experts at ZenBusiness to take the stress out of your business filings. Our team specializes in business formation and compliance, so you can focus on running and growing your District of Columbia small business.

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