A “doing business as” (DBA) allows business owners to register a business name other than the legal name on its formation paperwork. A DBA name can also be called an assumed name, fictitious business name, or trade name. There are a number of reasons a Washington D.C. small business owner may want to use a DBA (called a trade name in Washington D.C.) for their operations, and it’s important to make sure it’s done correctly.
Although we currently don’t support the registration of DBAs in the District of Columbia, you can use our guide to learn more about why a trade or fictitious name might be the best choice for your business, as well as how to register and maintain one.
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:
Register your DBA name online using these steps:
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
While we don’t currently support DBA registration in the District of Columbia, we can help you create one in states we do support, including: Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas and Utah. We can make creating a DBA name in another state simple.
The content on this page is for informational purposes only, and does not constitute legal, tax, or accounting advice. If you have specific questions about any of these topics, seek the counsel of a licensed professional.
District of Columbia DC Business Resources
Registration fees change from time to time. A full breakdown of the fee schedule (including expedited registration) can be found on the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, Corporations Division’s website.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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