What is a DBA name?
A “doing business as” (DBA) name is a legal form required whenever a company operates under a name that’s different from its officially registered name. DBA names are referred to as trade names, fictitious names, or assumed names in some states.
While DBA names are most advantageous to sole proprietorships or standard partnerships because you can avoid using your personal name as your business name, a limited liability company (LLC) or another legal entity can also benefit. We’ll explain why a DBA name may be needed and walk you through how to secure one.
Why would I need a DBA name?
There are many instances why a company might need a DBA name. For example, Kayla has a sole proprietorship for her marketing work, and the company name is her full legal name. But what if Kayla wants to sell writing services under a separate name, “KaylaWrites,” to protect her identity? She can do this by securing a DBA name, which will allow her to sell her services under a separate company name.
While DBA names can be beneficial for sole proprietorships, they’re also helpful for other types of companies, like LLCs and corporations. Here are a couple of reasons a company might want to obtain a DBA name:
- Registering a domain. Sometimes, the domain you want is unavailable, and you end up marketing your services under a separate name. For example, the owner of “Sharpest Tools, LLC” decides to build a website but can’t secure their LLC name as the domain. Instead, they register the domain “LocalTools.com.” To sell under this name, they obtain a DBA name for “Local Tools.”
- Branching out into new services. You might form a company for one service or product only to branch out in another direction down the road. For instance, if your company, “Luna’s Locks, Co.” sells hair care products and branches out into supplements, you might not want to sell your vitamin and supplement line under the same name. Instead of creating a new company, you can secure a DBA name to sell these products under a separate name.
How do you register a DBA name?
Once you’ve decided you’d like to obtain a DBA name, you’ll need to register for one. Registering a DBA name is typically a straightforward process, but the steps can vary from state to state. In most cases, you’ll follow the below three steps:
- Preliminary DBA name search
- DBA name application filing
- DBA name publication
1. Preliminary DBA Name Search
Do you remember when you secured your company name? You needed to spend some time picking out the right name, then looking online to see if it was available. The same is true for obtaining a DBA name. You’ll first want to jot down a list of potential names that fit your brand. Once you have these ready, you’ll log onto the Secretary of State’s website for your state (in some cases, the Commonwealth of State website). Search for your state’s business name database and look up your list of names to determine which ones are available.
Once you have narrowed down your list, do a quick domain search to find out if any are available to purchase. From there, decide on the right DBA name based on your search results.
If you’re not ready to register your DBA name right away, you might want to consider reserving your DBA name online or via mail. Most states charge for this service but will hold your name for 120 days.
You may also want to consider trademarking your DBA name. You can also apply to register a trademark at the state and federal levels. You’ll want to check the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) database for any existing trademarks on your name. While federal registration of a trademark often comes with broader protections, trademark registration is often easier and quicker at the state level. There’s typically a state-level database you can check, and if your name is in the clear, you can register a trademark on your DBA name in the state where you’ll be conducting business.
Note that some states have specific rules regarding company names, such as words that cannot be included in your name. Be sure to check your state’s regulations before committing to a DBA name.
2. DBA Name Application Filing
Once you’ve selected your DBA name, you’re ready to file the paperwork to register your name. Some states do not refer to this as a DBA name and instead list the form as an application for an assumed name, fictitious name, or trade name.
You can find this form on your Secretary or Commonwealth of State’s website and typically submit it online in minutes. You can also mail in your application for a DBA name. There is a filing fee in most states for this application.
To fill out this application, you’ll need your DBA name and your company’s Employer Identification Number (EIN). If you have an LLC or sole proprietorship and do not have an EIN, you will need to use your Social Security number. You may also need to supply your company’s official name.
3. DBA Name Publication
The last step is not relevant in all states but required in California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania. These states require you to publish your DBA in local newspapers.
The exact requirements vary by state, but typically the expectations are that you’ll publish your company’s DBA name each week for four weeks. This might require publishing an ad or a statement that includes your company’s name, contact information, and DBA name.
What are the costs of registering a DBA name?
When registering a DBA name, you’ll need to pay a few different expenses. These include:
- Registering your DBA name
- Reserving your DBA name
- Trademarking your DBA name
- Purchasing a domain
- Publishing your DBA name
Note that these expenses will vary largely by state and whether you choose to file online or by mail. Your DBA name also expires after a certain period of time, so an additional expense will be renewed if you plan to continue using it.
What are the benefits of a DBA name?
The benefits of having a DBA name include:
- More flexibility
- Better security
- Enhanced branding
With a DBA name, you have more flexibility to expand and grow your business. For instance, if your company is named “Pearson Catering,” you can easily expand into new audiences using a DBA name. Creating fictitious names such as “The Waffle Spot,” “Grand Family Bistro,” and “The Corner Cafe” allow you to offer not only catering but also open sit-down or takeout restaurants as new branches of your company.
A DBA name is particularly helpful to businesses that are named after the owner. Using a DBA name helps buyers better understand the service or product they’re purchasing, but it also keeps your private information safer.
You can target specific audiences with the use of DBA names. For instance, if you sell activewear, you might opt to set up DBA names for dancewear, gymnastics apparel, basic gym wear, kids activewear, athleisure, and other niche markets to further enhance your brand target specific groups of buyers.
- How long does it take to get a DBA name?
In some cases, a DBA name filing is required within a specific period of time once you begin to use the name (usually within 30 to 60 days). How long does it take to file a DBA name? Depending on the jurisdiction, most DBA name filings take one to four weeks with some exceptions.
- Does a DBA name offer any legal protections?
No, a DBA name does not offer any legal protections for your business.
- Where do I go to file for a DBA name?
To know where to file your DBA name, check your state and county’s websites. Some DBA names are filed at the state level, while others can be filed with the county clerk, and in some states, they must be filed with both.
- Can I apply for a DBA name online?
Yes, most states allow you to apply for a DBA name directly on their website. You can also mail in your form.
- Do I need to renew a DBA name?
DBA names have an expiration date, so it’s important to find out how long your DBA name registration lasts to renew before your DBA name expires.