There are many reasons you might want a DBA name for your Iowa business. In some cases, businesses seek DBA names so that they may distinguish different portions of their business or operate under a shortened form of their registered business name.
To remain compliant with state laws, you are required to register any trade or fictitious names with the state of Iowa (for business entities) or with the local county (for sole proprietorships or partnerships).
This guide covers what you need to know about choosing a trade or fictitious name, associated state laws and statutes, and how to complete and renew your trade or fictitious name as needed.
What is an Iowa “doing business as” (DBA) name?
Different states refer to DBA names differently. Some call them DBA names, while others call them “assumed names” and so on. In Iowa, a DBA name for an established business entity, such as a limited liability company (LLC) or corporation, is called a “fictitious name,” but one for a sole proprietorship or partnership is referred to as a “trade name” on the associated forms.
Regardless of how it is referred to, a DBA name is simply an alternative name for your business. Any time you wish to do business under a different name — whether different from your registered business name or from your personal name in the case of a sole proprietorship — you must register it to remain in compliance and avoid legal consequences.
There are primarily two categories that businesses seeking DBA names fall into:
- Sole proprietorships or partnerships: To do business as a sole proprietor or a partnership, you are not generally required to register with the state at all. However, if you want to conduct business under a name other than your personal name or the names of yourself and your partners, you need a DBA name to do so. In Iowa, these types of DBAs are called “trade names,” and the forms are filed at the county level.
- LLCs, corporations, and other business types: These entities establish a business name when they register their business with the state. However, there are times when these businesses may wish to operate under a different name. Their legal name is required to include a business-type designator (such as “LLC” or “Corp.”), and they might want to drop that from the name they use. They might also wish to use one or more DBA names to distinguish different parts of their business or product lines. DBA names for these business types are referred to as “fictitious names” in Iowa, and the associated forms are filed at the state level.
Note that registering a DBA name is not the same as registering a business. When you register a business, you file the Articles of Organization or Incorporation or a similar document with the state and, at that time, designate an official business name, which includes a designator. All of the laws that pertain to your business are determined by this registration and not your DBA name.
A DBA name is not a business type. It does not establish your business or change your business’s tax structure in any way. It does not establish copyright or trademark. It also does not offer you any legal protection from liability. In fact, in Iowa, registering a DBA name doesn’t even prevent anyone else from using the same name. However, there are several benefits that come with using a DBA name, such as:
- Being able to open a bank account under your assumed business name. Many banks require that the business name on your bank account be registered as your business’s legal name or DBA name.
- Being able to do business under a shorter or catchier name for better marketing success. Many businesses like the ability to drop their designator or shorten their full name in other ways. For example, a business with the legal name “Blue Diamond Pizzeria, LLC” might wish to use the name “Blue Diamonds of Springfield” for their Springfield store.
- Avoiding potential legal complications resulting from the confusion of the business name. For example, if your business is an LLC, but you conduct business under an unregistered fictitious name, this may void any limited liability. However, if you have that fictitious name legally registered as a DBA name for your LLC, all of the LLC’s protections still apply.
The sections below break down the relevant information needed to help you choose and register a DBA name in Iowa. ZenBusiness’s DBA Name Registration and Compliance services can also help you find and utilize the perfect name for your business purposes.
How do I choose an Iowa DBA name?
Before you can register your DBA name in Iowa, you need to decide what that name will be. Anyone who has ever named a child or pet knows that this is a process that can take some time and careful consideration. When it comes to business names, not only do you want to pick a name that feels and sounds right, but you also need to make sure you adhere to any naming laws.
Among some of the most important factors to consider as you choose your Iowa DBA name are:
- Memorability: You want the name of your business to stick in the minds of potential clients or customers. You should also avoid anything that might be hard to spell or might place limitations on your business as it grows.
- Suitableness: The name should somehow suit your business well and clearly convey what type of business and services are offered. This is no small task. You might find it helpful to brainstorm lists of words associated with your business’s vision and use word clouds to identify keywords to include.
- Uniqueness: While Iowa law does not require that your DBA name be unique, it’s almost always a good idea to make sure you choose a name not in use to avoid confusion with other local businesses. You can search existing business names on the Iowa Secretary of State website, but you may also want to check with your local county for a listing of trade names being used by sole proprietors or partnerships.
- Legalities: To comply with Iowa naming laws, your fictitious name cannot include words that suggest it is a business type that it is not officially registered as. It should also not indicate any association with government entities.
It’s important to note that registering a DBA name does not give you the exclusive rights to that name. Even if you made efforts to choose a DBA name different from any currently registered, it’s possible that another business could come along and use the same name as yours. If you would like additional protection of your business name, you should look into trademark and copyright laws.
How do I register an Iowa DBA name?
How you register your DBA name in Iowa depends on whether you are a registered business entity with the state or if you are a sole proprietor or partnership.
If you are registering a DBA name (trade name) for a sole proprietorship or partnership, this is handled by your county recorder’s office. Contact your local county for more information as to how to proceed.
If you are an existing business registered with the state (such as an LLC or a corporation), you will need to file a Fictitious Name Resolution with the Secretary of State. This can be done online or via mail.
- From the Secretary of State’s website, select “Business Entity Forms and Fees” from the “Business Services” menu.
- Find the Fictitious Name Resolution form.
- Complete the form carefully, print, and sign.
- Make a $5 check payable to the Secretary of State.
- Mail the completed form and check to:
Secretary of State
Business Services Division
Lucas Building, 1st Floor
Des Moines, Iowa 50319
- From the Secretary of State’s website, select “Business Entity Filings” from the “Online Filing” menu.
- You will see an option to use the Fast Track Filing System for a fictitious name. Select this option.
- If you do not have a Fast Track account, you will have the option to sign up, and then you can log in and complete the fictitious name form and pay the $5 fee by credit card.
How do I manage ongoing DBA name compliance in Iowa?
Keeping on top of state laws and regulations to maintain compliance is important for any business. In Iowa, failing to register your DBA name before using it is considered a simple misdemeanor and can carry a fine. In fact, each day that you are not in compliance is considered a separate offense.
The good news is that registering your DBA name in Iowa is fairly straightforward and inexpensive. Also, once the initial registration is complete, it remains in effect in perpetuity with no requirement for renewal.
If you need to correct or update any information in your filing, you simply need to file the same form again with the updated information and pay the associated $5 fee. There is no need to cancel a DBA name once it has been registered.
Iowa DBA FAQs
- How much does it cost to register an Iowa DBA name?
Iowa is one of the least expensive states for registering a DBA name. If you are filing for a registered business with the Secretary of State, you need to pay a $5 filing fee, with no need for renewal in the future.
Costs may vary at the county level for those needing to file for a sole proprietorship or partnership but tend to be minimal. However, keep in mind that you may need funds for other expenses after you file your DBA name — such as a domain name and branded items.
- What is the processing time to register an Iowa DBA?
Processing times can vary depending on whether you file at the state or county level and whether you file online or by mail. In general, filing online will always be faster than filing by mail.
- Do I need a DBA name for my Iowa business?
DBA names are not strictly required but can be extremely useful. If you are a sole proprietor or partnership, you cannot legally conduct business under a name other than your personal name(s) without a DBA name. Filing a DBA name lets you name your business separate from yourself.
For LLCs, corporations, and other business types, DBA names allow you to operate portions of your business under different names or to drop your designator or shorten your business’s legal name in a way that makes it catchier or more memorable.
- If I register a DBA name in Iowa, can another business use the same name?
As a general rule, DBA names are not exclusive. This means another business may use the same name if they so choose. If you would like to keep your business name unique and prevent others from using it, you should seek trademark or copyright protection.
- Can a business in Iowa have multiple DBA names?
There is no limit to the number of DBA names that a business may file. Some businesses just want a single alternative name, while others might find it useful to have dozens of names to separate different portions of their business.
For example, if your business is a statewide Alzheimer’s association, you may want to brand the branches of it by region, such as “The Alzheimer’s Association of Springfield,” and so on.
- Is a DBA name the same thing as a fictitious business name in Iowa?
Yes, a DBA name is just another word for a fictitious name when it comes to Iowa businesses. However, it’s important to note that Iowa makes a distinction between “trade name” as a DBA name for a sole proprietorship or partnership and usually reserves a “fictitious name” for registered business types.
- Do I need a DBA name in Iowa if I use my own name for a sole proprietorship?
If you plan on doing business only under your exact, legal, personal name, you do not need a DBA name as a sole proprietor. However, if you want to conduct business under any variation of your legal name or another name, or want to add any words to your name in your business title, you will need to register a DBA name with your local county.
- Will using a DBA name affect how my business is taxed in Iowa?
A DBA name has no effect on how your business is taxed at the state, local, or federal level. It is simply just an alternative name for your business. All of the laws regarding the taxing and other legalities of your business will be associated with your business type. A DBA name is not a business type, but simply a label. As an analogy, consider that changing a person’s name does not change the laws that apply to them. The same is true of DBA names and businesses.
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