This guide gives you the essential information you need to know about Maryland DBA names and explains how ZenBusiness’s business formation services can simplify the formation paperwork for your business.
What is a Maryland “doing business as” (DBA) name?
When you first found a business in Maryland, you must select a name for your business. There are state laws governing the details of that name. For example, certain types of business structures must be appropriately identified. If you establish a limited liability company, for instance, the business name must end with “Limited Liability Company” or an abbreviation like “L.L.C.,” “LLC,” “L.C.,” or “LC” (without periods).
In such cases, including the entity’s full legal name in all of your business materials can be a nuisance. Instead of being short and memorable, the full business name is long and clunky. However, with a DBA name, you are allowed to conduct business without using the full legal name. You can use your DBA name instead, for example, in marketing materials, business cards, signage, and more.
In Maryland, a DBA name is referred to as a “trade name.” Other terms for DBA names used in other states include “fictitious name,” “fictitious business name,” or “assumed name.” These are just different terms for the same concept: In all cases, a DBA name is simply an alias. It isn’t a type of business structure, like an LLC, and registering a DBA name for your business won’t change its entity status, taxation obligations, or reporting requirements.
Also, beware that a Maryland trade name is not copyrighted or trademarked. If your trade name application is accepted, you get to use that trade name for business purposes in Maryland. But you don’t get any special additional right to use the name beyond this. If you want exclusive rights to a business alias across the country, you have to trademark it federally.
So, why might you bother getting a DBA name for your Maryland business? There are two types of entities that usually opt for a DBA name:
- Sole proprietorships and partnerships: Sole proprietorships and partnerships are referred to by their owner’s or owners’ legal name(s). A DBA name allows for more flexibility in terms of branding and gives the owners greater privacy.
- Corporations and LLCs: Corporations and LLCs often register trade names for marketing reasons. “Silver Spring Lawn Care & Gardening, Limited Liability Company” is a mouthful. “Silver Spring Lawn Care” is snappier.
Whatever type of business entity you have, if you want to do business under a name other than the officially registered one, you need a trade name — before you start operations. According to the state, any person “doing business or trading under any designation, title, or name other than the person’s own name, prior to commencing operation of the business, shall file with the Department of Assessments and Taxation a certificate … disclosing the name, title, or designation under which the business is conducted.”
Obviously, you want to make sure your Maryland business is legally compliant. However, there are also other business reasons to consider establishing a Maryland trade name:
- Privacy protection: As mentioned, sole proprietorship or partnership entities are regularly referred to by the owner’s/owners’ name(s). A trade name gives you an alternative moniker so that you can disassociate your private identity from your business one.
- Marketing flexibility: A short trade name allows for more versatility in your marketing. If your business offers different services or products, different DBA names can simplify branding, allowing you to have a dedicated name for each type of good.
- Professional banking: As a business owner, it’s important to open a business bank account that keeps your personal and professional finances separate. When you show a bank your trade name registration, they can open an account for you under that name.
Some level of exclusivity: While a trade name doesn’t give you exclusivity like a copyright or trademark does, Maryland law does state that a trade name can’t be used twice for two different businesses. So, once you claim your trade name, nobody else in the state can use it.
How do I choose a Maryland DBA name?
Choosing a business name requires serious thought. Don’t just pick the first thing that pops into your head. You want something that isn’t too long, so you can easily incorporate it into marketing materials. It shouldn’t be complicated because you want people to remember it easily.
Finally, take note of Maryland’s legal requirements for trade names. The trade name must:
- Be unique: You can’t use a trade name if another business is already using it. To make sure your desired name is available, check the Maryland business entity search. Additionally, if you have a home improvement business, contact the Maryland Home Improvement Commission to check name availability.
- Avoid restricted words: You may not use words related to the banking or insurance industries unless your business is actually licensed and approved to operate in these sectors. Restricted words include “Savings,” “Trust,” “Credit Union,” “Insurance,” “Bank,” and “Banker.”
- Avoid misleading business entity designations: Business entity designations include “Corporation,” “Inc.,” “Corp.,” and “LLC.” You can’t include such terminology in your trade name in a misleading fashion. So, if your business is a formally recognized LLC, you can’t include “Corporation” in your trade name.
How do I register a Maryland DBA name?
For DBA registration in Maryland, you can file online or by mail. Here’s how to do it.
- Download and print the “Trade Name Application” from the Maryland State Department of Assessments and Taxation.
- Write your desired trade name on line one.
- Write the street address where your business operates (where the trade name is used) on line two.
- Write the full legal name of the owner or business or individual using the trade name (what’s registered with the state) on line three.
- If the entity is a sole proprietor (individual) or general partnership, designate whether they have a personal property account on line four.
- Note the owner’s address on line five.
- Provide a description of the business purpose on line six.
- All owners must sign the form.
- Pay the $25 filing fee. You can request expedited processing for an additional $50 (for a fee of $75 total). Do not send cash. Make checks payable to the Department of Assessments and Taxation.
- Send the document and filing fee via mail to:
Department of Assessments and Taxation
301 W. Preston Street, Room 801
Baltimore, Maryland 21201
- Visit the Business Express website, Maryland’s one-stop shop for founding a business. If you don’t have an account, you can create one here.
- Once you have your account, you can access the online application for registration of a trade name. Be prepared to provide the following details:
Your desired trade name
The street address where your business operates (where the trade name is used)
The full legal name of the owner or business or individual using the trade name (what’s registered with the state)
If the entity is a sole proprietor (individual) or general partnership, whether they have a personal property account
The owner’s address
A description of the business purpose
Signatures of the owners
- Pay the $25 filing fee. You can request expedited processing for an additional $50 (for a fee of $75 total). Note the added processing fees for credit card or PayPal payments (3%) and eCheck ().
How do I manage ongoing DBA name compliance in Maryland?
Assuming you have met the Maryland legal requirements, your trade name application should be approved. Make sure to double-check that you’ve met the naming and registration requirements and completed all of the paperwork correctly. If your application is denied, you will have to re-apply and pay a new processing fee.
Once your Maryland trade name is approved, your work isn’t done yet. You are responsible for ensuring that your trade name remains legally compliant. Your Maryland trade name will be valid for five years from the date that it’s accepted. You should renew it before the expiry date. You can do this any time during the six months before the expiration date.
You can renew your trade name online via the Business Express website. To renew, you will have to again pay a $25 filing fee. You can request expedited processing for an additional $50 (for a fee of $75 total). Note the added processing fees for credit card or PayPal payments (3%) and eCheck ().
You may decide to change your trade name at some point. You don’t have to wait for the five-year validity period to expire to modify your moniker. Note that you must first cancel the original trade name by completing the “Trade Name Cancellation Application” and pay a $25 filing fee. Once this is done, you can then change your trade name by completing the “Trade Name Amendment Application.” You will have to pay a $25 filing fee. There is also the option to pay an added $50 for expedited filing.
More Maryland DBA FAQs
How much does it cost to register a Maryland DBA name?
Maintaining your Maryland trade name requires some financial investment. When you first register your Maryland DBA name, you must complete the “Trade Name Application” form. At this time, a $25 filing fee is due. You can choose to pay an extra $50 (totaling $75) for expedited processing. Checks must be made payable to the Department of Assessments and Taxation. If you pay by credit card or PayPal, there is an added 3% administrative fee. If you pay by eCheck, there is an added $3 fee.
Your Maryland trade name expires automatically after five years. You can renew the trade name in the six months before the expiration. The same fee schedule and payment options apply.
You may need copies of your trade name documentation to take care of things like opening a bank account. An online certified copy costs $20 plus $1 per page. You can request expedited processing for $20. For non-certified copies, you just have to pay $1 per page. If you simply want a certification of your trade name’s status, you just have to pay $20, without the added per-page fee. The same added fees for credit card, PayPal, or eCheck payments apply.
What is the processing time to register a Maryland DBA?
You can request your Maryland trade name online or by mail. Online processing will be faster since you don’t have mail delays to deal with. You can also opt to pay for expedited processing. This costs an added $50 (on top of the existing processing fee).
Do I need a DBA name for my Maryland business?
If you plan to do business under any name other than your legally registered business name, Maryland requires you to register a trade name. There are also business benefits to having a trade name. A succinct DBA name will be catchier and easier to incorporate into marketing materials. It can also protect your privacy if you’re a sole proprietor or partnership. With a state-certified DBA name, you can also open a business bank account under that name.
If I register a DBA name in Maryland, can another business use the same name?
No. Before approving a trade name, Maryland checks to make sure another business isn’t already using that trade name. You can check this for yourself through the state’s business entity search online. However, note that a trade name in Maryland is not the same as a trademark or copyright. It doesn’t give you legal exclusivity to that combination of words. You have to file for a trademark or copyright for this kind of legal exclusivity.
Can a business in Maryland have multiple DBA names?
Yes, it’s possible to have more than one DBA name for a single business. You might choose to do this if you have a single business entity that offers multiple products or services. Say you own a bakery, for example. You have your everyday baked goods business, but you also have a specialty wedding cake niche. For branding purposes, you could have two separate trade names, one for your day-to-day baking and another for your wedding projects.
Is a DBA name the same thing as a fictitious business name in Maryland?
A DBA name goes by different labels in different states. In Maryland, the correct term is a “trade name.” You may see a trade name referred to as an “assumed name,” “fictitious business name,” or “fictitious name” in other states. All of these terms refer to an alias for a business.
Will using a DBA name affect how my business is taxed in Maryland?
A trade name is just an alias for your business. It’s not a type of legal business entity or structure. Registering a Maryland DBA name thus won’t impact your business tax or registration requirements.