As a small business owner in North Carolina, you are probably wondering if your business requires a “doing business as” (DBA) name. Whether to register a DBA name is an important consideration, and there are several reasons you would want one.
This guide will explain what a DBA name is and what it does (and doesn’t do) for your business. From there, we’ll explain how to get a DBA name and what you need to do to maintain it after initial registration. Our guide will take you through the entire process.
What is a North Carolina “doing business as” (DBA) name?
A DBA name is also sometimes called a trade name, fictitious name, or assumed name. In North Carolina, the official term is “assumed name.” Whatever it is called, having a registered DBA name allows you to do business using a specific name. It also allows you to run your business with minimal costs.
It is important, though, to understand what a DBA name will not do for your business. Unlike a registered business structure, a DBA name will not provide you with legal protections related to your personal assets or those of your business partners. It also will not affect your tax structure. Essentially, a DBA name provides an alias for your business.
The types of businesses seeking an assumed name often fall into these two categories:
- Sole proprietorships and partnerships: These business owners must use their legal names to operate. For this reason, many sole proprietorships and partnerships choose to use a DBA name so that they can conduct business under a name that more closely represents their business and what they provide instead of their formal name.
- Corporations and limited liability companies (LLCs): Corporations and LLCs must have entity designations in their name (e.g., “Corp.” or “LLC”). Many businesses with these structures choose a DBA name to drop the designators from their names.
Some additional reasons a business may want to use a DBA name include:
- Banking: Operating with a DBA name will allow you to open a bank account using that business name and conduct transactions.
- Stay compliant with North Carolina laws: North Carolina requires your business name to be registered before you begin doing business. If you do not register your DBA name and begin using it, you will be opening your business up to a legal headache.
- Branding: Registering a DBA name will give you greater flexibility in choosing a name that will stick in your customers’ minds. It will allow you to build a stronger brand for your business.
Are you ready to register your assumed name? This guide will take you through the process of selecting the right name and filing your application. We’ll also address maintaining your DBA name.
How do I choose a North Carolina DBA name?
Choosing the right DBA name for your business is an important decision, and you should take some time to make it. There are several considerations to keep in mind. A good business name will be distinctive — preferably in a way that clarifies what type of business you do and will stick in customers’ minds. You don’t want it to be too hard to spell or a name you will regret down the road as your business grows.
One of the most important steps in deciding on your DBA name is using North Carolina’s name lookup tool. This tool will help you conduct a name search and find any businesses with the same or similar names to your choices. You will likely benefit from picking a unique name to avoid confusion for your customers. Searching for similar business names will also ensure you comply with the naming rules that North Carolina has in place. In North Carolina, you must make sure your business name:
- Is unique. Your registration application will be rejected if it is the same as another business. It will also be rejected if it is too similar to the name of another business. For example, you cannot use a suffix like “Corp.” or “LLC” to try and distinguish your business name from another. Also, words like “a,” “an,” and “the” will cause your name to be rejected. Making a word plural or using an abbreviation will not make your name distinguishable enough from another business.
- Remains distinguishable from state or federal agencies. When naming your business, do not try and draw an affiliation with a governmental entity unless it is truly affiliated. In that case, you will likely need to gain permission from the appropriate authority. This also includes a name with the word “Olympic.”
- Does not promote illegal activity. In North Carolina, you may not include words in your name that imply your business will carry out illegal activity.
- Does not use prohibited words like “Bank,” “Banker,” “Cooperative,” “Mutual,” or “Trust.” These words, and a few others, are words that require additional permission.
- Will not use words like “Architect,” “Certified Public Accountant,” “Engineer,” “Insurance,” “Pharmacy,” “Realtor,” “Surveyor,” or “Wholesale.” These words or any version of them will require proof that you can legally provide those services.
Once you have your name narrowed down to a few possibilities, take a moment to determine if the domain name is available. You don’t want to go through all the steps of finalizing a DBA name and then realize you can’t use it for your internet presence. Don’t let this slow you down, though, as ZenBusiness is here to help. Our Domain Name Registration services can help you secure the right web address for your business.
How do I register a North Carolina DBA name?
Once you have completed your research and found the perfect name, it’s time to complete the application to register your “Assumed Business Name Certificate” with the office of the Register of Deeds in the county where you will be engaged in business. Once accepted, your DBA name will be added to the statewide database maintained by the Secretary of State. Once you have the form, there are several things to fill out:
- Include the assumed name you want to use. North Carolina allows you to list up to five DBA names that you want to register.
- The name of the person or entity doing business under the DBA name. This is your name or the name of your LLC, partnership, or corporation. Partnerships with fewer than five partners should list all of them, but they can limit the list to five if they have more than five partners. If you are a corporation, LLC, or limited partnership, it is important to be accurate and list the name exactly as it was registered with the Secretary of State, as well as the SOSID number assigned by the state.
- List the type of business you will be operating under the DBA name. This is where you include a description of the business and the goods or services provided.
- Include the street address of the business’s principal location. In this instance, P.O. boxes will not be accepted.
- If the mailing address is different, you will need to include that address, as well.
- The North Carolina counties where you will be doing business under your DBA name. You can list as many counties as you like. There is also a checkbox option if you intend to do business in all 100 counties.
- Date and signatures. You will need to include the day you are signing the form, the signature and printed name of the signer, and the title of that individual. Make sure to read the application’s instructions to ensure the proper person signs the form.
Include a filing fee of $26 when you return the application to the Register of Deeds.
How do I manage ongoing DBA name compliance in North Carolina?
North Carolina DBA names do not expire and, therefore, do not need renewals. However, if any of the information provided on the application changes, you are required to submit an amendment within 60 days of the change, along with the $26 fee.
Likewise, if you decide to shut down your business or stop using a particular DBA name, you will need to file a withdrawal application with the $26 fee.
More North Carolina DBA FAQs
How much does it cost to register a North Carolina DBA name?
Registering a DBA name in North Carolina is relatively simple and inexpensive. To file your assumed name application, the fee is $26. The same cost is applied for any amendments you file after the initial application and if you decide to withdraw your DBA name registration.
What is the processing time to register a North Carolina DBA?
Because the DBA application is filed with the Registrar of Deeds in the counties where the company does business, filing times will likely vary. Keep in mind that if you mail your application, you need to allow a few days for the application to be received.
Do I need a DBA name for my North Carolina business?
Having a registered DBA name is not required in North Carolina unless you plan on doing business under an assumed name. If you do, you are not legally allowed to do business until the name is registered. For example, if you have formed an LLC and plan to drop the “LLC” designator from your business name, you must register a DBA name.
Registering your DBA name is advantageous for a number of other reasons, including:
1. A sole proprietor who wishes to use a business name more descriptive of the work being done, rather than doing business under their legal name.
2. An LLC, partnership, or corporation that sells similar items to different populations or is introducing a new line of business separate from other things they have done.
The good news is that if you decide to register a DBA name for your business, the process is simple.
If I register a DBA name in North Carolina, can another business use the same name?
Unfortunately, DBA names are generally not considered exclusive. Having said that, once you register your DBA name with the Register of Deeds in your North Carolina county, that name is then added to the North Carolina Secretary of State’s searchable database.
Can a business in North Carolina have multiple DBA names?
Yes, in North Carolina, you can apply for up to five DBA names on the same application. This is useful for businesses that may operate in distinct areas. For example, if a restaurant owner has more than one restaurant, they may want to obtain a DBA name for each restaurant.
Is a DBA name the same thing as a fictitious business name in North Carolina?
The term “DBA name” is often used interchangeably with “assumed name” or “fictitious name.” In North Carolina, the official term used is “assumed name.”
Do I need a DBA name in North Carolina if I use my own name for a sole proprietorship?
Your sole proprietorship does not need to file a DBA name if you plan to do business under your legal name. However, if at any point you want to use another name, North Carolina requires you to register a DBA name first.
Will using a DBA name affect how my business is taxed in North Carolina?
No. A DBA name is basically an alias for your business and will not affect how your business is taxed at any level. It also does not provide you with any additional legal protections. The legal structure you have set up for your business — a sole proprietorship, LLC, partnership, or corporation — will determine the legal and tax implications