If you are a small business owner in Ohio, asking yourself whether you need to register a DBA name is an important decision that should not be rushed. Combining the right name and legal structure for your business can attract customers and help you achieve your dreams.
This guide will help you make the right decision for your work. We will explain why you may want to register a DBA name and explain what different terminology means for you. We will also take you through the application process and discuss what you need to do once you’ve registered your DBA name.
What is an Ohio “doing business as” (DBA) name?
A DBA name means “doing business as.” It is not a legal structure like a limited liability company (LLC), partnership, or corporation. Instead, it functions as an alias for your company with no impact on your legal protection or taxes.
Depending on the state, various terms are used interchangeably, including “trade name,” “fictitious name,” and “assumed name.” It is important to know the differences in your state. In Ohio, “trade name” and “fictitious name” are both used, but they mean different things. A fictitious name is most closely associated with a DBA name, but it does not guarantee that someone else won’t use the same name. However, registering a trade name will ensure that no one else uses the name and infringes on your branding.
The types of business that typically use a DBA name fall into two categories:
- Sole proprietorships and partnerships: Both types of business are usually registered under the owner(s) name(s). However, if they want to do business under a catchier or more descriptive name, they will need to register a DBA name.
- Corporations and LLCs: They may want to register a DBA name to drop their legal designator like “Corp.” or “LLC” or to further separate lines of business. For example, if a caterer has a line of business for weddings and one for office parties, they may want to operate under two different names to keep branding separate.
There are a few benefits to using a DBA name that you should consider for your business:
- Banking: You will need a DBA name if you intend to conduct transactions under a different name than what is registered. Having it will allow you to open a bank account or procure a credit card for your business.
- Branding: A DBA name will allow you more flexibility in selecting a name that your customers will remember, helping you grow your business more quickly.
- Possible legal claim: In Ohio, when discussing a DBA name, there are differences between a trade name and a fictitious name. A trade name must be “distinguishable upon the records,” meaning that to file it, no other entity must have the name, and once filed, no one can use that name. Fictitious names are not required to be distinguishable, meaning you are not given exclusive rights, and there is no protection from others using a similar fictitious name.
Now that you know why a business might choose to register a DBA name in Ohio, it is time to talk about getting your name registered. The rest of this guide will take you through the process of obtaining and maintaining your Ohio DBA name.
How do I choose an Ohio DBA name?
When choosing a name for your business in the state of Ohio, regardless of the type of name, it is important to take your time and consider what you want your name to do now and into the future. Your name is your first branding tool, so you want to consider something descriptive and catchy but will not confine your future business growth.
Once you have a list of potential names, there are some additional steps to take.
The second step before finalizing your name is researching if another business is using it or something similar. Here again, if you decide to register a fictitious name with the state, your name is not required to be unique. Even so, having a unique name avoids potential customer confusion between companies. If you decide to register a trade name, your name will need to be unique for your application to be accepted. Either way, you can research names on the Ohio Secretary of State’s business name search engine. Keep in mind that the fewer words you use, the wider the search and the more results you will get.
The last step to take before filling out your application is to ensure your chosen name meets the legal requirements for a DBA name in Ohio. According to the Secretary of State’s name availability guidelines, the business name should not include:
- Any variation of “LLC,” “Inc.,” “Corp.,” or others unless that is the legal setup of the business
- Profanity or slurs against any group of people
- Words that suggest the business is somehow affiliated with a government agency
- Words that imply the business is affiliated with a financial institution like “Bank,” “Trust,” or similar words (If you do intend to use words like these in your name, you will need approval in advance from the Superintendent of Financial Institutions.)
- If your name is required to be distinguishable like a trade name, keep in mind that misspelled words, punctuation, numbers, or abbreviations will not make your name unique.
How do I register an Ohio DBA name?
Once you have your name finalized, it is time to complete and submit your name registration form. The form you use for registering a trade name and reporting a fictitious name are the same. At the top of the form, you check a box for a trade name or fictitious name.
To complete the form, you will:
- Complete the cover letter by providing the name, address, phone number, and email of the person that the approval certificate should be sent to.
- Check the box designating if this is a trade name or fictitious name application.
- State the name being registered. Be accurate and specific about how you want the name to appear.
- Provide the name of the registrant. Use your name if you are a sole proprietorship. Otherwise, list the name of your legal entity. If that entity is registered with the Secretary of State’s office, you will also need to enter your assigned entity number.
- Briefly describe the nature of the business you will conduct under your DBA name. For example, are you providing landscaping or graphic design services?
- Enter your complete business address.
- If your business is a partnership not registered in Ohio, you will need to provide the name and address of at least one of the general partners.
- Complete the required signature. The application must be signed by the registrant or an authorized representative.
- Submit the application with the required fee to the Secretary of State. You can do this in-person, online, or by mail. The filing fee is $39 for regular service, and your application will be processed in three to seven business days, varying by volume to be processed. If you need your application processed more quickly, an additional $100 fee will secure expedited service within two business days after it is received, $200 will expedite your application within one business day for walk-ins, and $300 will expedite your application within four hours for walk-ins as long as it is received by 1 p.m.
If you choose to mail your application, you’ll need to send it to either:
Regular Filing (Non-expedited)
P.O. Box 670
Columbus, OH 43216
P.O. Box 1390
Columbus, OH 43216
How do I manage ongoing DBA name compliance in Ohio?
Whether you register a trade name or fictitious name, once your application is approved, you will need to keep track of ongoing maintenance.
Both trade names and fictitious names need to be renewed every five years. The application is the same for both, with a checkbox to designate which type of name you are renewing. The application fee is $25 for regular service, and your application will be processed in three to seven business days. Much like the initial application, you can pay additional fees for expedited services.
You can mail your renewal application or complete it online. If you choose to mail your application, you’ll need to send it to either:
Regular Filing (Non-expedited)
P.O. Box 788
Columbus, OH 43216
P.O. Box 1390
Columbus, OH 43216
You will also be required to submit an update when something changes with your DBA name. One form can be used to make a name change, address change, registrant change, nature of business change, or cancellation of the name registration. The filing fee is $25, and the same fees apply for expedited services.
Ohio DBA FAQs
How much does it cost to register an Ohio DBA name?
Registering your trade or fictitious name in Ohio is a $39 fee. The application fee for any changes to that initial registration or to renew every five years is $25. If you need expedited services for any of these applications, they are available. A $100 additional fee will ensure your application is processed in two business days, $200 ensures one business day, and $300 ensures a four-hour turnaround. However, keep in mind that some of these services are for walk-ins only.
What is the processing time to register an Ohio DBA?
Applicants who use the regular service will have their applications processed in three to seven business days. Expedited services are available for additional fees and include two-day processing, one-day processing, and four-hour processing.
Do I need a DBA name for my Ohio business?
Not necessarily. DBA names can be useful for businesses like sole proprietorships that may want to do business without using their personal name or under a more descriptive moniker. Remember that even if you want to just drop the designator from your business name, you will need to file a DBA name.
A DBA name is required in Ohio if you intend to do business under any other name than your business’s legal name. Conducting transactions under an unregistered name opens you up to legal headaches.
If I register a DBA name in Ohio, can another business use the same name?
That depends on if you choose to register a trade name or fictitious name. In Ohio, these are two different things. Filing a trade name will ensure that no other business can operate with your name. A fictitious name is much closer to what a DBA name typically is, meaning that it allows you to operate your business under an alias but does not guarantee someone else will not use your name.
Another way to protect your name and branding is to register a trademark. The process of registering a trademark is longer and more complicated but ensures no other company can use your name. Trademarks supersede state DBA name rules and will protect your brand.
Can a business in Ohio have multiple DBA names?
Ohio state code does not specify a limit on how many DBA names a business can have, so it seems you can register and utilize as many trade/fictitious names as you are willing to pay the costs to register and maintain. Just remember that you can only file one DBA name per application. For example, if a daycare owner has four separate facilities, they may want to create trade or fictitious names for each one to keep their lines of business separate.
Is a DBA name the same thing as a fictitious business name in Ohio?
In many states, “DBA name,” “trade name,” “assumed name,” and “fictitious name” are used interchangeably. However, in Ohio, the law allows for the registration of both trade and fictitious names — and they mean different things. A trade name registration will ensure no one else can use that name for their business. A fictitious name operates more closely to an alias, and there is no guarantee that someone else won’t do business with the same or similar name.
Do I need a DBA name in Ohio if I use my own name for a sole proprietorship?
You do not have to file a DBA name in Ohio if you have a sole proprietorship as long as you intend to do business under your own name. If you want to use a more descriptive or catchier name, you will need to file a DBA name.
Will using a DBA name affect how my business is taxed in Ohio?
No. Neither a trade name nor a fictitious name sets up a new business entity, which means it will have no impact on the way your business is taxed or the legal protections afforded to your business.