Take a look at our guide below to learn more about obtaining and maintaining a great DBA name for your business.
What is a Pennsylvania “doing business as” (DBA) name?
When you form a Pennsylvania business, you’re required to register a name with the commonwealth’s Department of State. This name is the legal name under which you can do business. If you want to operate under a name different from your company’s legal name, you need to file a DBA name registration.
A Pennsylvania DBA name is known as a “fictitious name.” The Fictitious Names Act of 1982 was established so that business owners can always be identified. The commonwealth defines a fictitious name as “any assumed name, style, or designation other than the proper name of the entity using such name.” Entities that can register a fictitious name include:
- Business trusts
- Joint adventureships
- Joint-stock companies
Entities also include any other group of organizations or persons, whether they’re organized or formed under Pennsylvania law or any other jurisdiction. It’s important to note that a DBA name isn’t a business entity type, such as a limited liability company (LLC). It’s simply an alias — a name that a business assumes for a specific reason.
Sole proprietorships, partnerships, LLCs, and corporations have a variety of reasons for using a DBA name. No matter which type of business you operate, everyone files the same application for the registration of a fictitious name with the Pennsylvania Department of State. Here are some advantages a business may gain from using a DBA name:
- Privacy: If a sole owner or a partnership doesn’t want to operate a business using their legal name, using a DBA name as their legal business name is a good solution that offers more privacy.
- Simplicity: An LLC’s or corporation’s legal name must include specific designations in Pennsylvania. A DBA name can be used to drop “LLC” or “Corporation” from the name or create a simpler variation of the legal name that’s easier to market.
- Flexibility: If an established entity wants to do business under multiple names, a DBA name allows for that flexibility. A business can launch a new product or branch under a different name when registering for a DBA name. This process also allows them to avoid forming a new entity each time they want to expand.
Are you interested in using a DBA name for your business? Follow our guide below on how to obtain and maintain a DBA name in Pennsylvania.
How do I choose a Pennsylvania DBA name?
Choosing a DBA name can be as simple as dropping an entity designation, such as “LLC,” or as complex as creating an entirely new name. When deciding on a name, think about how the name will be received by future clients or customers. Some questions to ask yourself include:
- Is it a memorable name that conveys the nature of your business?
- Could the name easily be used for marketing or advertising purposes?
- Does the name translate well to use as a website address?
Another factor to consider is whether your potential DBA name is already in use in Pennsylvania. In most states, your DBA name doesn’t need to be unique, and registering a DBA doesn’t create name ownership rights. This rule is true in Pennsylvania, too.
While any individual or entity can register a DBA name in use, it isn’t the best move. It can cause many issues; for example, two businesses using the same or similar DBA name can confuse brands. You want to set yourself apart from the competition, so it’s wise to do a Pennsylvania name search when choosing a DBA name.
Choosing a DBA name in Pennsylvania is also guided by state law. So, be sure to take into account that the name:
- Must be distinguishable from the name of any other association registered with the Pennsylvania Department of State.
- Must be different from any administrative department, board, agency, or commission in Pennsylvania.
- Can’t be the same as a name already registered or reserved by a person who holds the exclusive rights to it within the commonwealth.
- Can’t include “Corporation,” “Incorporated,” or “Limited” unless at least one applying entity is a corporation.
- Can’t include “LLC,” “Limited,” or “Limited Liability Company” unless at least one applying entity is an LLC.
If a sole proprietorship, corporation, or partnership wants to use the word “Company” or any variation of it, they are allowed to do so. The DBA name also doesn’t need to include a corporate designator, such as “Corp.” or “Corporation.” You’ll also need approval from specific departments or boards to use any of the following words:
- “College,” “University,” or “Seminary” (Department of Education)
- “Engineer,” “Engineering,” “Surveyor,” or “Surveying” (State Registration Board for Professional Engineers)
- “Bank,” “Banking,” “Banker,” “Trust,” or “Credit Union” (Department of Banking)
- “Architect” or “Architecture” (Architects Licensure Board)
- “Annuity,” “Assurance,” “Beneficial,” “Bond,” “Casualty,” “Endowment,” “Fidelity,” “Fraternal,” “Guaranty,” “Indemnity,” “Insurance,” “Insurer,” “Reassurance,” “Reinsurance,” “Surety,” or “Title” (Insurance Department)
The name also can’t contain “Cooperative” or “Electric Cooperative” unless it is a cooperative corporation or electric cooperative. Lastly, using the number “911” isn’t permitted unless your entity is authorized by law to provide emergency telephone services for:
- Emergency medical
- Law enforcement
Pennsylvania statutes aim to protect entity names registered or reserved by others within the commonwealth. However, they don’t protect multiple usages of DBA names. Pennsylvania laws also ensure that businesses are regulated. They protect consumers from fraudulent companies and ensure entities aren’t confused with legitimate government agencies or services.
How do I register a Pennsylvania DBA name?
While the registering of a DBA name in Pennsylvania doesn’t create any exclusive right to the name, it’s important to file the name for legal purposes. It also records the name in the Department of State’s searchable database, which can discourage others from using it.
You can register a Pennsylvania DBA name online or by mail. To register online, log in to the PA Business One-Stop Shop with your PA Keystone Login username and password. Navigate to the “Registration of Fictitious Name” form, fill it out, and submit it as detailed in the account management system. You will be required to submit a $70 fee with your application.
To register a Pennsylvania DBA name by mail, complete these steps:
- Open the “Registration of Fictitious Name” application.
- Enter the name and mailing address or the email address of the person who is to receive the approved application.
- Enter the fictitious name.
- Enter a brief statement about the nature of your business.
- Enter the address of the principal place of business.
- Enter the names and addresses of each individual interested in the business.
- Name each entity interested in the business, including their form of organization, organizing jurisdiction, principal office address, and Pennsylvania registered office, if any.
- Name any agents who are authorized to make amendments or withdrawals.
- Name any agents who can cancel the registration.
- Sign and date the application.
- Print the application and place it in an envelope.
- Include payment for $70 with a check made payable to the Pennsylvania Department of State or attach proof of a veteran’s or reservist’s status to qualify for a veteran/reservist-owned small business fee exemption.
- Mail the completed application and fee payment to:
Pennsylvania Department of State
Bureau of Corporations and Charitable Organizations
P.O. Box 8722
Harrisburg, PA 17105-8722
Please note that the department prefers the application to be typewritten. If it’s handwritten, the print must be legible in blue or black ink. Should you have any further questions about completing the DBA name registration application, refer to the third page of the application or call the Pennsylvania Department of State at 717-787-1057.
How do I manage ongoing DBA name compliance in Pennsylvania?
In Pennsylvania, you may need to advertise an official notice stating that you intend to file or have filed an application for the registration of a fictitious name. Advertising is only required if an individual is listed on the application during step six in the above registration process.
- The ad must be placed in two newspapers of general circulation in the county where your business will be located.
- One of the newspapers must be a legal newspaper.
- If there is only one newspaper in the county, advertise in that publication.
To determine where to advertise, search the Department of State’s list of county newspapers and legal publications. If you need help finding a suitable publication, try contacting the county courthouse or county bar association.
After publication, the newspaper will send you a proof of publication known as an affidavit. This document isn’t required to be sent to the Department of State; however, you should keep it with your business records.
If you fail to register a fictitious name in Pennsylvania, your business is considered an unregistered entity. As such, it can’t use the courts of Pennsylvania to enforce a contract that was entered into using the DBA name. Enforcement is prevented until registration, and the court may impose a $500 penalty on your entity.
A Pennsylvania DBA name will not need to be renewed to comply with state requirements. Should you need to make any changes to your DBA name, you’ll need to file a “Fictitious Name Amendment, Withdrawal, Cancellation” form online or by mail with a $70 fee.
More Pennsylvania DBA FAQs
How much does it cost to register a Pennsylvania DBA name?
The basic fee to register a DBA name in Pennsylvania is $70. If you file by mail, you’ll have to pay postage in addition to the filing fee. Also, take into account advertising fees if your entity needs to fulfill the state’s advertising requirements. There are no renewal fees; however, a $70 fee is charged any time you need to amend, withdraw, or cancel a DBA name registration.
U.S. military veterans and reservists can have all fees waived if they can prove their status with any DBA name application.
What is the processing time to register a Pennsylvania DBA?
The average processing time to register a DBA name in Pennsylvania is seven to 10 business days. It is faster to register online than to apply through the mail.
Do I need a DBA name for my Pennsylvania business?
You need a DBA name for your Pennsylvania business if you plan to operate under any name that is different from your proper name or your business’s legal name. The Department of State and others need to identify who owns every business in operation within Pennsylvania. If you wish to drop designations from your company’s name or keep your name private, registering a DBA name might be worth it.
If I register a DBA name in Pennsylvania, can another business use the same name?
Registering a DBA name in Pennsylvania doesn’t provide you with the sole rights to that name. Another business could use the same name, even though it’s probably not in their best interest to do so. The only way to fully protect your DBA name is to register a trademark with the commonwealth or at the federal level with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
Can a business in Pennsylvania have multiple DBA names?
Yes, a business can file multiple DBA names in Pennsylvania. Larger entities, such as corporations, often file more than one DBA name as their business grows. They use DBA names to launch products, services, or branches of their business.
For example, a restaurant owner may want to open another restaurant and begin a catering service, too. They create two separate DBA names: one for the new restaurant that offers a different cuisine than the original restaurant and one for the exclusive catering company.
Is a DBA name the same thing as a fictitious business name in Pennsylvania?
Yes, a DBA name in Pennsylvania is referred to as a “fictitious name.” State laws and legal forms reference fictitious names instead of DBA names, but it means the same thing.
Do I need a DBA name in Pennsylvania if I use my own name for a sole proprietorship?
If you’re the sole proprietor of a business, you only need a DBA name if you plan to do business under any name other than your legal name. Sole proprietors often opt to use a DBA name when they want to add to their legal name or keep their name private.
Will using a DBA name affect how my business is taxed in Pennsylvania?
Since a DBA name doesn’t establish any new business entity, it won’t affect how your business is taxed at the local, state, or federal level.