What is a DBA and When to File One for Your Business

There are many important reasons why it makes sense for business owners to file a DBA name.

In this guide, we’ll help you understand what a DBA name is, why you need a DBA name for your business, and provide key insights to help you file your DBA name in any state or territory of the United States.

When you start a business, you need a legal name for the business. But, sometimes, you don’t want to operate your business under your registered legal business name. You prefer to operate the business under a fictitious name.

There are many reasons for this. For example, the legal name might be confusing, unrelated to your business, or no longer descriptive of your business. Or you might want a fictitious name as your trade name without changing your incorporation or registration documents.

To learn more about different legal business structures, take a look at this definitive guide on how to start a business.

What a DBA is not

Importantly, registering a “doing business as” name does not excuse you from forming a legal entity, like a limited liability company or a corporation.

Young entrepreneurs and first-time business owners often confuse DBAs with business structures. They assume that by filing a DBA, they create a formal legal business structure with legal liability protections.

This is untrue. Registering a DBA does not create a legal business structure. A DBA does not offer any personal asset protection like an LLC or corporation.

You must first create a business structure, like a corporation, LLC, limited partnership, or another structure, before you can register a DBA trade name.

In fact, if you don’t form a legal entity and register a “doing business as” name with your state, the law assumes you’re operating your business as a sole proprietorship.

That can put you at a disadvantage. For example, sole proprietors aren’t insulated personally from legal liability. And, in a sole proprietorship, you’ll be directly responsible for your business’s debts and obligations.

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An LLC, limited partnership (LP), limited liability partnership (LLP), or corporation grants the owner or owners important limited liability protections and insulates owners from the business’s debts and liabilities.

But the legal names of those businesses don’t always work as the trade names under which you’re doing business. And, that’s precisely the situation where filing a DBA can help you. Using a DBA gives you more options.

Why register a DBA name?

The benefits of using a DBA name for your business include:

  • You don’t want to use your personal name for the business. If you form your company as a sole proprietor or partnership, your personal name is the legal business name. So, you may want to operate the business under a different name for privacy or strategic reasons than the name of your sole proprietorship.
  • Your bank requires a DBA. Banks often require sole proprietors and partnerships to have a “doing business as” name to open a business bank account. So if you want a business account that matches your fictitious name, you need a DBA.
  • You’re taking your business in a new direction. Your business is changing direction or offering new services, and the old name does not match your business’s new reality.
  • You want to improve credibility. Sole proprietorships and partnerships can look more authoritative operating under a name other than the owner’s personal name.
  • It’s better for marketing. The legal name of a business might be complicated or hard to pronounce. A DBA will allow you to market a memorable, accessible brand name that’s more search engine friendly.

Is a DBA name better than changing the legal name of a business?

Both solutions could give you a new name for your business. But in most cases, filing a “doing business as” is a simpler, quicker, and less expensive process than a legal name change.

And remember, you can register multiple DBAs – a unique benefit of using a DBA. So, if your business operates multiple different brands, get multiple DBAs for flexibility.

This flexibility comes in handy when you offer different products or services under their own brand identities. For example, your core business brand identity could be under one name, and your main company logo could inspire the branding for your products or services. It would be not very clear if separately branded products or services (such as different yogurt brands, for example) were sold under a common name if you truly intended to sell them under separate names (and separate visual branding).

Read these two great guides to learn more about branding and building a strong brand identity for your business.

What are the advantages of a DBA name?

DBA benefits for a sole proprietor and partnerships

The benefits of a DBA vary depending on the type of business structure you registered. A DBA for a sole proprietor or general partnership offers the same benefits as an LLC, except it doesn’t provide personal liability protection for the business owner.

In a sole proprietorship business or general partnerships – the typical entities registered with the secretary of state or county clerk by small business owners – a DBA gives you the opportunities for better branding, increased privacy, and can help you access business banking under your fictitious name and not under the name of your sole proprietorship or partnership.

As a sole proprietor, you must operate under your personal name unless you register a DBA. With your DBA, the general public doesn’t see your actual name – they see only your fictitious business name.

And when it comes to banking, a DBA allows you to create a business account and accept payments in the business’s name rather than in your own name. A company name that’s not your personal name can increase trust and credibility.

DBA benefits for LLCs and corporations

Limited liability companies and corporations don’t need to use a brand name to create privacy because those structures already offer the founders privacy. An LLC or corporation can create multiple brands or operate under a different brand name than the LLC or corporation’s name.

You can have an LLC name like “John Smith, LLC,” but with a DBA, it can operate using a fictitious name like “Premier Builders.” And, because you can register multiple DBAs, you can create separate brands and separate business names.

Can another business operate under the same name as my business?

Generally, no.

In fact, most state laws prevent DBAs that are too similar to existing DBAs, but this varies from state to state.

And in many states, registering a DBA provides trademark protection for your business. One way to assure legal protection for your DBA is to trademark your business name separately from registering your DBA.

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What you should consider when filing a DBA name

To do business under a DBA, you need to file required DBA forms and pay a filing fee in the state(s) and U.S. territories where you want to operate your business.

Each state has its own forms and requirements, so check the forms and requirements carefully for your state. Here are important things you should consider when you file for a DBA:

  • Your legal business entity must be in good standing (you can get a certificate from your state or registration showing this).
  • You may need to get a money order or cashier’s check to register a DBA. Not all states accept credit cards.
  • Your DBA cannot claim you have a corporation or LLC unless your actual business entity is a corporation or LLC.
  • Many states require that you notify people that you’ve registered a DBA and operate a business under a name different from your legal name by posting a notice with a local newspaper or publication.
  • Although you can identify your business in your registration documents under your Social Security Number, you should get an EIN (Employer Identification Number, also known as a Federal Tax ID Number) instead and use the EIN instead of your Social Security Number.
  • You may not operate under an assumed name unless you’ve registered that name as a DBA name in the state in which you’re operating.
  • The time it takes for a county clerk or secretary of state to process a DBA filing can vary, so plan and do this before you start operating your business under a fictitious name.
  • DBA registrations don’t last forever. In many states, they are for five years and must be renewed before they expire. Check the specific state requirements carefully.
  • Most states require that you amend your DBA filing if your legal business information changes. This includes your business address, legal name, change in officers, etc.

How much does it cost to file a DBA name?

The cost to set up a DBA varies by state, county, city, and business structure. In general, you will end up spending from $10 to $100 on registering your DBA.

How to file a DBA name in any U.S. state or territory

Here’s a useful starting point to file a DBA, with insights, FAQs, links, and state requirements to help you file a DBA in any U.S. state or territory.

Your business name is a valuable asset. A DBA filing can be a key part of your business strategy. Just be sure to properly research the requirements in the state in which you operate and register your business as DBA at the earliest opportunity.

We frequently update this guide to keep it current. We most recently updated this guide on April 7, 2021.

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