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What is a DBA and How to File One For Your Business
There are many important reasons why doing business under a DBA (Doing Business As) name could be the right decision for your business.
We’ll help you understand what a DBA is, explain why you might consider using a DBA for your business, and provide important resources that will help you register your DBA name in any state or territory of the United States.
What is a DBA?
Every business has a legal name. For example, a partnership or sole proprietorship might operate under the legal name of the business owner or owners. A corporation, limited liability company (LLC) or other type of business entity might operate under the name defined in the articles of incorporation or articles of organization.
But, sometimes you don't want to operate your business under your registered legal 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 just might want a new name without changing your incorporation or registration documents.
If you do business under a name different from the legal name of your business, that is called an 'assumed name', 'fictitious business name', or 'trade name'. Legally, it's called a doing business as name (DBA).
You can operate your business under as many DBA names as you want - there are no limits. But, each DBA name must be registered in the state where you operate. This is required because the public has a legal right to know that a particular person or legal entity is conducting a business under a name that differs from its legal name.
If you want to learn more about legal business structures and get actionable insights on starting and building a successful, sustainable business, read this comprehensive guide on how to start a business.
And remember each DBA you register should have a unique brand identity so that people can easily remember your business.
What a DBA is not
Registering a DBA does not excuse you from forming a legal business entity. In fact, if you don't form a legal business entity and simply register a DBA with your state, the law assumes you're operating your business as a sole proprietorship.
While many business operate this way, there are significant disadvantages to operating as a sole proprietorship. For example, you will not have any limited liability protection from lawsuits when you operate your business as a sole proprietorship. And you'll be directly responsible for your business's debts and obligations.
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 debts and liabilities of the business.
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DBA vs. LLC
Many people wonder about the difference between a DBA and an LLC. They are not the same. As we noted above, an LLC is a legal business entity. It can operate with or without a DBA.
A DBA, however, is like a nickname for your business. You must first create a business structure, like an LLC, LP, corporation, or another structure, before you can register a DBA.
Will I have to pay taxes if you register a DBA?
You do not pay taxes specifically for a DBA. Business taxes are determined by the business's structure and each business structure has its own tax rules.
The DBA is not a business structure so while you will be required to find taxes in accordance with your actual legal business structure, you will not have to file taxes specifically for the DBA.
Why use a DBA?
You don't want to use your personal name for the business.
If you form your company as a sole proprietorship or partnership, your personal name is the legal business name. So, for privacy or strategic reasons, you may want to operate the business under a different name.
Your bank requires a DBA.
Banks often require sole proprietors and partnerships to have a DBA to open a business bank account.
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 the new reality of your business.
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.
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Important things to consider when filing a DBA
To do business under a DBA, you must complete and file required DBA forms and pay a filing fee in the state(s) where you want to operate your business.
Each state has its own forms and requirements, so be sure to check the forms and requirements carefully for your state. Here are important things you should consider when filing 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 you actual business entity is a corporation or LLC.
- Many states require that you notify people that you've registered a DBA 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.
- 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.
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How to file a DBA
The process for filing a DBA is specific to each state.
Most states require the DBA name to be registered unless you are doing business under your personal name. Many states will allow you to register online.
Find your location below for specific instructions.
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