The Down Low on DBAs: Everything You Need to Know

Rachael, Direct Incorporation Staff

The term DBA stands for “Doing Business As,” and filing a DBA for a business or sole proprietorship allows you to use your DBA name, also known as the “fictitious business name,” “trade name,” or “assumed name,” when conducting business (instead of your legal business name). Most states require that you file a DBA statement before operating under the DBA name, as to not confuse or mislead customers who might otherwise be unaware that the DBA name is operated by the same company.

Why file a DBA?

The most common cause of DBA filings are sole proprietors who are looking to operate their business under a different name. If you’re a sole proprietor, your legal name is your business’ legal name (for instance, if Liz O’Connor does environmental consulting as a sole proprietor, her legal business name is “Liz O’Connor”). If you file a DBA, you are able to operate under a name that better represents your mission or purpose. Also, some banks may require that sole proprietors file a DBA in order to open a bank account for their business, and some corporations may require you to file a DBA in order to hire you for freelancing services.

However, DBAs are not limited to sole proprietors. Any corporation or LLC can file a DBA as well. This might be because you want to operate your business under a more creative or memorable name without changing the legal name of the business. It might also happen because you want to add on an additional product or service to what you already provide, and want to have a business name that accurately represents it. For example, if Liz owns an environmental consulting corporation, but decides she also wants to provide solar panel installation, she could file a DBA for “Liz’s Environmental Consulting and Solar Installation,” to make clear all the services she offers. Similarly, if Liz’s environmental consulting corporation also wants to offer financial consulting, she could file a DBA for the financial half of her business, and operate her financial consulting service under the DBA name (and her environmental consulting service under the legal business name).

Because of the ease and affordability of filing a DBA, it is possible to have a corporation or LLC that serves as the umbrella under which separate services are offered under different DBAs. This will eliminate the extra paperwork and expenses of creating new or subsidiary companies.

What are the rules?

If you file a DBA, you are still required to provide the legal name of your business on all government forms and applications, including applications for employer tax IDs, licenses and permits. For sole proprietors, it may not be necessary to file a DBA (it’s always good to double check) if your business name follows the format of “First Name, Last Name, Service” (for instance, “Liz O’Connor’s Environmental Consulting”); however, if Liz the sole proprietor wanted her business to just be “Liz’s Environmental Consulting,” this would require a DBA. It is also important to keep in mind that establishing a DBA does not establish a trademark on that name, and you should be careful to not infringe on any business name that is already taken or trademarked. There are also some limitations on the words used in your DBA name: for instance, it would not be acceptable for a trade name to include the words “Corporation,” “Incorporation,” “Inc.,” “LLC,” or “Corp.” if it is not in fact a registered corporation or LLC.

Once you’ve completed your DBA registration, your business is free to use the DBA name to open bank accounts, write checks, and use in promotional material. Neglecting to file a DBA before doing business under a different name could not only lead to penalties and fines, but potential lawsuits. It’s common for businesses to (either by will or by mandate) publish an announcement in a local newspaper about their DBA before doing business under that name, in order to provide transparency to the community.

If you have questions about filing a DBA, feel free to contact Direct Incorporation at 1-877-281-6496.

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