When starting a business, there are some critical decisions that you need to make. Some of them include selecting an ideal location and choosing a business structure and name for your entity. Next up, you may need to register your entity with the state.
Most states, however, don’t require you to register some business structures, for example, sole proprietorships. In most cases, you’ll only need to file for a DBA.
How to Register a DBA
The term DBA is short for “doing business as”. It is also referred to as a fictitious name, trade name, or assumed name and can mean different things depending on the business structure.
A DBA is a name you file when you want to conduct business operations with a name that isn’t the owners’ names or surnames. This definition is suitable for a sole proprietorship or general partnership since you don’t need to register these two entities.
A DBA can also be the name you file when you want to conduct business operations with a name different from that registered with your state. This definition represents an LLC and limited partnership since you should register these two entities.
Let’s discuss how to register a DBA as we answer any other questions you may have about using a DBA for your business.
The Steps to Register a DBA
You can register a DBA through your local or county clerk’s office or your Secretary of State. The registration process will require you to fill in some paperwork and pay the filing fees, which may vary depending on the state.
Here are the steps to register a DBA:
1. Conduct a Name Check
Before you file for a DBA, you need to ensure the name you want is not already in use with another business in your state. The DBA name needs to be available for use.
Take a couple of minutes to conduct a name search online on search engines and social media. You should also do a name check on your state’s Secretary of State website. Most states offer a name check tool that you can use to check if a business name is available or not. Alternatively, you can search your county clerk’s database or send a search request to their office.
If the name you want is not available, you’ll need to find another one. Most states won’t allow you to register a DBA already in use with another entity.
2. Fill In Required Paperwork
Once you determine that the name is available, head to your Secretary of State website or local county clerk office to file for a DBA. You’ll need to fill in a few forms, which may vary with your state. In some states, you may have to file with different agencies depending on your business structure.
In New York, for instance, you apply for a DBA in the county clerk’s office if your business is a sole proprietorship or general partnership. If, by contrast, you operate an LLC or limited partnership, you’ll need to apply through the New York Department of State.
Some states may allow you to fill in and submit your paperwork online. In others, you may have to file the documents physically at the county clerk or Secretary of State office.
Here is the information you’ll need to complete in the paperwork:
- Original business name
- The DBA name
- Business address
- Names and addresses of the business’s legal owners
- Type of business
- Signature of one of the owners or officers in the entity
Some states may require you to complete and submit the paperwork within a specific timeframe from when you started your business. For example, in California, you need to submit the paperwork within 40 days of starting the entity.
3. Publish the New Name
Some states may require you to publish a DBA statement with your local newspaper. The intention is to inform the public that you have registered a DBA.
The requirements for publishing your DBA statement may vary per state. In California, you need to issue a public statement within 30 days after filing the required paperwork. The publication should run for four weeks for at least once a week.
Here are a few states that require you to create a DBA publication:
4. Pay Filing Fees
Once you present your DBA registration paperwork, you’ll need to pay the necessary filing fees. DBA filing fees vary from one state to another. It can also vary between counties in one state.
The DBA filing fee ranges from $5 to $50 in most states but can go as high as $100 in others.
For example, in Los Angeles (California), the filing fee is $26 for the first DBA name and $5 for other additional DBA names. The filing fee in Placer County, still in California, is $30 for the first DBA filing and $5.50 for other additional DBA names.
The Advantages of Using a DBA
Here are the key advantages of using a DBA.
Although not the best reason for filing a DBA, getting one can help you rebrand your business. If your existing business suffers bad publicity that affects your growth, you don’t necessarily have to register a new entity and try again. You can file for a DBA and use a different brand name to conduct business.
Opening a Business Bank Account
When opening a business bank account for a sole proprietorship or a general partnership, the bank may request DBA registration documents. These documents will serve as proof of business name and entity existence. They will help increase the bank’s confidence in opening your business bank account.
Most states don’t require a sole proprietorship and general partnership to register. The owners should file for a DBA if they use a trade or fictitious name. Since there is no business formation certificate, DBA registration will help show the bank that your sole proprietorship or general partnership is genuine.
Improved Scaling Capabilities
Filing a DBA allows you to expand into new locations and new lines of business with a different name. You don’t have to create a new business every time you want to sell something new.
For example, say you own a restaurant called Spoons, Chops & Hops. You can open a coffee and refreshments café and name it The Coffee Lounge. “Spoons, Chops & Hops” may not be the best name for a coffee shop. DBA filing gives you flexibility in how you want to name your business and enhances your expansion capabilities.
Easy to File
The process of applying for a DBA is simple. It doesn’t involve a lot of paperwork. The filing fees are not high either. And unlike some business structures, you don’t have to meet specific requirements and obligations to get a DBA.
You just need to choose the right business name and then file a DBA with your state’s Secretary of State or county clerk’s office. Registering a DBA allows you to easily comply with the laws of running a business in your state.
The Disadvantage of Using a DBA
Let’s look at a few disadvantages of using a DBA.
No Personal Liability Protection
A DBA simply allows you to conduct operations under a trade business name. It doesn’t provide any personal liability protection. If you want personal protection from liability, you should register as an LLC or limited partnership. You can then file a DBA when expanding your business to new locations or products and services.
No Name Protection
Filing a DBA doesn’t grant you exclusive rights to use the business name. It simply allows you to do business under that name. Some states may prevent other entities from registering with your name within the state. But outside it, entities can register with your DBA name. If you want to protect your business name, it’s better to trademark it with the USPTO (the United States Patent and Trademark Office).
Can Get Time-consuming
Some states may require you to file a DBA in each county where you conduct business. In this case, the DBA filing process may become expensive and time-consuming if you have operations in many states. Having to repeat the registration process is burdensome even when registering online. You still have to renew your DBA after a couple of years. And thus, you’ll need to go through the filing process again in every county.
Below are some frequently asked questions you can go over for a broader understanding of the topic.
Why Do You Need a DBA?
There are two situations why you would need a DBA. It depends on your business structure.
- Sole Proprietorship and General Partnership
As mentioned above, most states don’t require you to register a sole proprietorship or general partnership. You need to apply for a DBA if you plan to use a business name that’s not any owners’ names or surnames.
- LLC or Limited Partnerships
If you have already registered your business as an LLC or limited partnership, you need to file for a DBA if you plan to use a different name other than the one registered. For example, let’s assume you register your LLC as John Deck Construction Company. You should file a DBA if you plan to use John & Deck Builders as your trade name.
Does a DBA Expire?
Yes, a DBA can expire, although it depends on the state. Most states require you to renew your DBA after expiry. The timeframe for renewal also depends on the state. The average is, however, five years after DBA filing. Some states, like Texas, don’t require you to renew your DBA until after ten years. In New York, by contrast, DBAs don’t expire.
To know your DBA’s expiration date, you can check your DBA paperwork or consult your county clerk or Secretary of State. Some states also give a grace period to renew your DBA once it expires.
If you fail to renew within the required timeframe, your DBA seizes to exist and becomes available for use by another business. In such a case, you will need to file for a new DBA instead of renewing.
How Many DBAs Can You Register Under Your Business?
You can register as many DBAs under your entity as you’d like. There is no limit.
What Are the Restrictions of Using a DBA?
There are a few rules and restrictions to be mindful of when registering a DBA. If you are filing a DBA for your sole proprietorship or general partnership, you should not use a business name that implies you are any other business structure other than a DBA. For instance, you can’t use the terms “Inc.” or “Limited” or “Corps” or “Corporation.”
What Changes Can Impact Your DBA?
The one factor that can affect your DBA is a name change. If you want to conduct business in a name different from your DBA, you need to change the DBA name.
The guidelines for changing a DBA vary from one state to another. Some states allow you to amend your original DBA name registration form. In others, you’ll need to apply for a new DBA.
The steps to change a DBA are somewhat the same as applying for a new one. You need to:
- Do a name check.
- Fill in and submit the required forms with your state or county.
- Publish a DBA statement (if required).
After changing your DBA, you also should:
- Inform your customers, partners, and suppliers.
- Update your branding materials.
- Notify your bank and change your banking details to reflect the new name.
Is a DBA a Business License?
A business license is a permit that you get from your state or a federal entity to allow you to conduct business. A DBA is simply a name that you register, and that’s different from your registered business name or the owners’ names.
A DBA isn’t a kind of business structure. It offers no legal protection but is simply an operable name for your business.
Filing a DBA enables you to conduct business under a name different from your business registration name or owner’s names and surnames. To register a DBA, you should first do a name check and then file the required paperwork with your Secretary of State or county clerk’s office. You may also need to publish a DBA statement with your local newspaper.
The average timeframe for DBA expiration is five years, but it can be more in some states. You need to renew your DBA before the expiry date. If you fail to, you’ll have to create a new DBA name. There is no limit to the number of DBAs you can register for your business. There are, however, some restrictions, with one being you can’t use suffix names like Inc. or Corps.