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Doing Business As: What Is It and Do You Need It?

by Nellie Akalp  |  May 7/2013  | 

Doing Business As

In the course of running your business, you’ve probably encountered more legal fine print and formalities than you ever thought possible. In this post, we’ll break down the Doing Business As (DBA) to see if your business needs one.

What is a DBA?

In the U.S., a DBA lets the public know who the real owner of a business is. The DBA is also called a Fictitious Business Name or Assumed Business Name. It got its origins as a form of consumer protection, so dishonest business owners can’t try to avoid legal trouble by operating under a different name.

When someone files a DBA, it’s normally circulated in some kind of print newspaper (maybe you’ve noticed all those “fictitious business name” entries in the local classifieds). It lets the community know exactly what people are behind a business.

Do you need a DBA?

In general, there are two reasons why a business in the U.S. will need to get a DBA:

1. For sole proprietors: If you’re operating your business as a sole proprietor, then you’ll need to file for a DBA if your business has a different name than your own name. So, let’s say I’ve started a gardening business called Spring Flowers Gardening; I’ll need to file for a DBA for “Spring Flowers Gardening.”

There are a few other details to know. In some cases, you don’t need a DBA if your business name is a combination of your name and a description of your product or service. In this case, if my business was called Nellie Akalp’s Gardening Service, I may not need a DBA. But, if it’s just my first name (aka Nellie’s Gardening Service), then a DBA is required. If that sounds confusing, don’t worry; just touch base with your local (town or county) clerk’s office and ask them if you’ll need a DBA.

2. For corporations and LLCs: If you have filed to become a corporation or LLC, then you’ve already registered your business name and don’t need a DBA. However, you will need to get a DBA if you plan on conducting business using a name that’s different than the name filed with your LLC/corporation paperwork.

So back to my Spring Flowers business… I incorporated my business as Spring Flowers Gardening. My business will need to file a DBA in order to operate under “SpringFlowersGardening.com” or “Spring Flowers.” Likewise, if I opened a Garden Shop, I’d need a DBA for “Spring Flowers Garden Shop.” In short, you’ll need a DBA to operate with any kind of variation of your original name.

The importance of a DBA

I’m sure this sounds like a lot of unnecessary, extraneous paperwork. Yet there actually are a few important reasons to get your DBAs in order.

1. It’s the easiest way to register your name: If you’re a sole proprietor, then filing for a DBA is going to be the simplest and least expensive way to use a business name. You can create a separate professional business identity, without having to form an LLC or corporation. And for sole proprietors, a DBA is required in order to open a bank account and receive payments in the name of your business.

2. For LLCs or corporations, a DBA will let you operate multiple businesses without having to form a separate LLC or corporation for each business. Let’s say your business wants to expand into multiple websites, stores, restaurants, services, etc. You can create a corporation with a relatively generic name and use a DBA for each individual business. This will cut down on your paperwork and expenses when you’re operating multiple projects.

3. Keeps your business compliant: If your business is an LLC or corporation, you enjoy certain legal protections. However, these protections may be invalidated if you’re operating under a different name and didn’t file for a DBA. For example, I may have incorporated Spring Flowers Gardening, Inc. But if I sign a client contract under Spring Flowers (or some other variation like that), that contract may not hold up in court.

Filing a DBA

The rules, requirements, forms and fees associated with filing a DBA are different in each state and county. The U.S. SBA provides a chart which details DBA filings state-by-state. By using a legal document filing service, you can make sure that you’re following your county and state requirements perfectly and won’t be accidentally operating outside of the law.

Wondering what business structure is right for you? See Nellie’s post on business structures.

About the author: Nellie Akalp is the CEO of CorpNet.com, an online incorporation filing service, where she helps entrepreneurs Incorporate, Form an LLC or File a DBA for their businesses. Connect with Nellie on Google+


  • CorpNetNellie

    Hi Ron,
    Great question – there are a couple options. The first would be to file a DBA under the existing business, like you mentioned. This would give you the option to use either name. Another option would be to file an amendment with the Secretary of State and change the name of the business to the name you’d like to use. Hope that helps!

  • Ron Chaney

    If I have a business containing my name, but clearly post on all invoices and let customers know to write all checks to my name rather than the business name, do I need a DBA?

  • CorpNetNellie

    Hi Ron,
    Thank you for your question. A DBA is generally required any time a company does business using any other name than their full, legal business name, even if it is clearly noted how checks are to be made out.

  • Steve

    I have a dba partnership with a friend of mine. My question is how do we need to file our taxes? We have been told we need to file on one of us taxes, using Schedule C all the income/expenses from dba, and the other one should receive a 1099 MISC, half of the net profit. Or do we need to file a 1065 form and then using a schedule K for each of us. Any response will be appreciated.

  • Logan

    Hi Nellie, great article, thank you! I have some questions regarding a DBA for the purposes of doing internet business. It seems that it would be wise to create a DBA so that the legal website docs (Disclaimer, Privacy policy and Terms of Service) are posted with the site’s name as opposed to my own. I can still use my own name in the payments from Google. Do I also need to file it in my home state of New York? My personal banking account is there (there will be no business account for now) and since it’s internet business, I won’t be conducting it only in New York. And I’ve been living in Europe lately anways… Thanks in advance for your clarifications and comments.

  • CorpNetNellie

    Hi Logan,

    Thank you for your question. If the DBA is going to be registered under an existing corporation or LLC, it is almost always required to file the DBA in the same state that the corp/LLC is registered in. If it’s simply going to be a sole proprietorship, the DBA can be filed in any state, though it’s generally recommended to file in a state where you have a physical address you can use as the business address.

    I hope that helps!
    -Nellie

  • CorpNetNellie

    Hi Steve –

    Thank you for reading and commenting. I recommend you contact a tax advisor to get answers to your question since it is tax-related. You can try: Corporate Tax Network
    Tiffanie Anzalone
    866-893-5730 x5456

    Sorry I couldn’t be more help!
    -Nellie

  • Lexi

    Thanks for writing this article. I’ve been trying to figure out this information through tons of research and your explanation has been the clearest yet.

  • joe villarreal

    hello i am starting a car hauler company just with a truck and a trailer i wanted to know if a need a dba because by brother is the one that is going to be driving the truck and im only the owner dont have a name for it yet im lost dont know what to do or how to start a bussines

  • Ken

    If my business name is ABC Flowers, LLC., will I need to file DBA under ABC Flowers if “LLC.” IS not used in business name or signage?

  • CorpNetNellie

    Hi Joe,

    It sounds like you’re in the very beginning stages of starting your business, and one of the first decisions to be made is what type of business to file. Are you concerned with liability protection? If so, it’s important to note that DBAs generally do not offer liability protection. It is most common for small business to register an LLC, because it’s easy to maintain for small business owners, but it also offers liability protection.

  • CorpNetNellie

    Hi Ken,

    Generally speaking, yes one must file a DBA under an LLC if they will use any variation of the name other than the LLC name

  • sasa

    i had register DBA under my name, i closed that buinsess already. now my husband wants to open new buinsess under his name, he likes to use the same DBA, can he use that? or i have to transfer under his name? our last name does not match. i live in california. thanks

  • CorpNetNellie

    Hi Sasa –

    Thank you for reading my post and commenting. Generally speaking DBA’s are not transferrable so your husband will have to file a new DBA. Should you need assistance, feel free to reach out to my company for help anytime for a free business consultation: 888.752.0363

  • John k

    What if you find out someone else is using your dba name. I filed the name they did not. What can I do to make them stop

  • CorpNetNellie

    Hi John:

    In most states DBA’s are not protected, therefore anyone can use a DBA. When a business incorporates or forms an LLC that’s when the name becomes protected on a state level and if they want to take it a step further a name can be trademarked with the federal government which would cover the protection in all 50 states. Please give me a call and Id be happy to go over this with you: 888.752.0363

    - Nellie

  • Jordan

    I am wanted to form my LLC under Modern Day Revolution Clothing LLC or Modern Day Revolution LLC and refer to my business under the acronym MDR Clothing. Should I form my LLC under the full name and make a DBA to also go my MDR Clothing for short. Or just file the LLC under MDR Clothing and just say that MDR stand for Modern Day Revolution?

  • CorpNetNellie

    Hi Jordan,
    Generally, a business-owner in your situation would file their LLC with their full business name, (in your case, “Modern Day Revolution Clothing LLC”), and then file a DBA or “Doing Business As” underneath the LLC for any other names you’d also like to do business as (such as “MDR Clothing”). Generally speaking, it is required to file a DBA anytime a business owner wants to do business using any name other than their full, legal business names. The DBA can be owned by you as an individual, or, what’s more common, is having the DBA owned by the LLC. Hope that helps!

  • AVTech

    I registered a DBA last year so I could setup a website and try to get a business going eventually, but I haven’t used it or set up a bank account for it yet. Do I have to file anything for the taxes? I know once I actually start the business I will but what about for last year since it was never used? Do I just file the regular way?

  • CorpNetNellie

    Hi There – I suggest talking to your tax advisor or cpa further about your concerns.

    Sorry I couldn’t be more help!

    -Nellie

  • Charles

    As a sole proprietor but I have a dba (fictitious name) on my 1099-misc form do I put my fictitious name or my personal name?

  • CorpNetNellie

    Hi Charles – Thanks for reading and commenting! Generally speaking, one would use their personal name. Thanks! – Nellie

  • Thia

    I have done dba about 4 months ago but should I file LLC ? Do I need it . It just a gardening business by mysel

  • CorpNetNellie

    Hi Thia,

    Excellent question. No matter how small a business is forming a Corp or LLC is always recommended. In fact, it’s especially important for small business owners such a yourself to protect themselves from any type of personal liability.

    Happy to have my team chat with you more via a free business consultation if you’d like. Please ask directly for Amanda Beren: http://bit.ly/Pt4MVP

    -Nellie

  • ChrisStelzer

    Thank you for this post. Easy to read and right to the point!

  • Ivan

    Will a dba show up on my personal credit report?


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