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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+


  • Henry

    Hey Brandon, let me answer your questions “What you need a DBA for? and when you need a Business License?”, “What a business license is for?”, “Why and when a business license is necessary?” ….

    I will answer all four of your questions all in one, ok! Let’s beginning with what is a business? A business is a action of trade for volume or profit. So this means anything you do in exchange for profit/money is considered a business. Due to this action, you need business licenses to be acquired to make this action legal. Depending on how flexible you want or need to profit the action will be placed under different licenses such as DBA (Doing Business As), LLC (Limited Liability Company), and Corp (Corporations). These different licenses have it’s own pros and cons to them. Some of these licenses also provides a protection shield from lawsuits, personal assets, and many more benefits and etc…

    DBA (Doing Business As) is a business license that allows a individual and/or company to use alternative names to make profit legally with minor paperwork. And is considered “AS IS” license, meaning “The alternative name(s) is you!”. Sole Proprietors usually uses DBA’s to protect there personal name from being used.

  • Henry

    Hi Dora, let me answer your questions. If your sub-contactors place there personal name on the W-9 form then you pay them on their 1099 using their personal name. However if they used their DBA name or names on the W-9 form, then you must send it to their DBA name. Your not legally responsible if their DBA is properly set-up or not to receive their 1099. However if their is a contractually agreement between you and the sub-contractor(s) or DBA’s then you just follow the contractually agreement. Yes, Nellie is correct! To be on the safe-side make sure you contact a Employment Attorney in your State that also handles Contractually Agreements to ensure your going about it the right way!

  • CorpNetNellie

    Hi Amy,

    As far as the logo is concerned, it does not have to match exactly the name of the LLC. In fact, many logos don’t have the business name on them at all! If the business is going to accept payments or do business under any name other than the full, legal business name, that’s when the business owner would need to file a DBA.

    I hope that helps!
    -Nellie

  • Gabriel

    Hey Nellie, I have a few questions…

    One: I would like to separate my personal name from my business name. The business name bears two names {Example: “Royalle”}, one name is singular {Royalle} and the other is somewhat like a slogan or catch phrase {“I am Royalle”}… I am trying to figure out whether or not I should use the singular name {Royalle} as the filing name and the catch phrase as the DBA {I am Royalle}. They both bear the same name as the filing name. Which is best for expansion?

    And two: The other thing I wanted to know is if I am filing my own personal name as a separate company kind of like Joel Osteen Ministries or Johnny Bravo enterprises would I need a DBA or would everything be applied under the “first and last name” if I decided to expand personal services? Would it be like Johnny Bravo enterprises llc. DBA “Johnny Bravo Radio” and if I wanted to do “Johnny Bravo ski wear” would I need different DBA’s for both?

  • CorpNetNellie

    Hi Gabriel,

    Generally speaking, a DBA is required to be filed when using ANY name varying from the full, legal business name of the company. The filing name can ultimately be whatever you choose – the DBA will allow you to do business using the filing name OR the DBA name. Hope that helps!

    -Nellie

  • Gabriel

    Thank you Nellie! I guess I get it… lol.

  • Gabriel

    So basically what you are saying is that if I filed “Johnny Bravo enterprises LLC.” now and later decided to open a catering company that I could keep the same name filed, but if I had a building or a van and wanted my advertising to read “Johnny
    Bravo Catering”, that I would need to go back and re-file or add “Johnny Bravo Catering” as my DBA under “Johnny Bravo enterprises LLC.”? And I could write checks out or people could write checks out to either name?

  • Scott

    Hi Nellie, Why is there no formal search required for the name of a dba like there is when you first incorporate? For example, if I am ACME, INC. and my dba is IBM, why is it allowed when IBM already exists as a DBA for International Business Machines? My concern is my dba may end up being the name of another incorporated company.

  • Jamie

    Hi Nellie,

    We have an LLC, “AVG LLC” in Florida, but we want to create a DBA, “ABQ Apps” to sell mobile apps to small businesses in Albuquerque. We currently reside in Albuquerque but are doing virtual business under the Florida LLC.

    We would not be doing any transactions in person in Albuquerque for the “ABQ Apps” business, and all financial transactions would be done virtually – ie: not in person in New Mexico. The customer would be given a website where they could choose to purchase the app from. (www.abqapps.com) However, it would involve some in-person meetings with potential customers in Albuquerque, as well as virtual communication.

    So our questions are:
    1. Do we file the DBA for “ABQ Apps” in New Mexico, where we will be targeting customers, or Florida, where the LLC is located?
    2. Do we need to have a separate DBA under a brand new LLC in New Mexico even if we are not conducting financial transactions in that state (because they are done virtually)?
    3. What about a business license? New Mexico or Florida?
    4. If the money generated goes directly into the LLC account based in Florida, are we able to just operate under a DBA in Florida, even though the DBA name has ABQ (callsign for albuquerque, NM) in it?

    Thank you!
    Jamie

  • CorpNetNellie

    Hi Gabriel,
    That is exactly correct. The DBA will allow you to do business and/or accept payment under either name. :)

  • CorpNetNellie

    Hi Jamie,

    Generally speaking, when filing a DBA under an LLC, it is
    required to file that DBA in the same state the LLC is registered
    in. As far as any business licenses that will be required, you will
    need to check with your city and county, as every location/business
    has different requirements. I would recommend speaking with an
    accountant or a CPA regarding your financial questions. Hope
    that helps!

    -Nellie

  • Guest

    Hello :

    Your previous comment : 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.

    However, what if a DBA’s is used in “Real Property”. Thus using a DBA by another party, later in time has the ability to “steal” and or “convert” the Real Property, without the original party really being fully aware.

    Thus how does one address this situation, confusing and prove the “True Owner” of the real property, assuming two different people used the DBA’s at different times ?? Thanks

  • CorpNetNellie

    Hi!

    Thank you for reading my post and commenting. I regards to your question, this would be determined within the court of law. This is beyond our scope of service and I will have to suggest you contact an attorney for some specific legal advice. However, my company has a legal subscription service that you can pay monthly, bi-annually or annually for and get unlimited legal advice. It’s a great service if you want to avoid hefty legal fees just for some advice from a legal professional. Please see the Legal advice page of my company website at http://www.corpnet.com/run-business/legal-advice/

    -Nellie

  • Gabriel

    Thank you Nellie. You are one of a kind. May God continue to bless you and enrich your family.

  • CorpNetNellie

    :) Thank you Gabriel. Glad to see my post and information was helpful

  • Ann

    Hi Nellie

    I have a DBA and i am trying to purchase wholesale items and i keep getting asked for my business license what am i supposed to send them?.. Also am i to apply for a separate license?. i have an online clothing boutique. Also is there any certain tax information i may need like reseller permit or sellers permit? Please assist

  • CorpNetNellie

    Hi Scott,

    The reason there is no formal search for DBAs is because DBAs are not protected on a county level. Therefore, the county will file any name you send them. If you are in a state where the DBA is filed on a state level (i.e. Pennsylvania) the DBA is protected by the state and would conflict with another corporation or LLC on file. In a case like this, we would do a formal search, however in the state where the DBAs are filed on a county level or even state level in certain states there is no search process as the counties and certain states do not check.

    I hope that helps!
    -Nellie

  • John

    Hello Nellie!
    Great site. I have a question about filing a dba for a website. Should I file it as www(dot)name(dot)com or name(dot)com or simply the name? I appreciate any input. Thank you!

    John

  • CorpNetNellie

    Hi John,

    Great question! Often people will need to file DBAs using multiple names. Let’s say a business owner owns a company called “ABC Company”. He might file a DBA for both “ABC Company” and “ABCCompany(dot)com” – that way he can do business/accept payments using either name. Hope that helps!

    Should you have any additional questions, feel free to call for a free business consultation! Ask directly for Katie Hendrix: http://bit.ly/1q1SgaW

    -Nellie

  • Al

    Can you have the same dba name that someone is using in a different state?

  • Al

    Aftering reviewing Scotts questions, I think the answer to my question is yes. You can have the same dba as someone else in a different state. I’m I correct?

  • CorpNetNellie

    Hi Al,
    Generally, yes – that’s correct.
    DBA names are registered on a county and/or state level –
    so generally a DBA in one state will not prevent use of the same
    name in another state. If you need any further assistance with
    filing your DBA, feel free to call for a free business consultation at
    888-449-2638 and ask directly for Katie Hendrix. Here is also
    more info http://bit.ly/1jeaPG7

  • Isabel Germes

    Hi! I am trying to open an online cargo trailers store here in FL and I am so lost with all the requirements licensing and wether i need to be a dba or llc, please help!

  • CorpNetNellie

    Hi Isabel,

    Choosing an entity can be one of the most confusing (and important!) parts of starting a business. I would recommend speaking with a consultant to better understand the requirements / differences between the entity types. My co, CorpNet.com, offers free business consultations – please feel free to reach out! 888-449-2638 & ask directly for Katie Hendrix.

    :)
    -Nellie

  • FredtheWhale

    i’m considering starting a handyman / light contractor service. i want to protect my
    non-business belongings (house) from becoming targeted if there is a legal
    claim against my work. am i correct that a DBA will not protect me in this
    situation and a simple corporation (such as a sole proprietor or llc) might be
    a better solution?

  • CorpNetNellie

    Hi!

    That’s correct – DBAs generally do not offer liability protection while corporations and LLCs do. If you have more questions or would like to speak with a Business Startup Specialist, please feel free to call my co CorpNet for a free business consultation – 888-449-2638 x110 ask for Katie.

    Thanks!
    -Nellie


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