What Does DBA Mean?
What Does DBA Stand For?
DBA is an acronym for “doing business as.” In some states, a DBA might be called a fictitious name, trade name, or assumed name.
What is a DBA?
A doing business as name is any name a company operates under that isn't their legal name. In most states, you can operate under a different name as long as you officially register it with the proper city, county, or state agency.
In most states, you are required to register any name you are using for your company besides the name you listed when you formed the business. The name you listed on your business formation documents is your company's legal name.
What a DBA isn't.
A doing business as name isn't a legal business entiity. It is only a name that your business can use instead of it's legal name.
When you form a business entity such as an LLC, corporation (s corp or c corp), limited partnership, or limited liability partnership, your business has limited liability protection. That means that if your business is sued, your personal assets are protected. If you file a DBA name for your LLC or corporation, for example, that doing business as name is not covered by limited liability protection but the business itself is. The doing business as name is only a name.
Sole proprietorships and general partnerships legally operate under the owner's last name and they do not have limited liability protection. You can operate under a DBA as a sole proprietor or general partnership but the business will still not have limited liability protection.
When To File a DBA
Why File a DBA?
Whether your business is a sole proprietorship, partnership, LLC, or corporation, filing a doing business as name can make it easier to create or build a particular brand. If your business offers multiple distinct products or services, registering a DBA can help you highlight and market certain ones in a unique way.
If you’re operating a sole proprietorship or partnership, choosing a doing business as name for your business can make it easier to market your company, helping to attract more customers. For example, if you start a one-person consulting firm, you’ll have more success with a name like “Expert Consulting” than you would be calling the business “Sarah Smith.”
Sole proprietorships and general partnerships are required to use their surnames (last names) as their legal name. If your business is a sole proprietorship and you don't want your name in directories, online, or on public record, then it's a good practice to set up a DBA to protect your privacy.
Setting Up Multiple Businesses Under One LLC
Entrepreneurs who want to create several different businesses can do so under one limited liability company (LLC) by creating DBAs for each one.
Some banks require sole proprietors and general partnerships to have a DBA in order to open a business account.
Domain Name Availability
Your business name might not be available as a domain name. Some business owner's choose to file a DBA that matches their domain name.
Sole proprietors and general partnerships gain more credibility with a business name that isn't their own name.
Do I Need A DBA For My Business?
In most cases, a DBA is only required if you are using a business name other than your legal business name that was filed when forming the company. There are some states that require one for certain business entity types. For instance, New York requires partnerships to have a DBA.
Check out our state DBA guide for your business’ home state to see the rules and regulations that are relevant to you.
Additionally, if you are operating a sole proprietorship or partnership, and you are using a name other than your own, you will need a doing business as name to open a business bank account or to be listed in certain business directories.
Do I need a DBA for my LLC?
It is not necessary to have a DBA for your LLC, but there may be benefits to having one. As we mentioned earlier, a doing business as name can open up a lot of different opportunities for branding and marketing your business or particular products or services that you offer.
Is My DBA Name Protected?
There are sometimes laws that prevent DBAs that are too similar to existing ones from being used, but this varies from state to state. This limited protection would end at the state’s border. However, it is possible to trademark a doing business as name, which would offer protection across state lines.
How to do a DBA Name Search
Each state has a search function that allows you to check and see if a particular doing business as name is available. Check out our state DBA guide for your business’ home state for a link to this service.
How to check if a DBA name is trademarked
You can search the U.S. trademark database for your DBA name. This is also a good time to check to see if your web domain is available.
Are DBAs Public Record?
Once a state approves your DBA filing, it is a part of the public record. If you are concerned about privacy, consider forming a business entity and hiring a registered agent service to accept legal documents on your behalf. The registered agent's contact information will be on the public record instead of yours.
How many DBA names can I have?
You can have as many DBAs as you want. As long as you file the proper paperwork and pay any required fees, there is no limit on the number of DBAs your business can have. However, keep in mind that each DBA adds a small amount of complexity to your business, so more isn’t always better.
Frequently Asked Questions
When Does a DBA Expire?
This depends on your state. Each state has its own set of rules for filing and maintaining DBAs. Your DBA could expire after some number of years or be valid indefinitely.
Is a DBA a Separate Legal Entity?
A DBA is not a separate legal entity. It is simply a nickname for an existing business. So, while you still have to file paperwork to create a DBA, it does not actually create a new business.
How Much Does a DBA Cost?
The cost of registering a doing business as name varies from state to state but usually falls between $10 and $100 for filing.
Can a DBA Get an EIN or Tax ID?
DBAs aren’t required to have a separate EIN because DBAs aren’t a business entity. The business entity that the DBA is under would have an EIN if an EIN is required.
To learn more about EINs and when you would need one for your business, read our What is An EIN article.
Can a DBA Become an LLC?
Your DBA is just a name. A DBA is often confused with a sole proprietorship. If you mean “can my sole proprietorship become an LLC?” then the answer is “Yes. Absolutely.
How Can I Add a DBA to an LLC?
Your DBA is just a name. A DBA is often confused with a sole proprietorship. If you mean “can my sole proprietorship become an LLC?” then the answer is “Yes. Absolutely.”
To learn how to form an LLC, visit our Form an LLC state guides.
When is a DBA Required in my State?
If you are operating a sole proprietorship, you will need a doing business as name in order to open a business bank account or accept payments in a name other than your personal name. If you have an LLC or a corporation, you will likely need a DBA if you want to conduct business under a name other than the one you already registered.
However, these rules can vary by state. Check out our How to File a DBA guides to see what the DBA filing regulations are in your business’ home state.
Can a DBA Have Two Owners?
A DBA doesn’t have owner’s per se because a DBA is just a nickname for the main business entity. The main business entity can have two owners depending on the organization’s business structure.
Is my DBA Protected from Being Used in Other Places?
There are some state-level laws that prevent DBAs that are too similar to existing ones from being used, but this varies from state to state. It is possible to trademark a DBA, which would offer stronger protection across state lines.
Can a DBA be Transferred?
Most states don’t allow DBAs to be transferred but you can usually change the contact information for the DBA by completing a form and paying a fee.