What is a DBA?

What Is a DBA?If you are starting a business for the first time, you may be wondering what a “doing business as” (DBA) name is. We are here to explain what a DBA is and give you the steps you need to create one for your business. 

To learn more about the simple steps for getting a DBA in your state, read our step-by-step state DBA guides

What Is a DBA?

What is a DBA?DBA is an acronym for “doing business as.” In some states, a DBA might be called a fictitious name, trade name, or assumed name. To the point, a DBA is essentially a nickname for your company.

In most states, you are legally required to register any name you are using for your business besides the name you listed when you formed the business. The name you listed on your business formation documents is called a legal name.

If your business is a sole proprietorship or partnership (unincorporated), then you will need to file a DBA if you use any name other than your own (or your partners).

Why File a DBA?

Why file a DBA?There are plenty of reasons why getting a DBA might be a good choice for your business and there are benefits to a DBA that can apply to almost any company.

How can a DBA Help with Branding my Business?

Whether your business is a sole proprietorship, partnership, LLC, or corporation, setting-up a DBA 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 DBA 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.”

Does my DBA Protect my Personal Assets?

If you create a DBA for your sole proprietorship or partnership, your personal assets are not protected. Since there’s no legal separation between the business and the business owner with a DBA, if the business incurs debt or must pay damages awarded in a lawsuit, the owner’s personal finances could be at risk.

If you want to protect your personal assets from potential business losses, you should look into forming an LLC, which does offer liability protection. Creating an LLC is a relatively simple and affordable process. If you’d like to learn more about the steps involved, check our state LLC guides.

It is also worth noting that if you form a DBA for an existing LLC, the LLC as a whole would be liable for any losses suffered under the DBA.

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 DBA 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 DBA can open up a lot of different opportunities for branding and marketing your business or particular products or services that you offer.

Are DBAs Taxed?

To be clear, income earned under a DBA name is taxed but the DBA itself is not. DBAs are just nicknames and not separate businesses, so they don’t file a separate tax return.

This means that any income that comes in under the DBA’s line of business will be taxed according to the tax filing status of its owner. The exact tax method will depend on if your business is a sole proprietorship, partnership, LLC, or corporation. 

Is My DBA Name Protected?

Is my DBA name protected?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. This limited protection would end at the state’s border. However, it is possible to trademark a DBA, 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 DBA name is available. Check out our state DBA guide for your business’ home state for a link to this service.

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.

Our friend’s at TRUiC offer guides on everything you need to know about forming an LLC and using a registered agent service to protect your privacy.

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 bit of complexity to your business, so more isn’t always better.

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.

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Frequently Asked Questions

When Does a DBA Expire?

This depends on your state. Each state has its own set of rules. Your DBA could expire after some number of years or be valid indefinitely. Check your state’s specific regulations to see how long a DBA is valid for.

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 DBA varies from state to state but usually falls between $10 and $100.

Check out our state guides to see the potential costs in your business’ home state.

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 What is An EIN from our friends at TRUiC.

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 DBA in order to open a business bank account or accept payments in a name other than your legal 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 state DBA guides to see what the 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. For state-specific information, check our state DBA guides.

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