The cost to register a business name can be minimal to hundreds of dollars, depending on the type of business structure you have. For example, if you're a one-man shop, registration typically is not required unless you want to operate under an alias. If you operate a corporation, you must register it with the state you plan to operate in.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
The cost to register a business name varies according to state and local requirements, and whether you apply for a trademark business name. You could spend several hundred dollars.
Trade Name Registration
Although state laws may differ, business owners typically are required to register their business name when it is different from the owner's legal name. This is known as a doing business as name, or DBA, but may also be called an alias, fictitious business name or trade name.
For example, if your legal name is Mary Poppins and your bookstore is called Mary Poppins' Books, this is not a DBA name. On the other hand, if you named your store Children's Books & More, this is a DBA name. Usually, DBA names must be registered in the county where the business is located, often at the clerk's office or register of deeds. Costs vary by location. For example, in Arizona, the fee is $10 while Rhode Island charges $50.
State Level Registration
Depending on the structure of your business, you may have to register it with the state if you plan to operate within its borders. Typically, registration is required for limited liability corporations and corporations. While sole proprietorships usually are not required to register, some states require partnerships to do so, so check the rules of your state before you officially open up for business.
Providing the name you chose for your business is part of the registration process and is included in the filing fee. In Texas, the registration fee for LLCs and corporations is $300, not including non-profit corporations. Professional associations and limited partnerships must pay $750. In Washington, LLCs and corporations pay $180 to register the business.
The business's legal name is the name you provide on your registration forms. If you use a different name when you interact with customers, this name is your business's DBA name. The DBA name must also be registered for an additional fee.
To prevent the use of your name by another business, or use of a name very similar to it, register the name as a trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Although not required, federal registration gives you stronger protection, especially if you plan to market your business or its products and services nationally. Some of the benefits include placing other businesses on notice that the name is already owned and by you, your exclusive use of the name is presumed, and you can sue another business in federal court for its wrongful use and any damages that result from it.
Trademark cost starts at $275 and varies according to your filing status. This fee is non-refundable. To prevent any mistakes, you may wish to have an attorney complete and submit the application for your trademark business name as well as confirm your chosen name is not already in use elsewhere in the country. Doing this will increase your application costs, but may be worth it to ensure your registration has the best chance of being accepted.
If your business only operates locally, registering it with other state agencies and the federal government may be unnecessary and expensive. However, if operating in multiple states, registering your business name as a trademark with the Patent and Trademark Office may be more prudent and cost-effective, since it will prevent use of the name nationally.
- U.S. Small Business Administration: Register Your Business Name
- U.S. Small Business Administration: Choose Your Business Structure
- Nolo: How to Register Your Business Name
- U.S. Patent and Trademark Office: Should I Register My Mark?
- Texas Department of State: Selecting a Business Structure
- Digital: Want to File a DBA in the United States?
Based on the West Coast, Mary Jane Freeman has been writing professionally since 1994, specializing in the topics of business and law. Freeman's work has appeared in a variety of publications, including LegalZoom, Essence, Reuters and Chicago Sun-Times. Freeman holds a Master of Science in public policy and management and Juris Doctor. Freeman is self-employed and works as a policy analyst and legal consultant.