Whether you're a sole proprietor running an LLC or have multiple company owners, you might consider adding a DBA to the LLC so that you can use another trade name to conduct business activities. For example, you might want to choose a fictitious name representing a type of service or product you sell.
The DBA filing process will include choosing an appropriate name, assessing local and state requirements and filling out the application online or by hand. Once the registration has taken effect, you can start using your chosen name and will need to meet any requirements to renew the name periodically.
DBA Under an LLC Basics
When you originally registered your LLC, you chose the legal name under which you would operate the business. However, your business needs could change, and you may want a way to differentiate the multiple services your company may offer. For example, you might decide that "John Doe, LLC" is too vague for your gardening services company and want a name like "John's Gardening Services". You might also want a few different names for your home-care business that offers house cleaning along with home-repair services.
With a DBA, you get legal rights to use the chosen name for regular business and financial activities within the county or state where you've registered. For example, you can have customers write their checks to your DBA name and sign contracts using the name.
Understanding DBA Pros and Cons
Before deciding to register a DBA under an LLC, you should understand the benefits you gain from this option as well as the limitations involved versus registering a separate business.
The ease of registering a DBA name and the flexibility to put multiple business names under a single LLC are advantages of this option. You avoid the hassles of choosing a separate business entity and completing the full business registration process for each. At the same time, you can benefit from some legal protection when it comes to performing financial activities like opening bank accounts or using contracts with the chosen name. You also get the benefit of potentially having some privacy, especially if your LLC uses your real name, and a DBA provides a good opportunity to make a memorable, creative name to use.
At the same time, be warned that just because you register a DBA name in your state or county, this doesn't promise any permanent naming rights; you'd need to trademark the name or register it as its own entity to get that benefit. Further, there are some limitations when it comes to where your DBA name gets protected since your rights are often at the local level. This means someone in another county could use your chosen name legally. Also, understand that a DBA alone doesn't give extra tax and asset-protection benefits than your existing LLC structure does.
Choosing Your DBA Name
Before you begin the process of DBA filing, you'll need to make sure that you choose a fictitious business name that meets the legal requirements in your locale. Generally, this means your DBA name must not be the same name or too similar to that of a competitor or other business in your state. For example, if a local business is named "John's Auto Services," you shouldn't use the DBA name "John's Auto" since that can mislead others and cause legal issues with the other company.
When you do consider a unique name, you should choose something memorable and relatable to your brand that is preferably available as a domain name so you can advertise your business on the web. You can check local and state business registries to verify that your name is unique.
Also, DBA naming rules mean your chosen name can't contain terms that mislead others into thinking the business name is a separate corporation or business type. For example, a DBA under an LLC should not contain terminology like "incorporated", "corporation" or abbreviations of these. So, "John's Plumbing Services, Inc." would not be legally valid for a DBA name. Names like "Jamie's Computer Services" or "Evan's General Store" would follow the guidelines.
Determining DBA Filing Requirements
Your LLC's location will determine the agency through which you'll need to complete the DBA filing process. Often, this will happen at the county or state level, but sometimes it can mean filing at both levels depending on how you've structured your business. For example, Arizona, Maryland, Delaware, Ohio and Alaska are among the states that don't make you file your DBA at the state level and handle it at the county level instead. Kansas, on the other hand, doesn't have a DBA filing option at either level.
Some states will require you to complete an extra step to make a newspaper listing announcing your DBA so that people will know who's behind your business. Some of these places include California, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Florida and Nebraska.
So, to determine how to proceed, you'll want to check both your county clerk website and your state's secretary of state or similar website. Keep in mind that qualifying to file a DBA usually also means your LLC has to be in good standing in terms of meeting tax and filing requirements. Getting this proof may require obtaining a state certificate before you can begin the DBA filing process.
Registering Your DBA Under Your LLC
Once you have determined the level at which you need to complete the DBA filing process, check the government agency's website for a filing form or online application. Regardless of how you complete the application, you can expect to fill out some information that includes these common items:
- Your chosen fictitious business name
- Nature of the business
- Name of the business owner(s)
- Your business's mailing address
- Declaration of business structure as an LLC
- Employer identification number or other tax ID
If you're using a handwritten form, you'll usually need to sign it, have it notarized and either mail it or take it in person to the associated government office. You'll also need to pay your locale's filing fee, which often ranges from $10 to $100. Once you've completed this process, you can expect to wait one or two months before you can legally use the chosen DBA name. You should get a DBA certificate mailed to you to use as proof of the registered name to use along with your LLC.
Using Your DBA Name
Once you've completed the DBA filing process, know that your fictitious business name will not impact how you file your taxes. The IRS will still consider your LLC to be a single business entity regardless of how many DBAs you have. This means you'll just have to file your usual tax return without further hassles.
At the same time, you won't have to worry about getting a separate employer identification number for the DBA. You'll use your LLC's existing EIN for any DBA you register and can freely change your DBA as needed.
Depending on the locale, your DBA name usually remains valid for anywhere from one to 10 years. Check your state's DBA renewal requirements to determine if and when you'll need to complete the renewal process and pay a renewal fee since the renewal frequency can depend on the business entity type too. Some states, including Iowa, Delaware and Arkansas, don't require you to renew at all at the state level.
- DoMyLLC: DBA Taxation
- FreshBooks: Doing Business As (DBA): What Is It and Is It Needed?
- UpCounsel: Add DBA to LLC: Everything You Need to Know
- Incfile: Understanding DBAs and How They Can Be Dangerous For Your Small Business
- LLC University: Do I Need to File a DBA?
- Digital.com: Filing a DBA in the U.S. – State by State Guide
- Clark County Nevada: Fictitious Firm Names
Ashley Donohoe started writing professionally about business topics in 2010. Having eight years experience running all aspects of her small business, she is knowledgeable about the daily issues and decisions that business owners face. She also has earned a Master of Business Administration degree with a leadership and strategy concentration from Western Governors University. Some other places featuring her business writing include JobHero, LoveToKnow, PocketSense, Chron and Study.com.