How to Determine If Your Business Needs a DBA

What’s a DBA anyway? Is it like a trademark or something completely different? Do I really need to file for one now or can I wait? These are some of the questions that fledging entrepreneurs face when trying to determine if their small business needs a DBA and what the process entails. Let’s clarify what a DBA is, the types of businesses that should file for one, and the advantages that registering for a DBA presents for your small business.

What is a DBA?

A DBA, often referred to as a “Doing Business As” name, is the name under which you do business. Pretty self-explanatory! This name is different from your personal name and is also known as a fictitious name. Because it is a fictitious name, most states require that you register it with a local government agency. By conducting a name search and filing for a DBA, you’re able to claim the name for yourself and reduce potential chances of fraud. There are also plenty of additional benefits outlined below…

Are there any advantages to filing for a DBA?

Definitely! A few of our favorites can be found in these bullets:

·       Open a bank account. Most banks generally require a certified copy of your DBA before you a business bank account. Once you have a DBA, you can also collect checks and payments under your business name.

·       Start marketing and advertising your business publicly to increase visibility of your business.

·       Discourage anyone else from registering your name by officially using your DBA.

·       Create a business identity for your customers and vendors that presents your business in a professional light.

Who should register for a DBA?

The rule of thumb here is that if your business conducts any business (including transactions, marketing, advertising, and even printing out business cards) under a name that isn’t your own name, you should register for a DBA in the state or county you’re doing business in. For Sole Proprietors or Partnerships, be sure to register a DBA if you plan on starting a business under a name that is not your real name. If you have an existing LLC or Corporation and want to do business under a name that isn’t affiliated with the existing names, register a DBA.

So, to recap, a DBA isn’t the same thing as a trademark right?

Correct. While both offer protection for the name of the business, a DBA is a name that identifies the business. Unlike a trademark, which gives you the exclusive rights to use the name and makes it your property, a DBA doesn’t grant exclusivity for the use of a name.

You sold me — I’m ready to register! Where can I file for a DBA?

Great! First, depending on where your business is located, check to see if you do need to register your fictitious name there or not. Some states don’t require a formal registration which is why it’s worth looking into before you start the filing process.

If your start does require registering a DBA, file early with your state government or county clerk’s office! We recommend filing before using the name since DBAs are often required within the time frame that you do start using the fictitious name. The amount of time it takes to file for a DBA will vary depending on your jurisdiction, but you can expect the process to usually take anywhere from one to four weeks. When filing, be prepared to pay a processing fee and identify your business with either your EIN (Employer Identification Number) or Social Security Number.

When it comes to establishing a small business, it’s always a good thing to protect it as much as possible from the start to keep any future issues at bay. Don’t put off filing for your DBA, even if it doesn’t seem like much of a priority right now. The sooner you file for one, the more peace of mind your small business, and its name, will have while conducting business.


Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation.com. MyCorporation is a leader in online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and businesses, providing start-up bundles that include corporation and LLC formation, registered agent, DBA, and trademark & copyright filing services. MyCorporation does all the work, making the business formation and maintenance quick and painless, so business owners can focus on what they do best. Follow her on Google+ and on Twitter @mycorporation.

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