The business name you use for legal and tax purposes isn’t always the company name the public sees. If you want to market your business under a different name than what’s registered with your state government, you may need to register a doing-business-as (DBA) name as well. Below, learn what a DBA is, how much a DBA costs, and how to apply for one.
What is a DBA?
A doing-business-as (DBA) name is a company’s alternate name, one that’s different from its registered business name. For example, if a hair salon is legally registered as Renee Blackburn Cosmetology, LLC but uses the name Renee’s Hair Salon for all public purposes, then in some states, a DBA for Renee’s Hair Salon may need to be filed. Your DBA name is also known as a business fictitious name.
A DBA is not the same as a business entity. If you obtain a DBA but don’t file as an LLC, corporation, or partnership, your state will recognize your company as a sole proprietorship. Rather than formalizing your company, a DBA name allows you to:
- Distinguish your business name from your personal name
- Operate under a more memorable name
- In some cases, open a business bank account
- Launch new product or service lines
- Use a public-facing business name that matches your company website’s domain name
Which states require a DBA?
If your company operates in one of the following states or U.S. territories, you may need a DBA to use a business fictitious name:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Puerto Rico
- South Dakota
- U.S. Virgin Islands
- Washington, D.C.
- Washington State
- West Virginia
In many of these states, only some business types must file DBAs if they intend to use a business fictitious name. You can determine your requirements using this list of DBA agencies by state.
How much is a DBA?
Typically, the cost of a DBA does not exceed $50, but the fee differs by state. If you’re filing a DBA in a state that doesn’t require them, you may still need to pay. In states that require DBAs, you may face fees for operating under a fictitious name you haven’t licensed.
Eight steps for filing a DBA
No two states have the same process to file a DBA. That said, following the below steps checks the boxes most common among the 50 states:
1. Obtain DBA forms from the right government agency
Each state’s DBA forms will look slightly different. Get the right ones from your state secretary’s office, state department of revenue, or county records department. Use this list of DBA agencies by state to determine which department to contact.
2. Check whether different departments oversee different entities’ DBAs
In some states and counties, the government agency that oversees DBAs for sole proprietorships and general partnerships is different from the department for LLCs, corporations, and limited liability partnerships. When you contact an agency for your DBA forms, ask if the office you’ve contacted is the right one for your business entity type. The forms you must complete may differ too.
3. Complete the required paperwork
Follow the instructions on the form to provide all information necessary to file your DBA. The information may differ by state and business entity type, but it will typically include your personal name and address, business name and address, desired DBA name, and employer identification number (EIN). You may also need to provide a certificate of good standing to apply for a DBA. You can usually request this certificate from your state secretary’s office.
4. Prepare payment using an appropriate method
Once you’re ready to file your DBA, prepare a payment using an accepted method. In some cases, card payments or digital payments from your bank are accepted. In others, you’ll need a money order, cashier’s check, or personal check.
5. Note additional fees for LLCs, corporations, and LLPs
As previously mentioned, one government department might handle sole proprietorship and general partnership DBA applications, and another might handle LLC, corporation, and LLP applications. This processing difference may also mean that LLCs, corporations, and LLPs must pay more for DBAs. Double-check for any extra fees before applying.
6. Deliver your DBA forms and payment
In many states and localities, you’ll need to deliver your DBA forms and payment in person. Typically, you’ll bring them to the same office from which you obtained your forms.
7. Wait until you receive your DBA business certification
The time it takes for your government agency to process your DBA varies by location. No matter how long it takes, you can’t operate under your DBA name until you receive your DBA certificate, so until then, keep conducting business under your business name.
8. Receive your certificate and get to work
Once your DBA certificate is approved, you can start conducting business under your desired name. In some states, you must also announce your DBA name with a local newspaper or publication to inform the public of the change.
How many DBAs are allowed?
There is no limit to the number of DBA names your company can use. As previously mentioned, a company can use a DBA name to launch a new line of products or services, and there is no law preventing DBA name registration for every new product or service launch. You won’t have to spend much money to get a DBA name for each new product launch – your other business operations likely require larger amounts of funding.
To discover how your business financials stack up for funding, use our easy-to-use online tool. SmartBiz Advisor™ helps you track the financial health of your business and learn how banks typically evaluate your business.* SmartBiz Advisor also suggests ways to help you improve your credit and strengthen the financial health of your business as needed. Read feedback from real SmartBiz Advisor users and sign up here.
*The information provided through SmartBiz Advisor, including the Loan Ready Score, is for educational purposes only. SmartBiz Advisor is not a financial or legal advisor as defined under federal or state law. Use of this information is not a replacement for personal, professional advice or assistance regarding your finances or credit history.