DBA Basics

Who needs to file a DBA and how to file for a DBA are a couple of basics for "Doing Business As".

What is a DBA?

DBA’s (doing business as), also referred to as an assumed name, fictitious business name, or trade name, allow a company to conduct business under a name other than the owner’s personal name. Think of it like this, the DBA is the operating name of the company rather than the legal name of the company.

The purpose of a DBA is to tell the public that you intend to operate a business in the specific county/state, and while it is not operated under the owner’s legal name, it is still publicly known who is behind the business.

Who needs to file for a DBA?

Commonly, anyone who is operating a sole proprietorship or a general partnership will be required to file for a DBA. Most banks require these types of businesses to have a DBA to establish a bank account, which the company will need to accept payments under the operating name.

C-corporations, S-corporations, limited liability companies, limited partnerships, limited liability partnerships and nonprofits are also able to file a DBA allowing them to operate under a name that is different from the one filed during incorporation.

This is especially beneficial if a corporation intends to run several businesses under one entity. The name of the company has to accurately represent the product or service it is selling so multiple DBA’s may be necessary. For instance, consider the idea that Joe Smith LLC owns and operates Joe’s Lawn Care and decides to add snowplowing services in the winter. A separate DBA is necessary, and Joe Smith LLC can add Joe’s Snow Plow Services under the umbrella of companies that they operate.

How to file a DBA

Filing for a DBA is relatively simple, and we’ve outlined the steps below to help guide you.

    1. The very first thing to do is check to see what the requirements are in the county/state in which the business will be operating. DBA’s are typically filed in the county/state where the main business address is located. If the business is incorporated in another state than the physical location, the DBA needs to be filed in the state of incorporation.
      Each state is different, and some require filing at the county level, not at the state level. Be sure to fully understand the laws of the specific state. For example, in some states it’s considered a crime to operate a business without registering the DBA. Failure to register may result in a $2500 fine or up to one year in prison.
    2. Choose a name and determine if the DBA name is available. Remember, the name has to be something that will not mislead the public to think the company is offering something it is not. Again, depending upon the requirements of where to register the DBA, there should be a database available to search and see if the chosen DBA already exists. For example, for the state of Michigan, that can be found online at the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA).
    3. Now that we know what the county/state requires for filing, the next step is to prepare the documents for filing. Typically the local city or county clerk’s office will have the documents needed to file for a DBA, or they can direct the owner to the appropriate resource. In general, the paperwork requires disclosure of the complete name of the owner, the current name of the business, the business address, the business phone number, the proposed DBA and the nature of the business. The filing process can be anywhere from 2-4 weeks and most states require a filing fee to accompany the application which can range from $10 – $100.
    4. In some states it is necessary to publish the newly formed DBA in the local newspaper for a specific length of time. This process was created as a form of consumer protection of sorts, allowing the public to know who is behind the business, while also keeping shady business owners from operating under different names to avoid legal woes.It is necessary to check the local government’s requirements as it can vary from county to county, not just state to state. For example, in Pennsylvania, the DBAs are required to be published, but can be done within the first 30-40 days after the filing has been approved. Conversely, in the city of Chicago, publishing is required no later than 15 days after the date of the application.
    5. After filing the paperwork, businesses can expect the official certificate to arrive in a few weeks. The wait time can be longer if the requirements indicate that a notice has to be published and proof also filed. Be mindful of the timeframe the company is working with so that everything is in place before opening to the public. Don’t forget to make copies of your certificate. Keep the original in a safe place and use the copies to complete business transactions like applying for licenses and bank accounts.
    6. Be aware of the DBA’s expiration date. It is the responsibility of the company to know when the DBA is expiring and what is needed to re-file.