US Legal Sector: Current DBA Requirements

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A DBA (“doing business as”) is any registered name a business operates under that is different from its legal name. Small businesses might need a DBA name for multiple reasons, some names are changed for personal or professional reasons whilst for others an alteration might feel more natural and fitting. It is alright to have a name that the general company knows a company by, and a name that belongs on its certificate.

That being said, there are some general rules, requirements and forms that must be abided by when filing a DBA. These specific requirements associated with this process vary between different states, so it is important to have an understanding of how your state operates when going about establishing your company’s DBA.

General Requirements

Whilst the specific requirements, forms and fees associated with filing a DBA are unique to each state there are several fundamental things that will be required in order for your business to apply for a DBA.

Some of these are mere formalities, such as the fact that you cannot add ‘Inc.’ or ‘Corp.’ to the end of a DBA (e.g. Bond Inc.) if a business is not incorporated, the same also applies to an LLC. Many states will also require a company to announce their DBA with an advert in a newspaper so the general public is aware of this filing.

The appropriate DBA forms for your state must be filed, and the filing fee must be paid, after which a company will be sent a DBA certificate. Some states allow companies to file with their local or county clerk’s office, with a state agency, or both. Therefore, check your state’s requirements in order to ensure your DBA is verified with all the appropriate local governing authorities.

Different business formations (i.e. LLCs, corporations or sole proprietors) are often required to file their forms (which are also often different, depending on the state) to separate offices. Upon the successful completion of the filing and receiving a fictitious name certificate, a company may begin using its DBA name.

Reasons to Get a DBA

Filing for a DBA may sound like a huge amount of gratuitous paperwork, yet there are several important reasons why a company should sort out a DBA:

  • It is the easiest way for sole proprietor’s to register a name – it is the simplest and least costly method to adopt a business name for sole proprietors; a separate professional business identity can be created without the need to form an LLC or corporation
  • It allows LLCs and corporations to operate multiple businesses – a corporation can be created with a generic name to act as an ‘umbrella’, and a DBA could be used for each individual business (e.g. a contractor could have a DBA for each of the individual services he offers, such as tree surgery and landscaping design).
  • It keeps a business compliant – LLCs and corporations enjoy certain legal protections that can be invalidated if they are using a different name but have not filed for a DBA. Contracts these companies sign might not hold up in court.
  • It is useful for owners who don’t want to operate a business under their own name – a DBA can grant privacy to sole proprietors who want a separation between themselves and the business; filing for one means that your personal name will not appear on the business’s public record.
  • It allows a creative or distinctive company name – many companies will give their business a name that matches the service they provide, this would not be possible without a DBA.

Closing Statement

So what is a DBA? The term refers to any name a business uses and operates under that is not the same as its legally-filed name. There are many reasons for why businesses may seek to acquire a DBA: it could be that the business name is a valuable asset the owner wishes to protect, or that they wish to create a distinctive company name separate from its legal name. Whatever the reasons for creating a DBA, there are requirements for setting one up which are different depending on which state in the US you are. Despite this, there are general requirements a business must abide by to be successful in their filing for a DBA.

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