Do I Need to File a DBA?

Last updated on

Do I Need to File a DBA?

A person or a company may want to conduct business under a name which is different from their legal name.

In such cases, this is known as “Doing Business As“, or DBA for short.

The term DBA is used by the majority of states, however, each state has a different technical name. Here are the most common:

  • Assumed Name
  • DBA
  • Doing Business As
  • Fictitious Name
  • Trade Name
  • Trading As

DBA Confusion

Most people are extremely confused when it comes to DBAs.

And most people make a lot of mistakes regarding DBAs, such as filing them incorrectly, and most often, filing them when they are not even needed.

Why is there so much confusion around DBAs?

We feel it’s because of 3 main reasons:

1. Most websites that sell DBA filing services fail to educate their readers or they just don’t care to.

2. There’s a lot of crap on the internet and there’s a handful of websites that just have no idea what they are talking about.

3. And frankly, it takes a lot of work breaking down and explaining DBAs. We’ve taken our best shot in this article, and we hope you find it helpful.

The 1st “Big Mistake” with DBAs

When most people register a DBA they think they “formed” a business and have protected their personal assets from liability, when in fact, they have not.

If someone files a DBA (which is owned by them), by default, they’ve chosen to operate as a Sole Proprietorship and have simply filed a “nickname” for themselves.

A Sole Proprietorship has no separate existence from its owner, so any person choosing to operate a business under their own name (or a DBA owned by them) is automatically a Sole Proprietorship.

Using the “nickname” analogy, let’s say John Smith registers a DBA called “John’s Painting Company”. John thinks he has an actual “company”, but he doesn’t. He’s simply created a “nickname” for himself (his Sole Proprietorship).

So if someone sues “John’s Painting Company”, it is actually John Smith himself who is being sued personally. There is no actual “company”. John Smith and his “company” are legally one and the same.

Most people who think the above are usually at the beginning stages of researching how to start a business and they haven’t fully thought about, or understood, the differences in liability protection between a Sole Proprietorship and an LLC. For this reason, we also recommend reading LLC vs Sole Proprietorship.

A DBA “Sits on Top of”

The easiest way to think of a DBA is that it’s a “nickname”.

It’s a nickname that “sits on top of” either a person (like a Sole Proprietorship) or a legal entity (like an LLC or Corporation).

To better help understand this point, a DBA is often referred to as a Fictitious Name, meaning, it’s not a separate legal person or company. It rather “points to”, or represents, an actual person, or an actual company.

Let’s look at two examples of how a DBA “sits on top of” either a person or a company.

1. DBA for a Sole Proprietorship:

Let’s say we have John Smith and he wants to do business as a Sole Proprietorship, but doesn’t want to do business under his name John Smith. Instead, he needs to register a DBA. So he registers the DBA name “John’s Painting Company“.

The DBA “John’s Painting Company” is a nickname that “sits on top of” John Smith.

Said another way, “John Painting Company” and “John Smith” are one and the same.

2. DBA for an LLC:

Let’s say Megan Patterson is concerned about asset protection, so instead of operating under how own name as a Sole Proprietorship, she decides to form an LLC. She forms an LLC called “MP Enterprises LLC“, but she would like do business under the name “Meg’s Flower Shop“. So her LLC registers the DBA name “Meg’s Flower Shop“.

The DBA “Meg’s Flower Shop” is a nickname that “sits on top of “MP Enterprises LLC“.

Said another way, “Meg’s Flower Shop” and “MP Enterprises LLC” are one and the same.

The 2nd Mistake with DBAs

True or false: an LLC has to file a DBA?

Answer: false.

Again, because there is so much confusion (and misinformation) in this industry about DBAs, many people think they have to file a DBA, even after they form an LLC.

While your LLC can file a DBA, it doesn’t have to.

Here’s the deciding factor:

Will your LLC operate and do business under its true and legal name? Or will your LLC operate and do business under a name that is different from what was registered with the Secretary of State?

• If your LLC will operate and do business under its true and legal name, then you don’t need to file a DBA.

For example: You form an LLC called “JDE Real Estate Management LLC” and you plan to operate the business under the name “JDE Real Estate Management LLC“.

By “operate“, we mean, this is the name on your marketing materials, your contracts and agreements, your business cards, your website, etc. Basically, anytime you are dealing with another person/company or advertising/displaying your company to the public, you are using your LLC’s true and legal name.

In this case, you don’t need to file a DBA for your LLC.

• If your LLC will not operate and do business under its true and legal name, but instead, wants to operate and do business under a different name, you will need to file a DBA for your LLC.

For example: You form an LLC called “JDE Real Estate Management LLC“, and you want to operate the business under the name “JDE Management“.

In this case, you will need to file a DBA and register the name “JDE Management” (which will be owned by JDE Real Estate Management LLC).

As another example: You form an LLC called “Christine’s Restaurant LLC“, but you want to operate under the name “Christine’s Restaurant” (without the “LLC”), then you’ll need to file a DBA and register the name “Christine’s Restaurant” (which will be owned by Christine’s Restaurant LLC).

Important: The above example of “Christine’s Restaurant” is not possible in all states. Some states will accept a DBA filed under the same name as an LLC; others will not. Because some DBAs are filed at the county-level (not at the state-level), there are over 900 jurisdictions in which DBAs can be filed in the US and the rules vary widely. For this reason, we cannot tell you if your state or county will allow this. If after reading this entire article, you decide that you want to form an LLC and registered an “identical” DBA name (minus the “LLC”), you’ll need to call your state or county where you’re doing business to make sure your DBA filing will be approved. Thank you for your understanding.

Which should you choose… to DBA or not to DBA?

Unless your LLC really needs to do business under a different legal name than what you registered with the state, then we recommend against registering a DBA and just doing business under the LLC’s full and legal name.

The reason for this recommendation is that DBAs can lead to a lot of hassle, confusion, and extra costs.

For example:

  • The DBA is an extra filing, meaning extra paperwork and extra state fees (although they’re usually not very expensive).
  • Most states require you to renew your DBA, by filing paperwork and paying a state or county fee every year (or every few years).
  • Many states require you to publish a “public notice” of your DBA registration in the newspaper. This can be expensive, depending on what state and county your DBA will be registered.
  • If your state does not handle DBA filings, but instead they are handled at the county-level, you need to register your DBA in each county where you will do business. This could mean multiple filing fees, multiple newspaper publication fees, and multiple annual/renewal fees.
  • Having a DBA can often confuse the business owner when it comes to obtaining an EIN, opening an LLC bank account, and filing taxes, thus leading to a lot of mistakes in how things are setup, registered, and organized.

Having said all that, there are still a few reasons why someone with an LLC would still want to register a DBA. The examples below are not “all-inclusive” (these aren’t all the reasons why), but these are the most common reasons that we run across.

Dropping the “LLC” – When a business owner forms an LLC, but wants to operate and do business under the identical name (minus the “LLC”), then filing a DBA without the “LLC” in the name will be needed.

Remember: There are 900 jurisdictions in which DBAs can be filed. Some states/counties allow LLCs and DBAs to exist with the “identical” name; others do not. You’ll need to call your state or county where you’re doing business to make sure your DBA filing with an “identical name” will be approved.

Multiple Businesses – It can sometimes occur that a business owner forms 1 LLC, but then runs multiple businesses (sometimes called “micro businesses”) all under that 1 “LLC umbrella”. In this example, you can register a DBA for each of the businesses. However, if your businesses begin to grow (or your businesses are exposed to liability), it may be a better idea to form a separate LLC for each business for better asset protection.

Multiple Stores – Like the example above, some business owners run a few stores. They may have 1 LLC which owns all the locations, but they want each store name (and each store sign) to be different. In this example, you’d register a DBA for each store. However, just like the above example, it may be wise to form separate LLCs instead of operating all your stores under one LLC (for better asset protection).

Franchise Owners – When a business owner buys into a franchise, the franchisor (via the franchise agreement) grants certain trademark name rights to the franchisee. And to protect their personal assets, it’s common that franchisees will set up an LLC. However, they need to do business under the name of the franchise. So for example, if you bought into the Dunkin’ Donuts franchise, you would form an LLC first (for example, “TRE Holdings LLC“), then you would register a DBA with your state (or county) called “Dunkin’ Donuts”. Keep in mind though, the only reason you can use the name “Dunkin’ Donuts” is because you have a right to do so via your franchise agreement. On the other hand, if you register a DBA that infringes upon a company’s trademark rights, they have the right to sue you (even though the state approved your DBA filing).

How to Register a DBA

As mentioned earlier, there over 900 jurisdictions in which a DBA can be registered.

For that reason (and also because we don’t focus on DBAs; we focus on LLCs) we haven’t included links to all 900 jurisdictions. That would be nuts!

If you want to file your DBA yourself, we first recommend you call the Secretary of State’s Office (in the state where your LLC will be registered) and asking them if DBAs are filed at the state-level or at the county-level.

You can find your Secretary of State’s contact information and website address here:
https://www.llcuniversity.com/50-secretary-of-state-sos-business-entity-search/

If DBAs are handled at the state-level, just ask the representative where you can find the filing forms and instructions.

If DBAs are handled at the county-level, then you’ll need to call your county clerk’s office and ask them for their filing forms and instructions.

Matt Horwitz on LinkedinMatt Horwitz on TwitterMatt Horwitz on Youtube
Matt Horwitz
Founder & Educator at LLC University
Forming an LLC shouldn't be so complicated. Our step-by-step guide will make the process a breeze – and no complex legal jargon! We teach people how to form an LLC for free in all 50 states. We hope you find our free guides and resources helpful in your entrepreneurial journey.

46 Comments

  1. Karen Alexander March 28, 2018

    Just reading the extensive information on DBA s and how they are set up. I have an LLC for one of my business is and I want to set up another business doing something entirely different. In the state of Colorado DBA(trade name) on the state level I will have to do a DBA if I have read the information clearly with the secretary of state in Colorado. Under the DBA(trade name)in Colorado I don’t have to published. the DBA( trade name)name in the newspaper. What are your suggestions because I prefer to file another LLC for another business for better protection of my assets

    reply
    • Matt Horwitz March 28, 2018

      Hi Karen, you don’t have to publish an ad in the newspaper for a Colorado LLC either. From what we see, most people who are starting a 2nd business form another LLC instead of filing a DBA (owned by an individual). This offers better liability protection and it keeps the 2 businesses separate, and therefore more organized. If you file a DBA owned by yourself this would be a Sole Proprietorship. I think you already have a lot of clarity, but if it helps, you may want to also read LLC vs Sole Proprietorship. Hope that helps!

      reply
  2. Karen Alexander March 28, 2018

    Just reading different articles on DBA’S. Was confusing to me because I am not using my first name and my last name for my business. I am using a name for my business to represent my brand for my Ministry.
    Not my fist and last name. Reading the different articles on DBA’S just didn’t make any sense to me but I figured it out on my own it would be better for me to make sure that I am protected under the LLC guidelines and it’s not best to have businesses under one umbrella because if someone sues me they can take everything that I have
    In the state of Colorado, what do you suggest s I do .Should I get another LLC to start another business for better protection of my assets?

    reply
    • Matt Horwitz March 28, 2018

      Hey Karen, I hear you, DBAs can be a little confusing at first. We can’t tell you exactly what to do, but it’s most common to form another LLC when starting another business. It offers better liability and asset protection.

      reply
  3. Karen Alexander March 28, 2018

    Thanks again. 😀

    reply
    • Matt Horwitz March 28, 2018

      You’re welcome!

      reply
      • Lewis September 25, 2018

        Hi Matt,

        Should I start DBA publication while filing for DBA registration? or I have to complete DBA registration then do publication? Thanks! Lewis

        reply
        • Matt Horwitz October 20, 2018

          Hey Lewis, we recommend waiting for the DBA filing to be approved first.

          reply
  4. Kelley May 5, 2018

    This article is great, but has left me a little bit confused. I have an LLC (one person, no partnership) in PA. I want to add a DBA because I’m finding name I’ve chosen for the LLC is too narrow and the general public is thinking I offer only 1 type of service. So I need a DBA make with a broader scope so people know I can offer more than that the current LLC name indicates. From reading your article, I think I just need to register the fictitious name in PA and attach is to my existing LLC, correct? I’m thinking I might also have to tweek things at the bank for the ability to receive payments under the DBA name also. Am I on the right track?

    reply
    • Matt Horwitz May 16, 2018

      Hi Kelley, correct and correct! You can file a Registration of Fictitious Name in Pennsylvania, which will be owned by your PA LLC. And once the Fictitious Name is processed, bring that documentation to the bank and add that name to your existing bank account. Hope that helps!

      reply
      • Kelley May 16, 2018

        Very much, so. Thank you! :-)

        reply
        • Matt Horwitz May 16, 2018

          Awesome :) You’re welcome Kelley!

          reply
      • Kelley June 7, 2018

        My hair is falling out because my bank has no idea how to handle my DBA and are telling me I need to open all new business accounts. I’ve dug in my heels and am refusing. What can I give them to show they just need to attach the DBA to existing accounts?

        reply
        • Matt Horwitz June 18, 2018

          Kelley, bummer to hear. Thanks really stinks. Can I ask which bank this is with? In my experience, most people at banks don’t understand how LLCs and DBAs actually function. I mean the Fictitious Name approval clearly shows its owned by the LLC, so there’s not much else documentation wise. The only thing I’m thinking at this time is to try another bank. I know that’s work, but do you have a TD Bank near you? I’ve had great luck with TD bank. I recommend calling ahead of time and speaking with the branch manager about opening a business bank account. Then set an appointment to meet with them and open the account.

          reply
  5. Karen Alexander May 5, 2018

    Good morning. I have found the best solution to my needs for my business. Thank you for replying to question. Have a great day.

    reply
    • Kelley May 6, 2018

      Karen, I’m awaiting Matt’s reply to my above question. Glad to hear you’ve been able to resolve your business question. :-)

      reply
    • Matt Horwitz May 16, 2018

      You’re welcome Karen :) Glad to hear!

      reply
  6. Nasim June 6, 2018

    Hi,

    I have registered a LLC in Delaware and will operate an online store under this LLC but with a different name from the LLC, so I would need to register a DBA at Delaware, right? I addition, I live in New York, so I have to file for foreign entity registration in New York. Do I also have to file a DBA in New York or is having the DBA registered in Delaware enough?

    Thank you for the helpful article.

    reply
    • Matt Horwitz June 17, 2018

      Hi Nasim, you’re welcome! Correct, you’ll need to file a DBA for your LLC in Delaware. After registering as a Foreign LLC in New York, I’d also file a DBA there too. Hope that helps.

      reply
  7. Zvi July 28, 2018

    This article is just what I was looking for but I still can’t figure out an answer to my question. I have a non-trademarked LLC say “Xyz LLC.” I want to trademark multiple brands, eg: XyzKids, XyzSports, etc. These brands will of course be “doing business” under my parent “Xyz LLC” company. My question is, is it enough to trademark these brand names at a federal level or do I have to ALSO register each one as a DBA at the state-level or county-level?

    reply
    • Matt Horwitz August 14, 2018

      Hi Zvi, a DBA and a Trademark are two different things. A DBA (aka “Doing Business As” or “Fictitious Name”) is registered at the state level or at the county level. Registering a DBA allows your LLC to do business under a name other than its legally filed name in either that state or county. However, a DBA doesn’t give you any exclusive rights over that name in your state or county (let alone in the rest of the United States).

      On the other hand, a Trademark under the federal law means any word, name, symbol, or device (or a combination of any or all four) used to identify and distinguish the goods or services of a business. Trademark registration is done at the federal level and is overseen by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO).

      So when you say a “non-trademarked LLC”. That’s not really the best way to think of it. You wouldn’t trademark an LLC name (like “XYZ Brand LLC”), but rather, you’d trademark a product or service (assuming that would be “XYZ Brand”).

      Going back to your question, it seems you need to do both. You need to register the DBA if your LLC will be doing business under a different legal name and you need to register a Trademark if you want national protection of your brand/product/service.

      HOWEVER… that is assuming your LLC is doing business under those DBAs. If you just have a product or a brand that your LLC sells, that doesn’t necessarily mean your LLC is doing business under those names. And in that case, you wouldn’t need to register a DBA.

      Hope that helps!

      reply
      • Zvi August 16, 2018

        Thanks! How does one determine “If one just have a product or a brand that the LLC sells, which wouldn’t necessarily mean the LLC is doing business under those names?”

        For example, if Apple sold iphones that ONLY said “iphone” on it (no mention of apple) and all the information about this product was on iphone.com (and not apple.com/iphone) would they only then have to register “iphone” as a DBA?

        In other words, to avoid registering a DBA for a brand under the parent LLC, would it be enough to only add the LLC name on the brand package in small letters?

        reply
        • Matt Horwitz August 17, 2018

          Hey Zvi, it would be a lot easier to help point you in the right direction if you could use your real-world scenario. All this intangible stuff is challenging enough to explain/think about it… but it’s more difficult in theoretical situations. Thanks for understanding.

          reply
      • Chariti August 22, 2018

        Hello :) Ok, so I too want to brand a product. My company is XYZ LLC and my brand will be another name, we’ll call it ABC. I will trademark my brand name ABC, but I don’t have to file a DBA? If my website is http://www.ABC.com and I sell my ABC product there, don’t I have to file a DBA? Geeze, this is confusing!! :)

        reply
        • Zvi August 22, 2018

          That’s the same question I had. Supposedly, you wouldn’t have to register a DBA if your website was http://www.XYZ.com/ABC like Apple’s iphone website is http://www.apple.com/iphone and NOT http://www.iphone.com but I’d love to hear another answer too.

          reply
        • Matt Horwitz August 31, 2018

          Hi Chariti, LLCs, DBAs, and Trademarks can quickly get confusing. I know. Do you have the website live yet? If you could share the website link and the actual name of the DBA it would be a lot easier to point you in the right direction. It’s quite challenging to address the question in a broad hypothetical scenario. Thanks.

          reply
  8. David July 30, 2018

    Hello, so it looks like I made the mistake and filed a DBA when I didn’t have too. I formed an LLC and will be conducting business with its registered name. My questions is, is there anything I should do or someone I should notify about that error? Or would there not be any issues having filed the DBA.

    Thank you,

    reply
    • Matt Horwitz August 14, 2018

      Hi David, there usually won’t be any issues with just leaving a DBA name “open” and unused, however, we recommend “closing the loop”. How to cancel/close your DBA name will depend on the state. In some states, DBAs are filed with the Secretary of State. In other states, they are filed with the County Clerk (or similar office). So you’ll need to call either your state or county’s office and ask how to cancel/close your DBA. It’s often called a Withdrawal or Cancellation of DBA (or something similar). Hope that helps!

      reply
  9. Angela August 1, 2018

    Hi, I have been in business for two years. When I opened my business, I looked online for any info that would help me open my business legally. I wanted to find out if I had to obtain a state license and I could not find any paperwork to fill out & send to the state but now that I am reading this website I am working if I made some mistakes. I thought Sole Proprietors like myself didn’t need to file a DBA, only LLC. My business name is not my legal name. Will I need to file for a DBA and be penalized since it has been two years since I opened? thanks!

    reply
    • Matt Horwitz August 15, 2018

      Hi Angela, DBAs, Sole Proprietorships, and LLCs can get a little confusing since as a Sole Proprietor, you can do business under your first + last name or you can do business using a DBA. And if you form an LLC, you can do business under the filed legal name of the LLC or you can do business using a DBA. So if you formed an LLC, you don’t have to file a DBA (but you can). Does that help? I couldn’t fully understand what you ended up doing, so I answered generically. What is your business name? And did you also form an LLC? If so, what’s the name of your LLC? Thanks.

      reply
  10. Ebony Cavanaugh August 6, 2018

    Hello I have a question. I have a colleague that formed an LLC to operate home health services and they changed their mind. I have been offered the XYZ, LLC and now I am in the process of getting paperwork business cards and everything to start seeing patients and get the company registered with a PECOS number which is something to do with billing medicare. My question is that as a healthcare provider I am not allowed an LLC my company has to be a PLLC. I went and submitted forms and now I am waiting approval of WXYZ, PLLC. Can the PLLC be over the LLC? xyz,LLC powered by WXYZ, PLLC is how all of the business cards look. Is that allowed or do I need to do something different. Will there need to be two different EIN numbers or can they share the number since I technically own both?

    reply
    • Matt Horwitz August 15, 2018

      Hi Ebony, this is an interesting question. You’ll need to speak with an attorney to really dive into the details. Based on what you’ve shared, and on what we can interpret from what you’ve shared, it seems like the regular LLC (which I can’t tell if you bought it personally or your PLLC bought it) will be engaging in professional activities, which would not be allowed. Generally speaking though, a PLLC can own a regular LLC, as long as the regular LLC’s activities are incidental to the PLLC’s main business activities, but don’t require a professional license to carry out. All in all, it sounds like a quite a messy situation and we recommend seeking legal counsel to properly structure your business. Hope that helps.

      reply
  11. Christina Herrera August 20, 2018

    Would I need to file 2 dba’s for the same business due to punctuation? For example, is DBA the same as D.B.A.? or would I need to register DBA and D.B.A.?

    reply
    • Matt Horwitz August 31, 2018

      Hi Christina, it’s tough to say based on a hypothetical. My guess is likely no, but I would call the state/municipality and ask them about both of your DBA names. Hope that helps.

      reply
  12. Jon August 27, 2018

    Hi – I’m about to form my first LLC and was wondering if I can form two DBAs within that LLC? Or is it better to form a second LLC and only have one DBA to each LLC? The two businesses are unique and would most likely require different licsenses.

    reply
    • Matt Horwitz October 10, 2018

      Hi Jon, you can do either one. You can have have multiple DBAs under one LLC or can have multiple LLCs. Hope that helps.

      reply
  13. Cassandra September 5, 2018

    Hi Matt!
    Thank you for the great article. I am in PA and tried to file a fictitious name (PA’s DBA) for my LLC that so I could use my real name with coaching clients and still be protected under my LLC. The application got rejected. She said that since it was my real name it wasn’t fictitious.

    I am the only owner of my LLC. Am I allowed to operate under my true name and still have all of my business via my real name be protected and run through my LLC?

    Thank you for your help!

    reply
    • T October 2, 2018

      Hi! I have this exact question, except I haven’t applied yet, but was thinking my LLC filing might get rejected for the same reason. I’m in RI. Just wondering if this question was answered yet?

      reply
      • Matt Horwitz October 25, 2018

        Hey T, I did reply to Cassandra’s question. Hope that helps.

        reply
    • Matt Horwitz October 12, 2018

      Hey Cassandra! You’re very welcome. All you need is a slight mental adjustment ;) Your coaching business is now your LLC, and technically, your an “agent” for the LLC. That gets into agency law, but the simple way to think of it is that you act on behalf of your LLC. So while yes, it’s ultimately you that your clients are dealing with (as is the case for many businesses), it’s the LLC they are paying, signing a contract with (if applicable), etc. You can update your website copyright, terms of service, disclaimer, etc. to show that the site is owned by your LLC. You can also update the ownership in your domain’s registrar and hosting account too, since you’ll want that owned by your LLC instead of you. All of this creates “separation” between you and your LLC, but again; it’s still you that people are interacting with… since LLCs (and all legal entities) need natural persons to operate on their behalf (since they are inanimate in this context). Hope that helps!

      reply
      • Cassandra November 7, 2018

        Yes, that totally makes sense (and also aligns with what the woman at the PA business office said)!

        Thank you!

        reply
  14. Lewis September 26, 2018

    Hi Matt,

    Should I start DBA publication while filing for DBA registration? or I have to complete DBA registration then do publication? Thanks! Lewis

    reply
    • Matt Horwitz September 26, 2018

      Hey Lewis, it’s most common to get the DBA name filed first, then proceed with any publication requirements. Hope that helps.

      reply
  15. karen October 10, 2018

    If a DBA is filed under an LLC at the state level MUST it also be filed in a county?

    reply
    • Matt Horwitz October 25, 2018

      Hi Karen, it depends on the state you’re in. Most states have DBAs filed at either the state level or the county level, but usually not both. What state do you want to file a DBA for your LLC in?

      reply
  16. Chi November 2, 2018

    Hi!

    Thank you for the article it’s very helpful!

    I have a question regarding the DBA. I just filed my LLC in New York State and am willing to start an online ecommerce store with another brand name. And will be doing business using this new brand name for the website, logo, branding. For this case, shd I file DBA with NY State?

    Thanks,

    reply

Leave a Comment