What is a DBA (doing business as)?
The acronym for DBA stands for ‘doing business as.’ It is any registered name that a company or individual uses to do business that isn’t its legal name.
The legal name of a company differs depending on its business structure. It’s the company name for a limited liability company (LLC). And, for sole proprietors, the legal name of their business is their personal legal name.
DBAs are also referred to as fictitious names, trade names, or assumed names. The only aspect of your business that a DBA changes is its name.
An example of this is if you own a business, its legal name is your name (e.g., Barry Jones). Barry Jones wants to start a business that designs and prints marketing materials. He knows that he can’t simply use his personal name because people won’t know the services and products he is offering. So, Barry Jones registers the DBA name Barry’s Print Shop, and it becomes the name of the business. It changes nothing else about the structure of Barry’s Print Shop.
The DBA allows Barry Jones to operate under a fictitious business name, and it no longer defaults to his own name.
DBA vs fictitious business name
A fictitious business name, or DBA, is how companies do business under a specific name filed in a state or county. And a company name is the legal name of the business.
Companies in any industry can register a DBA. It includes sole-proprietorships, LLCs, corporations, franchises, and non-profits.
The difference between a DBA and a business name is that a DBA is only an alias. It does have to be associated with a legal entity.
- In California, a DBA often is referred to as a fictitious business name or FBN. While it’s called fictitious, it’s a legitimate business name used by organizations or individuals to do business.
- For example, as a sole proprietor, you must register a DBA in California if you wish to operate under a name other than your legal name.
- A DBA and a fictitious business name are the same things.
Who needs a DBA?
In California, the law requires all sole proprietors, LLCs, partnerships, and corporations to file a DBA if they want to operate and sign legal documents under any name but their legal name.
A DBA benefits you and your company in a variety of ways and depends on a legal business entity and the preference of the owner.
- New businesses. California law does not require DBAs for new businesses that are sole proprietorships or partnerships. However, it is still the best way to handle it if you want to operate under a name different from your legal name.
- Sole proprietors. Sole proprietors share the same entity with their company. Without a DBA, the company’s name will be the same as the owner’s legal name.
- LLCS. In California, an LLC would have to form a new company to do business under a different name other than their company name. However, if an LLC has no intention of using an assumed name for their expansion, they don’t have to register a DBA.
- Corporations. Incorporations that intend to operate a business using a name that is not their company must file a DBA. The most common use of DBA for corporations is when they open and operate different types of businesses in a variety of industries.
- Franchises. Franchises use DBAs to operate under a name that isn’t their company name. For example, if you purchase a Burger King franchise, it is formed as an LLC and listed as 987 Burger King LLC. To shorten the name to just Burger King, you must file a DBA in California.
Small business owners benefit from DBAs because it gives them creative freedom when naming their businesses. Also, it keeps them from having to pay hefty fees and the hassle of having to form and register LLCs or corporations.
Why do you need a DBA?
- Avoiding the complexity and cost of forming an LLC. DBAs are a cost-effective and hassle-free way for a sole proprietorship to operate using a different business name.
- LLCs and corporations benefit from DBAs. DBAs give LLCs the freedom to operate different businesses without being forced to form separate LLCs for every company they purchase. An example is if Sally Herb Farm LLC opens a deli called Herb Fresh. In order to operate the deli under a fictitious business name, the LLC registered a DBA in California.
- DBAs protect your privacy. Without DBAs, sole proprietors and general partnerships would have to put their personal legal names on public-facing material.
- DBAs prove your assets are separate from your business. While DBAs alone do not offer any legal protections, they prove that your company and personal assets are independent.
- Business banking is easier with DBAs. Banking institutions require you to register a DBA in order to open a business bank account. And, it is best practice to open a separate bank account from your business. It is to protect personal assets and credit scores in case your business fails. A DBA does not offer liability protection.
- DBAs make branding easier and legal in California. The name of a business is your brand name and is what first catches someone’s attention. Without a DBA, Barry’s Print Shop would merely be Barry Jones. In California, you must register a DBA before legally using a fictitious business name.
How to set up a DBA in California
Step 1 – Name check
You must make sure that a fictitious business name is not already in use in California.
You can search the county clerk’s database, submit the name request by mail, and then set up a priority search that you can over the phone if you have to check available names regularly.
You can’t start a legal business in California without a DBA. You will need to repeat step 1 until you’ve found a unique fictitious business name and been approved.
Step 2 – File a fictitious business name statement
You must file a fictitious business name statement at your county clerk’s office. The forms and fees are different from county to county. It is why it is essential to make sure that you’re at the right county clerk’s office and check beforehand on the amount of the filing fees.
- The fictitious business name statement should include:
- The original name and address
- The DBA name
- The business address
- The full legal name(s) of the registered owner
- The state ID number
- The business type
You must get the fictitious business name statement form notarized by either an officer, partner, or member of the company or by the owner itself.
Check with your county clerk’s office to see if the form is available for download and printing. Some counties require you to pick up a hard copy form from the county clerk’s office.
Step 3 – File your DBA with county recorder or county clerk’s office
You must file the required forms with your county recorder or clerk’s office in the same county where your company’s main headquarters is housed.
Another requirement to file a DBA in California is that you must submit the required forms and fees within 40 days of starting the business. The fictitious business name statement is good for five years from the date submitted. If you need to change any information, you must resubmit a new statement.
Step 4 – Publish the new business name
Once you’ve filed the fictitious business name statement, you must then publish a DBA statement within 30 days. It then has to run for four weeks in your local county publication where you plan on doing business.
The county clerk’s office will have a list of approved publications to publish. Also, you’re required to have a county clerk’s signature on an affidavit from the publication within 30 days of the last publication.
Doublecheck with the publication you plan to publish the affidavit to ensure that they will provide it to the county clerk after completing the requirement of making it a public record. It must be an approved newspaper of general circulation.
Step 4 – Pay filing fees
You must pay your filing fees when you file your DBA name. The pricing varies from county to county.
The DBA cost in Los Angeles County is $26 for the first name you choose and then $5 for every additional name.
Sacramento County, the filing fee is $44 for the first name and $8 for any additional name.
Step 5 – Follow up
The fictitious name statement is good for five years. When it expires, you will need to refile it.
You do not have to publish your DBA California statement in publications again if nothing changes about your company.
California DBA name restrictions
A DBA name must not include words with specific meanings such as Inc (incorporated) or limited liability corporation (LLC).
California requires you to choose a DBA name that doesn’t mislead customers in any way.
Forms needed to file a DBA in California
California DBA tax considerations
All a DBA does in California is change your business name. It has no effect on the status of a business entity for tax purposes.
A DBA is only an alias. You do not have to have a separate employer identification number (EIN).
How much does a DBA filing cost in California?
The filing fee for a DBA in California ranges from $10 to $100, depending on the county you are doing business in. You do not file DBAs on the state level.
You will have the additional cost of publishing your fictitious business name statement in an approved general circulation local newspaper. It will depend on how much the publication charges for advertising.
Professional DBA filing services
- ZenBusiness: ZenBusiness is an affordable solution for entrepreneurs, such as affordable LLC formations, and incorporations. ZenBusiness does offer a stand-alone registered agent service for $99 a year.
- Swyft Filings: Swyft Filings is a quality DBA service. They assign a registered agent to every client, making them a customer favorite. Swyft Filings offers a DBA obtainment package that costs $99 plus state fees.
- LegalZoom: LegalZoom does it all. The purpose of its design is to be a “one-stop-shop” for small businesses and their legal needs.
- MyCompanyWorks: MyCompanyWorks doesn’t have the experience that other professional DBA obtainment services have. However, they’ve served thousands of businesses successfully. MyCompanyWorks offers one DBA filing package for $99 plus state fees. You can add a couple of extras for additional fees.
- CorpNet: Corpnet’s biggest draw is that they have the best customers. It is hard to find a bad review about their DBA obtainment services.
- MyCorporation: MyCorporation has served over a million businesses over the last 20+ years. Their customer reviews reflect their longevity and success. The cost of MyCorportation DBA services is $99 plus State Fees. The expedited rush service is an additional $100.
- BizFilings: BizFilings offers entrepreneurs and small businesses services, such as LLC filing and incorporation services. The starting price of $99 plus state fees for BizFilings DBA obtainment services is pretty standard. However, it doesn’t include a namecheck in states that require them. Alabama does.
California state law requires all companies to file a DBA if they wish to operate under any name different from the legal name. It goes for sole proprietors, partnerships, limited liability companies, or corporations.
The only exception is if a sole proprietor incorporates their last name into the business name.
It takes one to four weeks for California to process a DBA registration. In some cases, it may take longer.
DBAs and trademarks are entirely different things. A DBA allows you to use a fictitious business name that is not your legal name for your business.
A trademark is a type of intellectual property registration that protects your business’s branding.
You can register more than one DBA in California as long as you follow the proper steps for each one. Remember, you can’t register with the state of California. You are required to file DBAs through the county clerk’s office in the principal place of business.