What is a DBA (doing business as)?
Every business has a legal name. For sole proprietorships or a partnership, the legal name is the business owner’s own name. For corporations and limited liability companies (LLCs), the legal name is the one you list on your formation documents.
A company that wants to operate a business under a different name must file a DBA. The term DBA means ‘doing business as.’ Other common words for a DBA include fictitious business name, trade name, or assumed name. In Hawaii, it is most commonly referred to as a trade name.
A DBA only changes the legal name of your business and nothing about its business structure.
An example is if you open a business, its legal name will default to your name (e.g., Sara Jones). Sara Jones is opening a stationery shop. She understands that the business name will default to Sara Jones without a DBA. So, she files a DBA to use the trade name Sara’s Signature. It changes nothing else about her stationery shop. The DBA does give Sara the freedom to operate using her chosen business trade name rather than her personal name.
DBA vs business trade name
- In Hawaii, a DBA is most commonly called a trade name.
- Any type of business can register a business trade name, including sole proprietorships, LLCs, corporations, and non-profits.
- A DBA and a business trade name are essentially the same.
- There is only one difference between a DBA and a business name. A company name is the name of the legal business, and a trade name, or DBA, is the way a company operates under a name they choose and register through the Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs.
- A DBA is an alias. It isn’t a business entity and must be associated with a legal entity.
Who needs a DBA?
Businesses do not have to register a DBA to operate using a trade name in Hawaii. While not mandatory, DBA registration in Hawaii prevents other companies from legally using the same name.
A DBA has other advantages, too. The benefits depend on your business’s legal entity, state and local requirements, and personal preferences.
- New businesses. Hawaii does not require that you register a business trade name to operate within the state. However, filing a DBA does protect your trade name and prevents others within the state from using the same registered name.
- Sole proprietors. Sole proprietors share the same entity with their business. Without a DBA, it means they also share a name.
- LLCs. For LLCs, registering a trade name allows an LLC to expand and operate part of it outside of their legal name. Without a DBA, each new business an LLC buys and operates would have to use the company’s official name.
- Corporations. Often, a corporation operates business in various industries. A corporation must register a DBA to operate using a different name from its legal name.
- Franchises. Most franchises utilize DBAs, too. For example, if you buy a Pizza Hut. Pizza Hut is an LLC. So, the new franchise would be listed as “789 Business LLC”. To change the franchise from its numerical listing to just Pizza, you will need to file a DBA to alert Hawaii that you’re ‘doing business as’ the franchise you’re now a part of.
DBAs give small business owners and startups the creative freedom to name their businesses. Registering a DBA name helps business owners avoid the cost-heavy and legally complex process of forming and registering an LLC or corporation just to change the name.
Why do you need a DBA?
- A DBA keeps things simple for a small business. A DBA accomplishes more than just changing the name of a company. Registering a DBA is a straightforward and cost-effective way for sole proprietors and general partnerships to use a trade name as the business name.
- DBA benefits limited liability companies (LLCs) and incorporations. A DBA allows an LLC the freedom to operate using a different name without forming a separate LLC. For example, Marc’s Produce LLC wants to open a fresh market stand named Very Good Veggies. The LLC files a DBA to make that name change but remains owned by Marc’s Produce LLC. The DBA only changes the name of the fresh market stand.
- A DBA addresses privacy concerns for sole proprietors and co-partnerships. Without a DBA, sole proprietors and co-partnerships must use their personal legal name on public-facing material.
- A DBA simplifies business banking. While Hawaii does not require a business to register a DBA to use a trade name, most banking institutions do in order to sign legal documents and open a business bank account. Also, opening a separate bank account from your personal account helps to protect your personal assets and credit scores. However, a DBA offers no legal protection or personal liability protection.
- A DBA helps establish your brand name. Your business trade name, or brand name, is how potential customers and clients know what you sell and do. The trade name on your flyers and signs is your best advertisement. For example, if Sara Jones hadn’t filed a DBA, no one would know she owns and operates a stationery shop.
How to set up a DBA in Hawaii
Step 1 – Hawaii trade name search
By law, you do not have to file a DBA in Hawaii to operate a business using a different name than your legal name. However, it does alert other business owners in the state that the business trade name is in use.
In Hawaii, your DBA name is not protected from others using it.
You can search the Hawaii Business Express website to check the availability of a trade name.
The state of Hawaii also recommends that you check the Department of Taxation website as well as phone directories to see if a trade name has ever been used before.
Step 2 – File your Hawaii DBA
You will file your Hawaii DBA on the state level with the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs.
You can file online using the Hawaii Business Express website.
Or, you can file by mail, fax, or in-person by downloading the Application for Registration of Trade Name and submitting the hardcopy.
You can find a complete list of Business Action Centers.
Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs
Business Registration Division
PO Box 40
Honolulu, Hawaii 96810
Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs Fax Number – 808-586-2733
Step 3 – Pay Hawaii filing fees
The DBA cost in Hawaii is $50. You can pay your filing fees by cash or credit card.
A DBA in Hawaii expires after five years. You will need to fill out a new Application for Registration of Trade Name and submit the $50 filing fee upon renewal.
Hawaii DBA name restrictions
DBA names in Hawaii have restrictions. A trade name can’t include the following:
- Words that might confuse your business with a government agency (FBI, CIA, Department of Transportation)
- Words and terms relating to banks or banking institutions unless approved by the Hawaii State Commissioner of Financial Institutions
- Public accountant, CPA, PA, cooperative, escrow, etc., unless permitted by state approval or certification.
Forms needed to file a DBA in Hawaii
Hawaii DBA tax considerations
- The only thing a DBA changes about a business is its name. So, there are no tax implications when you file a DBA in Hawaii.
- A DBA is not a legal business entity.
- Also, the IRS doesn’t require that you have a separate employer identification number or tax ID for a DBA name.
How much does a DBA filing cost in Hawaii?
The cost of a DBA in Hawaii is $50. After five years in Hawaii, a DBA expires and is $50 to renew.
You can pay your Hawaii DBA filing fees by cash or credit card.
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.
Hawaii does not require that you file a DBA to use a trade name. However, it is still a good idea for banking, branding, and signing legal documents.
You can withdraw or cancel your DBA using the Hawaii Business Express website. Hawaii doesn’t charge for DBA cancelation.
The trade name you decide on is the most essential branding tool you will ever have.
DBA names are not protected in Hawaii, which means that two businesses could share a trade name.
However, you want a distinctive fictitious name that best represents you and your business. You want a brand name that catches a customer’s attention at a glance.
Also, it is always a good idea to check the availability of a web domain (URL) to keep branding and marketing seamless.
It takes 7-10 days for the Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs to process a DBA.
There is no limit to how many DBAs you can have in Hawaii as long as you can keep up with them and pay the filing fees.
You must follow the same guidelines for each DBA you get in Hawaii.