How to file a DBA in Pennsylvania

DBA is a shortened acronym for ‘doing business as.’ A DBA is a registered name that a company or individual uses to do business under that is not their legal name.

The legal name of a company is different depending on the business structure. For a limited liability company (LLC), the legal name defaults to the company’s name. And for sole proprietors, the legal name is the individual’s personal name.

A DBA is sometimes called a fictitious, trade, or assumed name. In Pennsylvania, a DBA is most commonly referred to as a fictitious name.

For example, if you open a business, the legal name will be your own name (e.g., Jason Smith). Jason Smith wants to operate a masonry store. He doesn’t want the business’s name to be his name, Jason Smith. So, he files a DBA to change the name of his business to Jason’s Masonry. Jason’s Masonry is now the name of the business.

A DBA changes nothing else about the business. The DBA just allows Jason Smith the freedom to operate under his new name.

DBA vs fictitious business name

  • In Pennsylvania, a DBA is most commonly called a fictitious name.
  • A fictitious name, or DBA, is how companies operate using a name that is not their legal name.
  • Companies in any industry in Pennsylvania can register a DBA name. It includes sole proprietorships, LLCs, corporations, franchises, and non-profits.
  • A DBA is just an alias.
  • A DBA and a fictitious business name are the same things.

Who needs a DBA?

Pennsylvania does not require businesses to have a DBA. However, there are consequences to not registering a fictitious name. For instance, if you sign a contract using an unregistered DBA name, the courts may not recognize the business and enforce the contract.

Obtaining a DBA name is still a best business practice to file a DBA for various other reasons. The benefits of a registered fictitious business name are dependent on your business structure and personal preferences.

  • New businesses. Pennsylvania does not require that new businesses file a DBA. However, it is still the preferred way to operate a business under a name that is not the legal name. Also, there are penalties associated with not registering a DBA in Pennsylvania.
  • Sole proprietors. A business and its owner are the same entity. It means that they share a legal name. While Pennsylvania does not formally require sole proprietors to register a DBA, it is still a beneficial investment and ensures a total legality in the state.
  • LLCs. Pennsylvania does not formally mandate limited liability companies to file a DBA. But, without a DBA, every new business an LLC purchases and manages would do so under the official and legal name.
  • Corporations. Regularly, corporations own and operate businesses in various industries and different lines of business. A DBA allows incorporations to use a fictitious business name rather than every company carrying the corporation’s name.
  • Franchises. Most franchisees utilize DBAs. For example, if you buy a Church’s Chicken franchise. Church’s Chicken is an LLC, and a new franchise would be listed as “6846 Business LLC”. To change the franchise from the numerical listing to just Church’s Chicken, you will need to file a DBA to alert Pennsylvania that you now are ‘doing business as’ the franchise.

A DBA allows small business owners and startups the creative freedom to pick their own business names. A DBA also gives entrepreneurs the benefit of avoiding the costly and complex process of forming and registering a separate LLC just to use a different name.

Why do you need a DBA?

  • A DBA eliminates the expensive and complicated process of forming a separate LLC for small businesses and startups. A DBA only changes the name of a business. However, DBAs actually do a little bit more than that. Filing a DBA is a straightforward and cost-effective way for sole proprietors to use a fictitious name without the complication of forming a seperate LLC or corporation.
  • Your LLC or corporation will benefit from DBAs. LLCs typically file a DBA if they use a business name that isn’t the company’s full legal name. Without a DBA, an LLC has to form separate LLCs for every line of business it buys. For example, Marc’s Seafood LLC wants to open a seafood restaurant named Under the Sea. The LLC must file a DBA to change the name, but Under the Sea would remain owned and operated by Marc’s Seafood LLC.
  • A DBA decreases privacy concerns of sole proprietors and general partnerships. In Pennsylvania, sole proprietors and co-partnerships aren’t forced to file a DBA to use a fictitious business name on public-facing materials. But, while the state does not formally mandate obtaining DBAs, business owners can avoid unseen penalties by filing a DBA in Pennsylvania.
  • A DBA makes business banking safer and more straightforward. It is always safest to open a business bank account separate from your personal account for a new business. Professionals recommend getting a DBA because it helps to protect your personal assets and credit scores. Most financial institutions require new businesses to file a DBA before opening a bank account using the business name. However, a DBA does not offer legal protection or liability protection by itself.
  •  A DBA keeps branding simple and accessible. Your brand name is what catches the attention of customers. The company name on websites and billboards alerts potential customers about what you offer. For example, had Jason Smith not filed a DBA, his audience would not know he opened a masonry store.

How to set up a DBA in Pennsylvania

Step 1 – Pennsylvania fictitious name search

Pennsylvania DBA names must be unique and meet all of the state requirements. You will search the Pennsylvania Department of State’s Business Name Search website and check the availability of a fictitious name.

Step 2 – File the DBA in Pennsylvania with the Department of State

You can file your Pennsylvania DBA online or by mail. You will use the PENN File website to file your Pennsylvania DBA online. If filing your DBA by mail, you must complete the Registration of Fictitious Name form and submit it to the Pennsylvania Department of State. Mailing address: Pennsylvania Department of State Bureau of Corporations and Charitable Organizations PO Box 8722 Harrisburg, PA 17105-8722 Pennsylvania Corporation Bureau: 717-787-1057

Step 3 – Pay  Pennsylvania filing fees

The DBA cost in Pennsylvania is $70. Pennsylvania fictitious business names do not expire and do not require renewal.

Step 4 – Pennsylvania advertising requirements

Pennsylvania has advertising requirements for business structures. You will only need to complete this step if you list individual people on your Registration of Fictitious Name form, which you can find in Box 4 four of the application. You must publish the ad in two approved local newspapers in the county you intend to do business. One publication must be general circulation and the other in a legal newspaper. You will find a complete list of state-approved county publications using the Pennsylvania Department of State website. You do not have to submit proof of the ad to the Department of State. However, do keep it for your records to resolve any future issues. Your ad must include the following:
  • The fictitious business name you are registering.
  • Your business address and other contact information.
  • The contact information of every individual you list in Box 4 of the Registration of Fictitious Name form.
  • A brief statement that lets your audience know that you’ve applied, or intend to apply for a Pennsylvania DBA name.

Pennsylvania DBA name restrictions

In Pennsylvania, a fictitious business name can’t contain any of the following:

  • Business suffixes (LLC, Corp, Incorporated, etc.) unless it is your business’ actual structure.
  • Any terms relating to financial institutions such as a bank, bank trust company, etc.

Forms needed to file a DBA in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania DBA tax considerations

  • In Pennsylvania, a DBA only changes the name of a business. It has no effect on the status of a legal business entity for tax purposes.
  • You do not have to have a separate employer identification number.
  • A DBA is not a separate legal entity.
  • On a general level, the IRS does not require that you have a separate tax ID number.

How much does a DBA filing cost in Pennsylvania?

The DBA filing fee in Pennsylvania is $70. It does not expire and does not require renewal.

Pennsylvania does not offer any expedited services.

You will have added costs when publishing your legal notice in an approved newspaper. The cost will depend on the publications’ fees for posting an advertisement.

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.

FAQs

It takes Pennsylvania 1-2 weeks to process a DBA registration and return the documents.

Be careful with your DBA forms. One error could delay the process by several weeks.

Pennsylvania does not offer any expedited services.

You can make changes to your Pennsylvania DBA online using the PENN File website or by completing the Amendment, Withdrawal, Cancellation of Fictitious Name Registration form and submitting it by mail to the Department of State.

The processing fee for changes or amendments to your Pennsylvania DBA is $70.

You can cancel your Pennsylvania DBA by using the PENN File website or by completing the Amendment, Withdrawal, Cancellation of Fictitious Name Registration form and submitting it by mail to the Department of State.

The processing fee for withdrawing your Pennsylvania DBA is $70.

Pennsylvania Department of State

Bureau of Corporations and Charitable Organizations

PO Box 8722

Harrisburg, PA 17105-8722

There is no limit on how many DBAs you can have in Pennsylvania. You can register as many DBAs as you can pay for and keep up with.

You must register each trade name with the Pennsylvania Department of State.

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