How to file a DBA in Tennessee

The abbreviated term DBA means ‘doing business as.’ It is a term for any registered name a business uses that is not its legal name.

A legal name differs depending on the business structure. For LLCs and corporations, the legal name is the company’s name. The legal name for sole proprietors and general partnerships defaults to the owner’s full legal name.

A DBA is sometimes referred to as a fictitious name, trade name, or assumed name. Filing a DBA only changes the name of the business and nothing else. In Tennessee, it is most commonly called an assumed business name.

For instance, if you own a business, it defaults to your legal name (e.g., Bethany Johnson). Bethany Johnson wants to open a dress shop. She understands that she can’t use her personal name because no one would know what Bethany Johnson does. So, Bethany Johnson registers a Tennessee DBA to change the business name to Beth’s Sunday Best. It is now her business name.

The DBA allows Bethany Johnson to operate under an assumed business name. It no longer will default to her own name.

A Tennessee DBA changes nothing else about the structure of Beth’s Sunday Best.

DBA vs assumed business name

  • In Tennessee, a DBA name is how companies do business under a unique name that is not the legal name.
  • An assumed business name, or DBA, is how businesses operate using a name that is the business’ legal name in Tennessee.
  • The only difference between a DBA name and an assumed business name is that a DBA is only an alias.
  • A DBA must be associated with a separate legal entity.
  • A DBA and an assumed business name are the same things.

Who needs a DBA?

In Tennessee, all sole proprietors, LLCs, partnerships, and corporations to file a DBA if they want to operate and sign legal documents under any other name that is not their legal name.

A DBA benefits you and your company in various ways. The pros depend on your legal business entity and your personal preferences.

  • New businesses. Professionals recommend that all new companies register a DBA. In Tennessee, all businesses are required to register an assumed business name.
  • Sole proprietors. Without a DBA, the business name for a sole proprietor defaults to their personal legal name because they share the same entity with their company.
  • LLCS. Tennessee requires all LLCs to register a DBA when purchasing and operating a new business. Without a DBA, every company an LLC operates would do so under the same name as their LLC, regardless of the type of business.
  • Corporations. Any incorporation that has intentions to operate using any other name than the company name must file a DBA in Tennessee. The most common way that corporations use DBAs is when they open and run a business in any line of business.
  • Franchises. Franchisees use DBAs to operate under a name that isn’t their company name. An example is if you purchase a Target franchise, it is formed as an LLC and listed as 1654 Target LLC. To shorten the name to just Target, you must file a DBA in Tennessee.

DBAs especially give small business owners and startups creative freedom when choosing a different name for a business. It also keeps small companies from burdening the expensive fees and the complicated process of forming a separate LLC to name their business.s

Why do you need a DBA?

  • A DBA helps small businesses and startups avoid the complexity of forming an LLC or a corporation. A DBA is a cost-effective and hassle-free way for a sole proprietorship to operate using an assumed business name in Tennessee.
  • DBAs benefit LLCs and corporations. LLCs and corporations utilize DBAs so that they do not have to form separate LLCs every time they purchase a new business. For instance, Mark’s Ammunition LLC opens a firework stand. Mark’s Ammmunution must register a DBA in Tennessee to name his business Above and Beyond to operate under an assumed business name.
  • DBAs help to protect the privacy of sole proprietors and general partnerships. In Tennessee, sole proprietors and co-partnerships must use their personal names on public-facing material such as signage unless they register a DBA.
  • DBAs are proof that your assets are separate from your business. Alone, a DBA does not offer any legal protection. However, a DBA proves that your personal assets are separate from your business assets to protect. A DBA also reduces the personal liability of business owners.
  • DBAs make business banking more accessible. Most financial institutions require companies to file a DBA before opening a business bank account. Professionals and accountants recommend opening a bank account for a new business because it separates your business banking account from your personal account. A DBA does not offer any liability protection.
  • A DBA makes branding and marketing easier in Tennessee. Your brand name, or company name, introduces your company to your audience. A DBA lets your customers know what you’re offering. For example, had Bethany Johnson not filed a DBA in Tennessee, no one would know she opened a dress shop.

How to set up a DBA in Tennessee sole proprietorship or general partnership

Step 1 – Tennessee business name search

All DBA names in Tennessee must be unique and meet the state requirements.

You will visit the Tennessee Secretary of State’s website and search for name availability.

Step 2 – File Tennessee DBA with the County Clerk

Before registering a DBA, sole proprietors and partnerships must first file a Business Tax License Application. You file the application with the county clerk you primarily do business in.

You will also file your Tennessee DBA with the county you conduct business.

You can find a complete list of county clerks using the Tennessee Department of Revenue website.

Example – Knox County

You will search the Knox County business database for the availability of the DBA name you wish to use.

You will submit your DBA registration online using the Tennessee County Clerk’s Website or by mail by completing the Application for Business Tax License.

Mailing address:

Knox County Clerk’s Office
Business Tax Division
PO Box 1566
Knoxville, TN 37901

Phone number: 865-215-2392

Step 3 – Pay Tennessee DBA filing fees

The DBA cost for sole proprietors and partnerships in Tennessee is $15.

A Tennessee DBA expires every five years but will automatically renew when you file your tax return.

However, if you’ve filed for minimal activity license, you will need to complete the Application for Renewal and submit it by mail to the county clerk in which you conduct business.

Tennessee has no processing fee for DBA renewal.

How to file a Tennessee business DBA for an LLC or corporation

Tennessee DBA requirements for LLCs and corporations differ from those for sole proprietors.

The requirements apply to the following:

  • For-profit Corporations
  • Non-profit Corporations
  • Limited Partnerships
  • Limited Liability Partnerships
  • Limited Liability Companies
  • All Foreign Filing Entities

Step 1 – Tennessee Business entity search

All Tennessee DBA names must be unique and meet state requirements.

You will visit the Tennessee Secretary of State’s website and check for assumed business name availability.

Step 2 – File the Tennessee DBA with the Secretary of State

You will file your Tennessee DBA with the Secretary of State online or in person.

Incorporated businesses have different Application for Registration of Assumed Name forms depending on your business structure.

Filing address:
Corporate Filings
312 Rosa L. Parks Ave.
6th Floor, William R. Snodgrass Tower
Nashville, TN 37243

Phone number: 615-741-2286

Step 3 – Pay filing fees

The Tennessee DBA filing fee for incorporations is $20. Your Tennessee assumed business name expires every five years.

The DBA renewal processing fee is $20. You can renew your Tennessee assumed business name by mail or in person.

Tennessee DBA name restrictions

In Tennessee, your assumed business name can’t contain any of the following:

  • Words that are easily confused with governmental agencies such as FBI, Treasury, Justice Department.
  • Words that would insinuate or imply that a business is affiliated with any fraternal, veterans’, religious, charitable, or other related organizations.
  • Any words that insinuate or imply your business is organized for illegal or unlawful purposes.
  • Words such as a bank, accountant, university unless a licensed person is on the company staff or without the proper additional paperwork.

Forms needed to file a DBA in Tennessee

Tennessee DBA tax considerations

  • In Tennessee, registering a DBA just changes the business name.
  • A DBA has no effect on the status of a business entity for tax purposes.
  • You do not have a separate employer identification number because a DBA is not a separate legal entity.
  • For federal tax purposes, the IRS does not require that you have a separate tax ID number.

How much does a DBA filing cost in Tennessee?

The Tennessee DBA filing fee for sole proprietors and partnerships is $15. A DBA for small businesses expires after five years.

It will automatically renew when you file your tax return. If you’ve filed a minimal activity license, you will need to complete the Application for Renewal and submit it in person or by mail.

Your LLC or corporation filing fee is $20. You must renew a DBA for incorporations every five years. You can renew your Tennessee DBA in person, by mail, or online.

Tennessee does not offer any expedited services.

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

Sole proprietors and partnerships must file their DBA with the county clerk where they primarily conduct business. Processing time and office hours differ from county to county. Always call your county clerk’s office before arriving in person.

It takes the Tennessee Secretary of State 3-5 business days to process a DBA if filed by mail or in person. The processing is immediate if you register your DBA online.

Sole proprietors and partnerships

Sole proprietors and partnerships cannot make changes to their Tennessee DBA. You must register a new DBA name to amend.

LLCs, corporations, LLPs

Incorporations can make changes to their Tennessee DBA by completing a name change application. The processing fee for making amendments is $20.

Sole proprietors and partnerships

Sole proprietors and partnerships cancel Tennesee DBAs by filing a final tax return with the Tennessee Department of Revenue.

LLCs, corporations, LLPs

Incorporations withdraw a Tennessee DBA by completing the proper cancellation form and submitting it to the Tennesee Secretary of State. The processing fee for canceling an assumed business name is $20.

Corporate Filings

312 Rosa L. Parks Ave.

6th Floor, William R. Snodgrass Tower

Nashville, TN 37243

In Tennessee, you can have as many DBAs as you are willing to pay for and keep up with.

You must register every fictitious business name with the Tennesee Secretary of State.

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