How to file a DBA in Wisconsin

The shortened business term DBA means ‘doing business as.’ A DBA is any registered name that a company or individual uses to do business under that is not the legal name.

The legal name of a company is different depending on the structure. For LLCs and corporations, it defaults to the company’s name. For sole proprietors and co-partnerships, the legal name is the full personal name of the individual(s) that owns the company.

A DBA is often referred to by other terms, including a fictitious name, assumed name, or business trade name. In Wisconsin, it is referred to as a state trademark.

For instance, if you open a business, the legal name will be your name (e.g., Donnie Smith). Donnie Smith wants to open a furniture store. He does not want his business’s name to be his own name. So, Donnie Smith registers a DBA Wisconsin to change his business name to Donnie’s House. The fictitious business name is now the name of his business.

The Wisconsin DBA changes nothing else about Donnie’s House. The DBA only gives Donnie Smith the power to operate his business using a fictitious business name.

DBA vs fictitious business name

  • A fictitious business name, or DBA, is how businesses operate using a name that is the business’ legal name.
  • The only difference between a DBA name and a business trade name is that a DBA is only an alias.
  • A DBA must be associated with a separate legal business entity.
  • A DBA and a fictitious business name mean the same thing.

Who needs a DBA?

In Wisconsin, all sole proprietors, partnerships, corporations, LLCs, LPs, and LLPs register a DBA name if they wish to operate a business using any name other than its legal name.

Most businesses benefit from a DBA. The benefits of a DBA depend on the business structure and the personal preferences of the owner(s).

  • New businesses. In Wisconsin, new businesses must acquire a DBA before operating using a different name. Wisconsin DBA registration is a recommendation for all new businesses.
  • Sole proprietors. A business and its owner are the same legal entity. It means that they share a name unless you file a DBA in Wisconsin.
  • LLCs. In Wisconsin, an LLC is required to register a DBA. Without a DBA, every new business an LLC purchases and manages would do so under the official and legal name. Also, registering a fictitious business name allows an LLC to expand and operate part of its company outside of the LLC name.
  • Corporations. Often, corporations purchase and operate businesses in various industries. Incorporations must file a DBA to do business using a different name from the corporation’s legal name In Wisconsin.
  • Franchises. Most franchisees utilize DBAs. For example, if you buy a Holiday Inn franchise. Holiday Inn is an LLC, which means that a new franchise would be listed as 7856 Holiday Inn LLC. To change the name of the franchise from its numerical listing to just Holiday Inn, you would have to register a DBA in Wisconsin. Nothing else about the franchise changes.

A DBA allows small business owners and startups the creative freedom to name their businesses. A DBA also gives small businesses the benefit of avoiding the cumbersome process of forming and registering a separate LLC just to use a new name.

Why do you need a DBA?

  • A DBA makes things easy for small businesses and startups. Registering a DBA in Wisconsin only changes the name of a company. Registering a DBA  is a cost-effective and simple way for sole proprietorships to use a fictitious business name without the complicated and costly process of forming a separate limited liability company.
  • A DBA will benefit your LLC or incorporation. An LLC would have to form separate companies for every business it buys in the absence of a Wisconsin DBA. For example, Ben Medical Supplies LLC wants to open a pharmacy that is a separate business from the LLC. The LLC will file a DBA in Wisconsin to change the name to Fill My Pills. The DBA changes nothing else about the construction company.
  • A DBA is a remedy for privacy concerns of sole proprietors and general partnerships. A Wisconsin DBA allows business owners to use a fictitious business name on public-facing material instead of using their personal name.
  • A DBA makes business banking less complicated. Most financial institutions require companies to file a DBA before opening a business bank account. It is safest to open a bank account for a new business because it separates your business banking account from your personal business account. It is recommended to protect personal assets and credit scores. A DBA by itself offers no legal protection or personal liability protection.
  • A DBA is your brand name in Wisconsin. The name you choose for your business, or brand name, is the first thing someone notices. A DBA name alerts your audience to what you’re offering. For example, had Donnie Smith not filed a DBA in Wisconsin, no one would know he opened a furniture store.

How to set up a DBA in Wisconsin

Step 1 – Wisconsin trademark search

Filing a DBA in Wisconsin does not prevent others from using the same fictitious business name. DBA names are filed under Wisconsin’s trademark category.

However, it is recommended that a business choose a unique name. All DBA names must meet state requirements.

You will search the Department of Financial Institution’s website and check for fictitious business name availability.

Step 2 – File your Wisconsin DBA with the Department of Financial Institutions

You can file your Wisconsin DBA online or in person using the Department of Financial Institution’s website.

The DBA form will ask for specific information regarding your fictitious business name including:

  • Indicate whether this is a registration or a renewal.
  • The fictitious business name you’re using.
  • The date you began using a fictitious name.

Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions

4822 Madison Yards Way, North Tower

Madison, WI 53705

Phone number: 608-266-8915

Step 3 – Pay Wisconsin DBA filing fees

The DBA cost in Wisconsin is $15. Your fictitious business name will expire every ten years.

You can renew your Wisconsin DBA online using the Department of Financial Institution’s website.

The cost for renewal is $15.

Wisconsin DBA name restrictions

In Wisconsin, a DBA name can’t contain any of the following:

  • Business entity suffixes such as LLC, incorporation, Inc, etc., unless it is your actual business structure.
  • The word insurance unless you’re in the insurance industry, or you make it clear you’re not related to it.
  • Any words that imply or insinuate that your business is organized for illegal reasons.
  • The words architecture, engineering, or designing without the proper governmental approval.

Forms needed to file a DBA in Wisconsin

You will need to create a unique login to manage your Wisconsin DBA.

Wisconsin DBA tax considerations

  • In Wisconsin, a DBA only changes a company’s name.
  • A DBA has no effect on the status of a business entity for tax purposes.
  • You do not have to have a separate employer identification number because a DBA is not a separate legal entity.
  • The IRS does not require that you have a separate tax ID number.

How much does a DBA filing cost in Wisconsin?

The DBA filing fee in Wisconsin is $15. A fictitious business name in Wisconsin does not expire and does not require renewal.

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 Wisconsin three to five business days to process a DBA registration.

Wisconsin does not offer any expedited services.

You must submit a new DBA registration form online using the Department of Financial Institution’s website or in person to make changes to your Wisconsin DBA.

4822 Madison Yards Way, North Tower

Madison, WI 53705

You can withdraw your Wisconsin DBA online using the Department of Financial Institution’s website or in person.

4822 Madison Yards Way, North Tower

Madison WI 53705

  • In Wisconsin, you can register as many business trade names as you desire.
  • You must follow the same DBA registration process with every DBA.
  • The Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions must approve all fictitious business names.
  • A DBA and a trademark are two different things.
  • However, in Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institution qualifies a DBA name as a state trademark. But, it does not trademark it nationally.
  • Registering a fictitious business name in Wisconsin does not protect others from using it.
  • A DBA allows businesses to use an assumed business name that is not their legal name.
  • A trademark is a type of intellectual property registration that protects a business’ brand.
  • A trademark does protect your brand name in both the state and the country.

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