Independent contractors are self-employed workers who provide services to others on their own terms. An independent contractor may be a sole proprietor or the sole owner of a limited liability company, corporation or other type of business. Although independent contractors typically work alone, they are still businesspersons who must exhibit a professional image, just like a company with multiple employees. A "doing business as" name, known as a DBA, is one way to project professionalism while reaping the benefits of self-employment.
In general, when an independent contractor is a sole proprietor, state law requires the contractor to use her own name when conducting business transactions. For example, if she prepares a contract or requests a check from a client, those documents must list her legal name, not an assumed business name. Additionally, independent contractors who operate through an independent business entity, such as a corporation, and wish to do business under a name different from the pre-existing business name must also register a "doing business as" name.
A DBA is also known as a fictitious business or trade name. It allows sole proprietors to do business under a name other than their legal name. For example, if Jane Doe is an independent contractor and photographer, she could use a DBA to advertise, operate and receive checks under the name “Special Memories Photography.” Even if Jane Doe wants to do business as ''Jane Doe Photography,'' she would still need to register the fictitious business name because her name is Jane Doe and not ''Jane Doe Photography.'' Without registering a DBA, she cannot use an assumed business name. In general, it is not legal to use a name other than one’s legal name or an official business name without first registering the chosen DBA.
DBAs operate on a state-by-state basis. If you are doing business as an independent contractor in two different states, you will need to register your DBA in both jurisdictions. Since DBAs are governed by individual states, each jurisdiction will have a different process by which independent contractors must register their DBA name. Some locations require independent contractors to register on a state level, while others require contractors to register in the individual cities or counties where they will be conducting business. If you will be conducting business in a state that requires independent contractors to register DBAs at the city or county level, you may be required to register with each locality where you plan to operate your business.
To register a DBA, independent contractors are often required to complete jurisdiction-specific forms wherein they provide their legal name, chosen fictitious name and details about their business. Additionally, in most jurisdictions, independent contractors are required to publish notice of their intent to register a DBA in a newspaper of general circulation or other similar public venue. Most jurisdictions also require independent contractors to pay a DBA filing fee.
References & Resources
- Internal Revenue Service: Independent Contractor Defined
- U.S. Small Business Administration: Register Your Fictitious or "Doing Business As" (DBA) Name
- Santa Barbara County's Clerk-Recorder: Fictitious Business Name
- West Virginia Secretary of State: Trade Name Registration
- os Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk: Fictitious Business Name Statement
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