DBA is an abbreviation for the term “doing business as,” and it refers to the name that a business uses. For example, if Joe Gomes wants to name his plumbing business "Speedy Plumbing," that name would be his DBA. Other terms for DBA include "fictitious name," "assumed name," and "trade name." Laws vary among jurisdictions, and you must learn the laws in your area. In general, the goals of DBA laws are to reduce confusion and increase transparency about the purposes and ownership of businesses.
Jurisdictions that require businesses to make a statement about their intent to use a DBA typically require the owner to fill out a form. Often this takes place at the county level. You may also need to pay a fee. You must usually identify your company's legal name and the proposed DBA name. In our earlier example, the legal name of the plumbing business would be the sole proprietor's name, Joe Gomes, and the DBA name would be Speedy Plumbing. In some areas, including counties in Illinois and California, you must provide an address and certify that you intend to do business from that location. You must also typically publish your DBA in a local newspaper for a period of time.
Sole Proprietors and Partnerships
Sole proprietors and partnerships commonly take advantage of DBAs because operating under an assumed name provides them with more options to market their business and to protect their personal privacy. By using a DBA, the owner can convey the type of business he's in: as a business name, "Speedy Plumbing" is more informative than "Joe Gomes."
Corporations and LLCs
Corporations and LLCs choose a descriptive legal name at the time their business is created and thus are less likely to need a DBA than other businesses. However, there are still some situations in which a DBA is necessary. For example, a corporation may need to use a DBA when doing business in another state in which another company is already using the corporation's legal name. A representative of the corporation must register the company's intent to use a DBA.
Not Permanent, Not Exclusive
Generally, when you register a DBA, you don't get to use the name on a permanent or indefinite basis. Typically you must renew your registration every few years, according to your local laws. And it may surprise you to learn that if you register a DBA, it will not prevent other companies in other jurisdictions from using the same or similar names for their businesses. In fact, although most counties will not allow identical DBAs in the same jurisdiction, some will. Some business owners therefore take the extra step of applying for trademark protection of their business name.