How to Set Up a DBA in California

By Michelle Kaminsky, J.D.

How to Set Up a DBA in California

By Michelle Kaminsky, J.D.

In California, you must file a DBA, or Doing Business As, name if you plan to operate a business under a different name than your own. California refers to a DBA as a “fictitious business name," or FBN, and the process for setting one up is relatively simple and straightforward: You must make sure your desired name is available, file the appropriate fee and forms, and then publish notice of your registration.

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FBN rules apply to sole proprietors, partnerships, limited liability companies, and corporations. In California, an FBN is any name that doesn't include the surname of the owner or that implies additional owners (such as Smith and Sons, for example).

You must renew your FBN every five years, and remember that just changing the name of your business through an FBN does not change its status for tax purposes, which is determined by the structure of the business itself (S corporation, limited liability company, corporation, etc.).

Step 1: Come up with a unique business name.

Your business name is your brand, so choose well, keeping in mind that California forbids names that closely resemble existing business names.

Make sure your chosen name is available by running a check with your local county clerk, which can usually be done online, by mail, or in person. You may also want to make sure there's a corresponding domain name available for your website, and you'll need to search the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office database if you'd like trademark protection for your FBN. If the name you've chosen is unavailable, start over, come up with something else, and search again.

California also prohibits names that mislead the public, such as using “Tina's Dogs" to sell real estate, as well as the use of certain words and phrases. You can't use the word “corporation" in the business name of a limited liability company, for instance.

Step 2: File the paperwork and pay the filing fee.

Obtain, fill out, and file a “Fictitious Business Name Statement" form, which you can get either online or in person from the clerk's office of the county in which the business is located. If the business has no physical location, the FBN should be filed in Sacramento County.

The forms and required fees vary by county, but generally you will need to list your desired FBN name and business address, as well as your legal name and contact information. Alameda County charges $40 to register an FBN and $7 for each additional owner or FBN listed on the same statement, while Los Angeles County asks $26 to register an FBN and $5 for each additional owner or FBN.

Registrations must be mailed or filed in person at the county clerk's office.

Step 3: Publish notice of your FBN registration.

California requires that, within 30 days of filing, you publish notice of your FBN registration in a newspaper of general circulation in the county of your filing once per week for four consecutive weeks.

The county clerk's office may have a specific list of approved publications that meet this requirement. Also, check with the publication when placing your notice to ensure it will file an affidavit with the county clerk upon completion.

And that's it: You're ready to use your DBA (or FBN, as California calls it).

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