In order to operate a business under a fictitious name, you must register that name with the clerk of court in the county where you are operating, or with the agency responsible for keeping track of businesses operating in your state. In most cases, this is the office of the Secretary of State or Division of Corporations, or similar regulatory body. State laws require that a DBA name must not be identical to another DBA that is already registered, or resemble an operating DBA with the intention to deceive the public.
Any company that wishes to operate a business under an alias or assumed name must register that name with each state in which it will be doing business. The registration of a DBA does not cross state lines; therefore, it is not sufficient to register a DBA only in the business's home state if the business is operating in another state. If the DBA registration is allowed to lapse, typically the business may no longer legally operate under that name.
The registration process for fictitious names is usually simple and straightforward. You fill out a short form with the legal name of the company doing the registration, as well as the chosen fictitious name, business address and phone, owner and officer names, and the name of the registered agent. An attorney or online legal document preparation service can help prepare your DBA application and ensure that the form is filled out properly. The agency will require a filing fee, as well as regular (usually annual) renewals. The information is available to the public through an online database, or through a search in the public records office. Registration allows the public to discover the individual or company responsible for operating under any business name.
If you are operating a business under your own name, or legal name of your partnership or corporation, you do not need to register a DBA. If the name of the business is not identical, however, it is a fictitious name. For example, an individual legally named "Terry Woods" may be able to operate a business under the name "Terry Woods Landscaping" without registering a DBA, depending on state laws. The fictitious name will be required in order to get an Employer Identification Number from the Internal Revenue Service and to obtain any necessary local licenses and permits.