Differences Between LLC & DBA

By Joe Stone

LLC and DBA are two acronyms commonly used to indicate important legal aspects about a business. LLC, or limited liability company, refers to a separate legal entity that is distinguishable from its owners. DBA, or doing business as, refers to a pseudonym that an owner uses to conduct business. It is important to understand the difference between the two when planning to use either as part of your business structure.

DBA Basics

A DBA is not the legal name for a business -- it is simply the name that a business owner wants to use to sell products or provide services. A DBA is sometimes referred to as a fictitious name, trade name or assumed name. All states have laws regarding the proper registration and use of a DBA. Some states, such as California, Florida and Connecticut, make registration of a DBA mandatory before it can be used by a business owner.

LLC Basics

An LLC is a separate legal entity from the individual member or members who formed the LLC. In contrast to a DBA, the name of the LLC is the legal name for the business and must be used on all government applications and forms, such as a business license or tax filing. Each state has its own laws regarding the formation of an LLC; however, unlike requirements for a DBA, no state requires a business to form an LLC. The decision to form an LLC is voluntarily made by the business owners depending upon whether such a business structure is beneficial for them.

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Personal Liability Protection

One of the primary reasons a business owner decides to form an LLC is the protection it provides the business owners’ personal assets. The owners of the LLC -- called members -- will not be personally liable for decisions or actions taken by the LLC. With regard to a DBA, there is no such protection from liability. Because the DBA is not a separate legal entity, all business decisions and action taken using the DBA are the responsibilities of the business owners.

Start-up and Maintenance Costs

Both DBAs and LLCs require start-up costs for filing and ongoing costs to maintain the DBA or LLC in good standing. Although costs vary among states, the costs associated with a DBA will be significantly smaller than an LLC within the same state. For example, as of November 2010, a DBA can be registered in Los Angeles County, California for $26. The filing fee for a California LLC is $70, with an additional $800 payment required for state taxes. The DBA will require a small renewal fee every five years; the LLC will have to pay the $800 tax every year of its existence.

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Can an LLC File a DBA & Still Do Business Under the LLC Name?


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How to Set Up a DBA in California

A DBA name, also called a fictitious or assumed name, grants an individual or company the right to do business under a name other than the individual's or company's legal name. California provides entrepreneurs with a relatively simple and straightforward process for setting up a DBA, which can be accomplished through the mail or in person in your county of residence. Setting up a DBA can lead to a successful career as a self-employed individual, or it can be the first step in building a larger organization.

The Advantages of a DBA

A business uses a fictitious name, also known as a trade name or "doing business as" name, to conduct business. The DBA name is different from the true name of the business, although the names may share similarities. While sole proprietors often use DBAs, other business types, such as corporations, may use fictitious names as well. Many states allow a business to register a DBA in the counties the business will use the name in.

Difference Between an Individual & a DBA

An individual may operate an unincorporated business as a sole proprietor either under her own name or an assumed trade name, which is called a DBA or "doing business as" name. Business partnerships and corporations may also choose to conduct business under a fictitious DBA name to distinguish their business from others or build the basis for a better marketing platform.

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