Legal Use of DBA for Independent Contractors

By Anna Green

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.

Independent Contractors

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.

DBA Basics

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.

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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.

Filing Requirements

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.

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The Meaning of DBA


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What Do You Need to Register a Business Name?

For many customers, your business name is the first point of reference they have with regard to your company. Leave a good impression, and you could be well on your way to making a lifelong customer. Give a bad impression, and that person might never give your business a chance. How you register the name of your business depends on the type of name you're registering.

Setting Up a DBA in Massachusetts

A DBA, which is short for doing business as, is the registration form that a business owner must file when she does business under a name other than her real name. Not all states require you to register a DBA, but Massachusetts does. In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the law requires business owners to register a DBA to create a public record of the name and address of the true owner of a business. According to Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 110, Section 5, DBA registrations are required for "any person conducting business in the Commonwealth under any title other than the real name of the person conducting the business, whether individually or as a partnership." For example, if your name is Kent Plank and your business is Plank's Carpentry, you're using a name other than your real name and must register your business as a DBA. Similarly, if a corporation is named "Waldo's Wonders" in its articles of incorporation but the corporation wants to do business under a different name, the owner would have to register that name as a fictitious business name. In Massachusetts, you register a DBA in the city or town in which you do business.

How Long Is a DBA Registration Good for?

Businesses commonly use a “doing business as” name, or DBA, when they want to use a name other than the business’s legal name. For example, since a sole proprietor's legal business name is the same as his name, he might decide that a DBA such as "Valley Plumbing Supply" is more descriptive than "Herb Jones." States that require registration of a DBA generally allow you to use it as long as you like, but most require you to renew the registration every few years.

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