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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Difference Between an Individual & a DBA


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Business Registration for a DBA in Illinois

A business may elect to operate under a DBA ("doing business as") name that is different from its legal name. When this occurs, it is important that the public be informed that the two names represent the same entity. To file a lawsuit against the business, for example, you must know its legal name. The Illinois Business Code requires businesses to follow certain procedures to register a DBA name.

The Meaning of DBA

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.

Do General Partnerships Require a DBA?

DBA, or doing business as, occurs when a business operates under a name other than its legal name. A general partnership can always choose to use its legal name, which is the combination of the names of the partners; a DBA is not required. If the partnership chooses to operate using a name other than its legal name, however, many states require that the business register this name.


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