An LLC can be a great choice of business structure for new business owners. While an LLC can provide great benefits to their owners like limited liability protection and flexible tax status options, their names can be a bit limiting. If you want to do business under a different name than the legal name of your LLC or want to use different names for your products, services, divisions or business locations you’ll need to register a DBA. In this article we’ll briefly go over DBAs, LLCs, the differences between the 2 and how to add a DBA to an LLC.Table of Contents:
- What is a DBA?
- Can an LLC File a DBA and Still Do Business Under the LLC Name?
- What’s the difference between a DBA and an LLC?
- Why an LLC would need a DBA
- How to Add a DBA to an LLC in 3 Steps
- Frequently Asked Questions
Before we get into how to add a DBA to an LLC its important to understand what a DBA is. DBA stands for “Doing Business As” which is a state or local level registration process to use a business name other than the legal name of your business. Across the US there are a variety of different terms used to describe a DBA name including fictitious name, assumed name and trade name. While DBAs are commonly used by those operating under an informal business structure like a sole proprietorship or partnership, DBA names can be used by any type of business, including an LLC.
If an LLC wants to do business under a different name than their legally registered name of their LLC they will need to file a DBA in most cases. Once an LLC has filed a DBA it can continue to use its legal LLC name as well as its DBA name. In this case you can think of the DBA as similar to a nickname or pseudonym where the DBA may be more easy to recall but still is referencing a specific legal entity.
For many new business owners the distinction between a DBA and an LLC can confusing. A DBA and an LLC can be thought of as similar as they are both a way of registering a business name. However, the key difference between the 2 is that an LLC creates a legal distinct entity from it’s owners. This means that the LLC is recognized as an entity of its own and can enter into contracts, accrue debt, file lawsuits and be sued. Because of this legal distinction, LLCs provide personal liability protection for their owners. While a DBA can allow a business to use a specific name it does not provide any additional legal protections. For this reason many business owners choose to form their business as an LLC and will use a DBA in conjunction so that they can operate with multiple business names.
Looking for more in-depth information on DBAs vs LLCs? Check out our detailed guide: DBA vs LLC
At this point you’re probably wondering “If an LLC can establish a business name why would an LLC also need a DBA?”. After all, if an LLC registered a business name why would they also need a DBA, right? Well there are actually a variety of reasons and situations where a DBA would be very beneficial for an LLC. There are 3 main situations where a DBA would be a good fit for an LLC:
- Branding and Marketing:
While forming an LLC does create a new formally recognized business they have limitations in how they are named. While rules vary from state to state, generally an LLC will need to include a designator such as “LLC” or the words “Limited Liability Company” in their business name to conform with their state’s laws. As a result LLC names aren’t exactly the best sounding when you are trying to market and brand your business.
- Having a Unique Name for Different Divisions or Business Locations:
For a business that will have multiple locations filing a DBA can be an easy way to have a more relevant name in its local area or help to differentiate locations. If you were to operate a car dealership business that specializes in different car brands you could use a DBA to specify the car brands. In addition you could have location specific names for each dealership to have a stronger connection with the local community. For example, if you sold pick up trucks and had dealerships for Ford, Chevy and Dodge you can have 1 LLC and get 3 different DBA names for each brand specific dealership location.
- Having Multiple Lines or Types of Business as part of a Single LLC:
For many successful businesses having multiple unique business operations or expanding into new areas is common. As a result, it is often best to have each of these business operations have their own name but you may not want to have the added cost and management work it would take to have them be their own LLCs. To accomplish this you can file a DBA for each business operation to enable them to operate under a unique name while still having them as part of one LLC. For example, if you had a landscaping company called “J&J Landscaping LLC” and found that a lot of your customers had pools you might want to expand into pool repair and maintenance. Given that most people who are looking for pool related services aren’t going to think a landscaping company provides these you decide you want to use the name “J&J Pool Repair and Cleaning”. Rather than forming a completely new LLC, you can file a DBA to use your pool business name and keep it as part of your existing LLC.
If you want to market your LLC using a business name that’s different than the legal name of your LLC you’ll need to file a DBA. To complete the DBA filing process follow the steps outlined below.
3 Steps to File a DBA for an LLC:
When you’re ready to add a DBA to your LLC, you firstly need to determine how your state manages and issues DBAs. Some states require that you file a DBA at the state level while other states delegate the management and issuance of DBA down to the county or even city level.
Given the complexity of this we have taken the time to research each state to determine how an LLC should file for a DBA. Please refer to the table below for specific information on what government level is responsible for DBA filings in your state.
Note: The states of Kansas, New Mexico and South Carolina do not provide registration for DBAs currently.
|State Name||LLC DBA Filing Level||Name of Filing||Initial Fee|
|Arkansas||State then file with County||Fictitious Name||$15-$25|
|California||County||Fictitious Name||$Varies by County|
|Georgia||County||Trade Name||$Varies by County|
|Idaho||State||Assumed Buisness Name (DBA)||$25|
|Indiana||State||Assumed Business Name||$30|
|Kentucky||State||Assumed Name (ASN)||$20|
|Maine||State||Assumed / Fictitious Name||$125|
|Minnesota||State||Assumed Name / DBA||$30|
|Montana||State||Assumed Business Name (ABN/DBA)||$20|
|Nevada||County||DBA||$Varies by County|
|New Hampshire||State||Trade Name||$50|
|New Jersey||State||Alternate Name (DBA)||$50|
|New York||State||Assumed Name||$25|
|North Carolina||County||Assumed Business Name (ABN)||$26|
|North Dakota||State||Trade Name / Franchise Name||$25|
|Oklahoma||State||Trade Nam / Fictitious Names||$25|
|Oregon||State||Assumed Business Name / DBA||$50|
|Rhode Island||State||Fictitious Business Name||$50|
|Vermont||State||Assumed Business Name||$50|
|Washington DC||State||Trade Name||$55|
|West Virginia||State||Trade Name (DBA)||$25|
|Wyoming||State||Trade Name (DBA)||$100|
When you’ve determined your jurisdiction, the next step is to carry out a DBA name search. You can search for your DBA name availability by conducting your search with your relevant local governing body in your state. You cannot register a DBA name to your LLC if it’s already registered to another business in your state.
When you’ve confirmed that your DBA name is available to register, you should also conduct a domain name search and Internet search. Doing so ensures your potential new brand name isn’t already in use on the Internet. Here’s how to carry out those checks:
- Internet Search:
Since the primary reason for filing a DBA is for marketing and branding purposes, you’ll want to conduct a search of the name on Google. You will want to ensure that the name you have chosen isn’t already in use by someone else. If it is being used ensure that they are 1.) Not a strong competitor who will show higher in search results than you and 2.) That they have not filed for a Trademark or Wordmark with the US Patent and Trade Office.
- Domain Name Search:
If you plan on using the DBA name as a larger part of your overall marketing strategy you’ll likely want to ensure that the .com version of the domain name is available. If you do plan to use the DBA name with online marketing, registering the domain will help to ensure that you will rank higher when people search this name. Google gives preferential treatment to websites that match a search query, so having the exact match for that name will go a long way to ensure that you will reap the rewards of your other forms of marketing. Even if you don’t plan to make a website for the name it’s still probably a good idea to register the domain name as it will prevent others from using it. Given that the cost of registering a domain is often $10 or less it can work as a very cheap form of insurance.
When you’re happy that your DBA name is available to register and isn’t used by anyone else online, you can then continue with the DBA filing and registration process.
Once you have completed a DBA name search to ensure your desired name is available its time to complete the DBA application paperwork and file with the appropriate agency(s). Keep in mind that the process can vary quite a bit from state to state and even require filing with both the state and county in certain areas. While the process can vary, generally each DBA filing requires a few pieces of information. Prior to filling in the application you’ll want to have the following information on hand:
- Desired DBA Name
- LLC Legal Name
- Date of Formation (date when your LLC was formed)
- Entity ID or Registration Number Issued by State when LLC was formed
- Names and Addresses of all LLC Members
In some areas you can file online however in many areas you have to mail in or physically drop off your application to a state or county clerk’s office. Given the incomplete information that is often found in these areas you may want to consider using a DBA filing service to complete and file your application for you to ensure it is completed properly.
DBA costs vary from state to state ranging from $5 to $125, with the average DBA filing fee being $35.
An LLC can use a DBA to allow it to operate under a business name different from it’s legally registered LLC name. This can be helpful for marketing and branding purposes.
Yes, an LLC can have an unlimited number of DBAs. The most common uses for a DBA by an LLC are to brand individual products, services or locations.
If you plan to operate a business as an LLC you should complete your LLC formation first and then file for a DBA after your LLC has been approved.