What is a DBA and Do I Need One?

Guide to DBAs and Trade Names

DBAs and trade names can be a bit confusing. Here’s what you need to know.

Definitions

Different states use different terminology for what is essentially the same thing. Here are the common terms.

DBA (sometimes d/b/a) stands for “Doing Business As,” for example, if you are Suzy James doing business as Graphic Design Associates, you might say “Suzy James dba Graphic Design Associates.” DBA is also used informally to describe the document you need to get if you are doing business in a name other than your own (more on this in a bit).

FBN is short for Fictitious Business Name.

FBNS is a Fictitious Business Name Statement, which some states use as the formal term for the document you need to file and obtain if you are using a DBA.

Trade Name (sometimes TA or t/a), as in Suzy James trading as Graphic Design Associates. Not to be confused with trademark, which is quite a different thing.

When do I need a DBA?

Whether and when you need to file for a DBA varies somewhat by state, but here are some guidelines.

If you have an LLC, corporation, or other entity

If you have properly registered or set up an LLC, corporation, or other entity for the business, you may not need a DBA simply to do business under the name of the LLC or corporation. (Keep in mind that setting up an entity does not necessarily give you the right to use that name if someone else is already using the name in the same industry; if you are infringing someone else’s trademark, you could be forced to change your business name).

If you have an LLC, corporation, or other entity, and you want to use an additional name for that business, then you may need a DBA. For example, you have Graphic Design LLC, but you want to also do business as (or solely do business as) Supergraphics Design. FYI you generally cannot use the terms “LLC,” “Inc,” “Corp,” etc for a DBA. If you wanted to use the name Supergraphics Design LLC you would need to either change the name of your LLC, or create an additional LLC.

If you do NOT have an LLC, corporation, or other entity

If you do NOT have an entity, and your business is owned by just you: you may need to get a DBA if you want to use a business name that does NOT include your last name. For example, if your name is Amanda Gonzalez and you do business as Amanda Gonzalez Consulting or even simply Gonzalez Consulting, you do NOT need a DBA. But if you wanted to do business as Superlative Consulting, you DO need a DBA.

If you do NOT have an entity and your business is owned by multiple people: you may need to get a DBA if you want to use a business name that does NOT include each of the partners/owners last name. For example, if you are Suzy James and Amanda Gonzalez, and you do business as James & Gonzalez Graphics & Consulting, you may not need a DBA. But if you do business as Supergraphics Consulting, you may need a DBA.

How do I get a DBA?

Check with your state’s Secretary of State and/or your county clerk.

Is a DBA a type of business structure?

No, this is a common misconception. See our Guide to Business Structures.

Further Resources

See our full Guide to the Law for Entrepreneurs and Business Owners

Get Legal Help

Guide to the DBA in California

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