When it comes to conducting business under a name that is different from the legal entity’s name, two terms often come up: DBA and Fictitious Business Name (FBN). Although they are often used interchangeably, there is a subtle difference between the two.
The primary difference lies in the terminology, with DBA being a more widely recognized and commonly-used term.
Regardless, both DBAs and FBNs serve the purpose of providing operational and branding flexibility while ensuring transparency and compliance with legal obligations.
Read on to learn more about the difference between DBAs and a Fictitious Business Name, as well as the process for applying for a DBA in your jurisdiction.
What Is a DBA or Fictitious Business Name (FBN)?
A DBA (Doing Business As) or Fictitious Business Name (FBN) is a legal name used when a business operates under a name other than its official name. It provides individuals or businesses with the flexibility to operate under an alternative, often more market-friendly name.
For instance, John Smith might operate his bakery as “Sweet Delights” via a DBA. Registering a DBA or FBN ensures transparency and public identification of the true business owner, deterring fraudulent activity.
While it doesn’t create a separate legal entity, it provides operational and branding flexibility — with the owner retaining all legal and financial responsibilities.
Can You Choose Any Name for Your DBA/FBN?
While selecting a DBA or FBN offers creative freedom, there are certain constraints to bear in mind. The chosen name shouldn’t violate existing trademarks or copyrights, nor should it mislead or deceive the public.
In addition, some jurisdictions place restrictions on specific words or phrases – for example, a business name suggesting government affiliation or professional licensure without proper credentials could be prohibited. Make sure to thoroughly research local laws and seek legal advice to guarantee that your chosen name is both compliant and suitable.
Can You Use a DBA/FBN Before Registering It?
Registration of a DBA or FBN is a legal obligation that promotes transparency and allows the public to identify the true owner of an entity. Operating under a DBA or FBN without proper registration may result in legal repercussions, including possible fines or penalties. Therefore, you must follow the registration procedure and obtain all the necessary permits and licenses before using a DBA or FBN for your business.
When Should You Use a DBA/FBN?
Using a DBA/FBN can be a savvy approach if you plan to conduct your business under an alternative name. Let’s delve into the circumstances when these labels are usually employed:
- Sole Proprietorships and Partnerships: If you are operating a business as a sole proprietorship or partnership and want to use a business name other than your personal name — A DBA/FBN allows you to create a distinct brand identity for your business.
- Corporations and LLCs: Even though corporations and limited liability companies (LLC) have a registered legal name, they may still want to use a different name for certain business activities or launch new products or services. In such cases, registering a DBA or FBN is a viable choice.
- Banking and Financial Transactions: Banks and financial institutions often require a DBA or FBN registration to open a business bank account. They need to ensure that the business account is associated with the legal entity or individual operating under the DBA or FBN.
- Marketing and Branding: A DBA or FBN allows you to create a unique and memorable business name that aligns with your marketing and branding strategy — establishing a distinct identity in the marketplace.
Difference Between an Assumed Name and a Legal Name
Navigating the world of business can often introduce new terms and concepts — one of which is understanding the difference between an assumed name and a legal name.
A “legal name” is the official name recognized by the government that appears on official identification documents such as birth certificates, passports, and driver’s licenses.
This name is assigned at birth or through a name change process and is used for a variety of formal procedures that include legal and regulatory documents, employment records, financial obligations, and identification.
Conversely, an “assumed name” – also termed as a fictitious name, trade name, or DBA – is a name that individuals or businesses utilize to operate under a different identity. Primarily used for business or branding purposes, this name offers a unique identity or brand for conducting business activities.
How to Register a DBA/FBN?
Now that you have a better understanding of the functions of a DBA/FBN, let us go over the essential steps for obtaining one.
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You can also follow the steps below and file through your state.
- Select a name: Choose a unique and distinguishable business name not used by another entity in your jurisdiction and ensure the name is not trademarked or registered by another party.
- Understand the requirements: Reach out to your local government agency responsible for business registrations in your area, such as the county or city clerk’s office. They will guide you about the specific requirements, forms, fees, and documents needed for registering a DBA/FBN.
- Procure the necessary forms: You can request the relevant registration forms from the respective government office. These forms might be downloadable from their website or can be collected in person.
- Fill out the registration forms: Complete the forms accurately, providing all necessary information like your personal details, the desired DBA/FBN name, and your business address. Some locations may ask for a description of your business nature.
- Notarize the forms (if required): Some places might need the registration forms to be notarized. If so, find a notary public and get the forms notarized, which involves signing the forms in front of the notary who verifies your identity and business structure.
- Pay the registration fee: Registering a DBA/FBN typically involves a fee. Identify the amount and payment methods accepted by the government agency and submit the required fee along with your registration forms. doola can handle your filing and payment to your state here.
- Submit the forms: After completing the forms, notarization (if required), and payment of the registration fee, you can submit the documents to the appropriate government agency. This could be done via mail, in person, or online.
- Receive the registration certificate: Once your registration is processed, the government agency will issue a registration certificate or acknowledgment as proof of your official DBA/FBN registration.
Keep in mind that specific steps and requirements may vary based on your location. It’s always wise to consult with the local government or seek legal advice to ensure you comply with all local regulations and complete all necessary steps correctly.
Advantages of Having DBAs/FBNs for Your Business
If you’re looking to expand your business or create a distinct brand identity, registering a DBA or FBN can be a strategic move. Here’s how these assumed names can benefit your business:
- Branding Flexibility: DBAs/FBNs enable you to conduct business under various names, enhancing your ability to market different products or services without creating multiple legal entities.
- Enhanced Professionalism: A DBA/FBN can boost your business’s credibility and legitimacy — fostering trust among potential customers, investors, and partners.
- Privacy Protection: For sole proprietors or partnerships, DBAs/FBNs allow you to use a business name that’s distinct from your personal name, protecting your private information.
- Legal Compliance: In many areas, businesses operating under a name different from their legal one must register it as a DBA/FBN, ensuring you adhere to local laws.
- Easier Financial Management: With a DBA/FBN, you can separate personal and business finances, simplifying transactions, banking, and loans.
- Effective Marketing: Using multiple DBAs/FBNs can help target different customer audiences — enhancing your search engine rankings and brand awareness.
Implications if You Choose not to Register a DBA/FBN
If you opt not to register a DBA/FBN, you may face legal consequences, including penalties for non-compliance — particularly if your jurisdiction mandates the registration of business aliases.
Additionally, lacking a DBA/FBN may hinder your branding opportunities and limit potential growth. Moreover, without a registered DBA/FBN, it may be more difficult to manage business finances separately from personal finances, as banks often require the separation to set up business accounts.
As mentioned above, each state has different requirements for registering your business name and it is necessary for you to comply with any legal requirements in order to benefit from registering your DBA/FBN.
Business Naming Best Practices
Registering DBAs/FBNs for your business offers numerous advantages, such as flexible branding, enhanced credibility, personal information protection, legal compliance, and targeted marketing. However, with added exposure and responsibilities, it can be a big undertaking to manage finances and ensure legal compliance.
The most simple solution to this is that you let us (doola) handle it. Our specialized bookkeeping services can streamline your financial processes, provide accurate reporting, and ensure compliance with DBA/FBN registrations.
Take the first step towards financial peace of mind by contacting us today and discovering how our professional services can help you focus on growing your business.
Can you put DBA after your name?
If the business name you choose reflects your actual name, such as “Charlie’s Chicken Joint,” this may be a viable option. However, you should consider any legal compliance and eligibility when deciding to attach your name to your DBA.
How much does it cost to register a DBA?
Does a DBA expire?
The expiration of DBAs varies from state to state. For example, in Florida, you must renew your registration every five years to remain valid, however, in N.Y., there is no expiration for your DBA.
Can you update your fictitious name registration prior to its expiration?
Yes, in most cases, you can update your fictitious name registration before it expires by submitting the required documents to your affiliated government agency.
Will you need proof of your fictitious name registration?
Yes, you will need to register with either the Clerk of the Superior Court, Secretary of State, or any other relevant government agency according to your jurisdiction.