How to Register a DBA in California (Step-by-Step Guide)
Launching a new business venture in California requires careful consideration. With an abundance of legal jargon and acronyms, it may seem daunting, but it is vital to stay informed. This article emphasizes the significance of understanding a DBA, including its definition when required, and the procedure to acquire one in California.
What is a DBA?
The term DBA is short for “doing business as” and refers to companies or individuals who operate under a name different from their legal name.
Registering for a DBA is an option for companies that want a more marketable trade name. This allows a business to market itself under a different name while still being legally responsible under its legal name.
For instance, if Jane Smith owns a sole proprietorship that makes handcrafted pottery, she can register a name, such as “Handcrafted Pottery by Jane,” to market her products and services instead of using her name.
The process for registering a DBA varies by state. Usually, it involves:
- Choosing a unique business name.
- Verifying its availability.
- Filing the proper forms with the relevant government agency, such as the Secretary of State or the county clerk’s office.
- Paying the filing fees.
California DBA name registration
Choose your name
One of the first things to know about registering a DBA in California is that they are often called fictitious business names or FBNs in the state.
This means that all sole proprietors, LLCs, partnerships, and corporations in California are legally mandated to file a DBA if they intend to sign legal documents using a name other than their own name.
Before this, there are a few things to remember when setting up a fictitious business name.
- Your fictitious business name shouldn’t include any business entity suffixes such as LLC and Incorporated unless the company is an LLC or corporation.
- When determining it, you should check your name against existing businesses with the California Secretary of State. Names aren’t checked against trademarks but must be checked against the California Business and Professions Code relating to fictitious business names.
Check California’s Code of Regulations for a complete list of DBA naming rules in California.
Remember: Registering in California does not provide exclusive rights to the name. It merely serves as a public record that you use a fictitious name for your business. Therefore, to protect your name, you may consider registering it as a trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). This will provide you exclusive rights to use the name for your business in California and the United States.
Check name availability
The first step to getting your new business name is to complete a name search.
Business name searches and reservations can be made at bizfileOnline.sos.ca.gov.
Register your name
In California, there is no state-level registry for business names. The registration process varies by county.
For example, you must visit the LA County website if you’re operating in Los Angeles. The fee in Los Angles is $26.
You can complete the process online, download the DBA forms, and return them in person or by post to the county office.
If you decide to have a third party save the hassle and complete the FBN registration on your behalf, your documents must be notarized.
Suppose your company is based outside of California. In that case, it is classified as a foreign entity, and you must register your “doing business as” (DBA) name with the Clerk of Sacramento County. You can do this by submitting a Fictitious Business Name Statement, for which you will need to pay a fee of $44, with an additional charge of $8 for each business name or owner included in the statement.
Pay your filing fees
DBAs are registered at a county level, so you must check with your county recorder before submitting your DBA.
Each County Clerk’s office determines filing fees.
In-person applications for a DBA by a business owner do not require notarized statements. If the application is either submitted by mail or through a third party, the business owner must furnish a Notarized Affidavit of Identity which may add an extra cost.
Advertise your DBA
California law asks you to advertise your DBA within 30 days of registration. Doing so is a public record of your right to conduct business under your new name.
The California Legislative website contains detailed information on the requirements for publishing a fictitious business name statement. The following steps must be taken:
- Choose a general circulation newspaper circulated in the county where the registration occurs. A list of newspapers for Los Angeles County can be found on the LA County website.
- Contact the selected newspaper from the list and request a “fictitious business name statement” once a week for four consecutive weeks.
- Within 30 days of the publication, file an affidavit to prove the statement was published. Please refer to the publication information page for your county for specific instructions on filing the affidavit.
Renew, amend, or withdraw your DBA
Remember that once the name has been claimed for five years, it becomes vulnerable to public claims of ownership and can be claimed by anyone at any time. We recommend setting automatic reminders to renew your name every few years if you desire this.
If you need to change your DBA, contact your county and inquire how.
Similarly, if you need to withdraw your DBA, call your county clerk to request a statement of abandonment. If your county doesn’t have one, please follow the California Legislative Information page rules.
Obtain an EIN
An EIN (Employer Identification Number) is a unique nine-digit number from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to identify business entities for tax purposes.
A DBA does not create a separate legal entity.
If you act as a sole proprietor and don’t have employees, you can use your Social Security number as your tax ID instead of obtaining an EIN.
However, if the DBA hires employees or wants to establish a separate business bank account, they must obtain an EIN.
Open a business bank account
After you have your DBA and EIN, you can open a business bank account. Opening a business bank account is highly recommended for any small business owner.
This will help separate your personal assets and business costs and allow you to easily take check and credit card payments.
- California’s code of regulations – naming guidelines
- California legislative website
- List of California counties
- Clerk of Sacramento County
- Sacremento county fictitious business name information – Here you can search for FBNs in Sacremento and download application forms
- LA county website
- United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)
Advantages and disadvantages of a DBA
Registering a DBA can offer several benefits to businesses:
- Brand flexibility: A DBA can be more versatile than a personal name and can be changed if needed, allowing companies to adapt to product or service changes. A business owner can use multiple DBA names for marketing different products or services, which can help expand their reach and target new customers.
- Improved financial management: By opening a business bank account, business owners can use their business name on bank transactions, making it easier to separate one’s personal assets and business finances.
- Better marketing opportunities: A well-chosen name can be more memorable and descriptive, making it easier for customers to recognize and remember the brand.
- Cost-effective option: Compared to other business structures, such as incorporating or forming an LLC, registering a DBA is often less expensive and less complex, making it a cost-effective option for small businesses.
There are a few drawbacks to registering a DBA:
- Limited legal protection: Unlike other business structures like LLCs or corporations, DBAs do not provide personal liability protection. The business owner is then personally responsible for all debts, obligations, and legal issues associated with the business.
- Increased legal and administrative burden: Registering a new name requires businesses to comply with all legal requirements and register the name with the relevant government agency. This can be a time-consuming process that may require the assistance of an attorney or other legal professional, which can be an added expense.
Who needs a DBA?
A DBA is a common registration for those who wish to operate a business under a name other than their name. The following groups of individuals and companies may benefit from registering a DBA:
- Sole proprietors: These individuals own businesses alone without creating a separate legal entity. A DBA can help them use a different name for marketing their products or services and provide them with more flexibility to adapt to market changes.
- Partnerships: Joint ventures between two or more individuals who want to operate under a different name than their names.
- Corporations: Business entities that want to use a name other than their legal name or conduct business activities under multiple names. For instance, a corporation with a subsidiary that sells software named “Tech Solutions LLC” but wants to sell hardware can file a DBA for “Tech Hardware” to distinguish the two business activities.
- Limited liability companies (LLCs): These flexible business structures allow owners to limit personal liability and protect their assets. LLCs can also register a DBA to conduct business under a different brand if they want to diversify.
Why or why wouldn’t you need a DBA?
You would need a DBA if:
- Operating under a different name: A DBA is necessary if you want to operate your business under a name that isn’t your legal or company name.
- Better marketing and branding: If you want to use a trading name that is more memorable or descriptive of your products or services, a DBA can help.
- Diversifying business activities: If you’re a sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, or LLC looking to conduct business under multiple names, a DBA is required.
- Testing new products or markets: A DBA can allow you to try new products or markets without changing your name.
You might not need a DBA if:
- Using legal name: A DBA is not needed if you’re operating your business under your personal or legal company name.
- Single-owner LLC with no alternative names: A DBA is unnecessary if you have a single-owner LLC and don’t need to conduct business under a different name.
What does a DBA allow me to do?
A DBA lets you perform business under a different name from your legal name, allowing you to establish and maintain a unique brand identity.
Is the process to register a DBA the same in all counties?
The process may vary slightly depending on the county you are filing, so it’s best to check with the local county clerk’s office for specific instructions and requirements.
Can I file online?
Some counties let you file online, but you must visit each county’s website to learn more.
For example, in Los Angeles County, you can file online at LA County County Clerk’s fictitious name portal.
How quickly can I process my DBA?
DBA filing requirements vary across cities and counties in California. Opting for online filing in counties offering this option can significantly reduce the turnaround time.
To comply with legal obligations, filing for a DBA name must be completed within 40 days of starting your business. The name must typically be published in a local newspaper for four consecutive weeks before it can be legally recognized.
Considering these requirements, you should allow at least five weeks to complete your DBA registration.
What is the difference between a DBA and a trademark?
A DBA is a name used to conduct business under a different name than the owner’s or entity’s legal name. At the same time, a trademark is a symbol or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of goods or services of one company from another.
Is a DBA mandatory in California?
By California law, if individuals or entities such as sole proprietors, partnerships, limited liability companies, and corporations intend to operate under a name other than their legal name, they must file a DBA.
Find out how to register a DBA in your state
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