How to Register a DBA in Pennsylvania (Step-by-Step Guide)
Starting a new business in Pennsylvania can be a complex and daunting task. As a small business owner, you may not have a dedicated admin team to help you navigate the various legal terms and forms that need to be managed. Nevertheless, choosing a business name is an important initial decision as it is a useful marketing tool to attract potential customers and set your brand apart. This article will explain what a DBA means and provide a comprehensive step-by-step guide to registering for your DBA in Pennsylvania. By following this guide, you can ensure a smooth and hassle-free DBA registration process for your business.
What is a DBA?
The acronym 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 name. This allows a business to market itself under a different name while still being responsible under its legal name. They are also referred to as “fictitious business names,” “assumed names,” and “trade names.”
For instance, if Jane Smith owns a sole proprietorship that makes handcrafted pottery, she can register a new DBA name, such as “Handcrafted Pottery by Jane,” to market her products and services instead of using her own name.
- Choosing a unique 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 associated costs.
Pennsylvania DBA name registration
Choose your name
The first step is to choose your new name. Staying across Pennsylvania’s naming rules and regulations is important when considering your name. For a complete list of rules, visit this webpage.
The rules state that you must:
- Use a unique name not already in use by another business in Pennsylvania
- Avoid using words that suggest an association with a government agency
- Ensure the name is not misleading or deceptive
- Include a reference to the type of business entity, such as LLC or Inc.
- Avoid using financial terms such as “bank,” “credit union,” or similar words.
Check name availability
Once you have chosen your name, you must confirm its uniqueness. To do this, visit the Pennsylvania Secretary of State website and conduct a business search.
Once you have confirmed your name is unique, we recommend buying the web domain of your new DBA name. Buying the web domain prevents others from being able to use that website, and a business website is a valuable marketing tool for any business owner.
Register your name
You can submit your Pennsylvania fictitious name to the Department of State via mail or online. Submit your application via the PENN File website or fill in the registration of the fictitious name form.
Have your company’s information on hand before you begin, as the fictitious name registration form requires a lot of detail.
Among other things, you’ll be asked to provide the following:
- A succinct description of the company
- The company address
- Names and addresses of people with a stake in the company
- Names and addresses of any legal entities with a stake in the company.
- Names of anyone with the power to change or revoke the registration on the parties’ behalf.
If you are submitting your forms by mail, the address is:
Pennsylvania Department of State
Bureau of Corporations and Charitable Organizations
PO Box 8722
Harrisburg, PA 17105-8722
Pay your filing fees
The fees are $70.
Renew, amend, or withdraw your DBA
- Pennsylvania DBA names do not expire, so renewing is unnecessary.
- If you wish to amend, withdraw, or cancel your DBA, you can file online or fill out the fictitious name registration form’s amendment, withdrawal, or cancellation.
- The fee to amend or withdraw is $70.
Advertise your new DBA
Pennsylvania requires you to advertise your new name in a local newspaper. To publish the advertisement, you must choose two newspapers in the county where your business is located.
The newspapers must be in general circulation, and one needs to be a legal newspaper. If there is only one newspaper in your county, you only need to publish in that one.
Your advertisement should include the following information:
- Your new business name
- Your business’s address
- The names and addresses of any individuals listed in Box 4 of your registration form
- A statement stating that you applied or planned to use a fictitious name.
You do not need to send proof of advertising to the state, but you should keep a copy of the advertisement with your business records.
This publishing requirement only applies if a sole proprietorship or a general partnership registers the DBA. It is not required when a legal entity—a corporation, LLC, or other legal entity—registers the fictitious name.
Obtain an EIN
When a business entity wants to pay taxes, they receive a nine-digit number called an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS.
- Even if a business uses a different name than its legal one, it’s still the same entity in the eyes of the law.
- If a sole proprietor runs a business alone and doesn’t have employees, they can use their Social Security number as their tax ID.
- If they hire employees or have a separate bank account for the business, they must have an EIN.
- You can submit an application for an EIN online or by mail.
Open a business bank account
After acquiring your EIN, you can open a business bank account using your registered business name.
A separate account helps you separate your personal assets from your business finances. This makes managing transactions easier and accepting checks and credit card payments.
- Pennsylvania DBA naming rules and regulations
- Pennsylvania Department of State’s business name search website
- PENN file website
- Registration of fictitious name form
- Amendment, withdrawal, cancellation of fictitious name registration
- Recognized county publications
- Legal requirements for publicizing your DBA
- EIN online application
Advantages and disadvantages of a DBA
There are many advantages to registering a DBA:
- Versatility: A trade name can be changed or updated more quickly than a legal business name, allowing business owners to adjust to market conditions or changes in their products or services.
- Separation of personal and business finances: A separate business bank account is possible by applying for a DBA, allowing you to conduct bank transactions under your startup’s name instead of your account. This enables you to receive and issue checks or credit card payments using your business name, making it easier to separate personal assets and business finances.
- Enhanced marketing opportunities: A well-chosen name can be more descriptive and memorable than a legal name. This alternative name can improve brand recognition and increase marketing and advertising opportunities.
- Cost-effective solution: Compared to other business entities, such as Limited Liability Companies (LLCs), registering an assumed name usually is less expensive and more straightforward, making it an affordable and timely option for small business owners and entrepreneurs.
There are some drawbacks to consider:
- Limited legal protection: They do not provide personal liability protection, meaning that the business owner is personally responsible for all debts, obligations, and lawsuits related to the business. This lack of legal protection can be a significant risk to some companies, depending on their industry or services.
- Additional legal and administrative obligations: Registering a new name requires complying with all legal requirements and registering the name with the relevant government agency, which can be time-consuming and add to the business owner’s administrative burden. This additional work can be particularly challenging for small businesses that lack dedicated legal or administrative staff.
Who needs a DBA?
- Sole proprietorships: Individuals who own and operate their business without creating a separate legal entity.
- Partnerships: Joint ventures between two or more individuals who want to operate under a different name than the partners’ names.
- Corporations and LLCs: Business entities that want to use a name different from their legal name or diversify business under multiple names.
Why or why wouldn’t you need a DBA?
A DBA is required when:
- You wish to operate your business under a name different from your personal or your company’s legal name.
- You want to use a more memorable, descriptive, or marketable name for your products or services.
- Your business is a sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, or LLC that plans to conduct business under multiple names.
- You want to test new products or markets without altering your legal name.
When might a DBA not be needed? A DBA may not be necessary if:
- You operate your business under your personal or your company’s legal name.
- You are a single-owner LLC that does not need to do business under a different name to your personal name or the legal name of your LLC.
How long does it take to process my DBA?
Filing for a fictitious name registration in the state typically takes two weeks, with one week for processing and another week for the filed documents to be returned. Form errors leading to rejection can add several weeks to the process.
Is there an option for expedited service?
There is not currently an expedited service in Pennsylvania.
What happens if I do not advertise my DBA?
If you do not advertise your DBA, you may be subject to a fine of up to $500.
Do I need to file with my county as well?
No, registration is completed at the state level, which will be referred to your county.
Do I need to apply for any extra licenses?
A DBA is not a business license. It simply allows you to conduct business under a different name. Depending on your business, you may need to apply for extra licenses.
Find out how to register a DBA in your state
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