How to Register a DBA in Rhode Island (Step-by-Step Guide)

Last updated: March 12th, 2024
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Starting a new business in Rhode Island can be a complex process. There are many legal forms to fill in and critical decisions to make. This process can be particularly overwhelming for small business owners who do not have dedicated admin staff and need to navigate these decisions alone. One key decision that needs to be made in the early stages is naming your business. This article will focus on what a DBA means, if and when you may need one, and a step-by-step to apply for one in Rhode Island.

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What is a DBA?

The DBA acronym, meaning “doing business as,” refers to a company or individual conducting business operations under a fictitious name. They are also referred to as “fictitious business names,” “assumed names,” and “trade names.”

DBAs are viable if a business wants to use a more marketable trade name than its official title. A DBA allows a business to use a different name while still being legally accountable for the business under its legal name.

For instance, if John Smith operates a sole proprietorship that sells handmade candles, he can register a DBA name, such as “The Candle Co. by John,” to promote his products and services instead of using his own name.

The process for registering a DBA varies by state. Generally, the process involves

  1. Selecting a unique business name
  2. Verifying its availability
  3. Filing the appropriate forms with the relevant government agency, such as the Secretary of State or county clerk’s office. 
  4. Paying a filing fee associated with the registration process.

Rhode Island DBA name registration

In Rhode Island, where you file your DBA depends on the type of business.

If you are an informal business such as a general partnership or sole proprietor, you file with your County Clerk. 

If you are a formal incorporation such as an LLC or Corporation, you file with the Secretary of State at the state level. 

More on this later.

Choose your name

The first step is to choose your new name. Your name needs to adhere to the Rhode Island DBA naming rules that can be found here.

The rules outline:

  • The name must be unique.
  • The name must be distinguishable from other businesses.
  • Your name cannot be confused with a government agency (FBI, Treasury, etc.).
  • Restricted words may need extra paperwork and licenses in order to be used (particularly in the banking, education, and law industries).

Check name availability

Once your name meets the state requirements, you must confirm that it is unique and distinguishable from other businesses.

Go to the Rhode Island business database and search for your name.

Once you have confirmed your name is unique, we recommend purchasing the web domain associated with your new DBA name. This prevents others from being able to buy your domain and will serve as a helpful marketing tool. Owning the domain is a good idea, even if you aren’t ready to launch your business website.

Register your name

Sole proprietors and general partnerships

In Rhode Island, businesses structured as general partnerships, sole proprietorships, estates, or real estate investment companies must file a DBA with the city’s City Clerk.

To obtain a City of Providence DBA, you can follow the provided step-by-step directions. Please contact the local city clerk if you are looking for directions for a different city.

A directory of local city clerks can be found here.

  1. Providence requires that any business operating under a name different from its legal name needs to file for an assumed business name.
  2. Before you fill in your forms, it is a good idea to check Providence tradenames to double-check check your name is unique.
  3. You need to complete the certificate of assumed business name.
  4. Submit it in person at:

Providence City Hall
25 Dorrance Street
Room 311

Incorporated businesses

The Rhode Island Department of State requires incorporated businesses to file their Certificate of Assumed Name.

The following business types are considered incorporated:

  • For-profit Corporations
  • Nonprofit Corporations
  • Professional Corporations
  • Professional Associations
  • Limited Partnerships
  • Limited Liability Partnerships
  • Limited Liability Companies
  • Foreign Filing Entities

It is important to note that certain cities, such as Providence, mandate that all businesses operating under a name other than their legal name must file an assumed name with the city. Please consult your local city clerk’s office to determine if you must file an assumed name.

  1. Incorporated business can either file online or by printing the forms (corporationLLCLP) and mailing them in.
  2. The forms will ask for your new name and information about your business, such as:
    • The legal name of the business
    • Entity ID number
    • Date and location of incorporation
    • An overview of what the business is engaged in
  3. Once you have filed your forms, if you are mailing them in, send them to:

Division of Business Services
148 W. River Street
Providence, RI 02904-2615

Pay your filing fees

Sole proprietors and general partnerships

  • The city sets the DBA filing fees, so you must enquire with them to find out the fees.
  • In Providence, the fees are $10.
  • If your document is not notarized, you can have it notarized when you hand it in for $5.
  • Certified copies are available for $1.

Incorporated businesses

  • The state fees are $50.

Renew, amend, or withdraw your DBA

Sole proprietors and general partnerships

  • Your City Clerk manages DBA compliance, so contact them for more information.
  • In Providence, DBAs do not expire, so renewing is unnecessary.
  • If you wish to amend your DBA in Providence, you must withdraw your current name and file again.
  • To withdraw your name in Providence, contact your City Clerk at 401) 680-5248.

Incorporated businesses

Obtain an EIN

The IRS gives business entities an Employer Identification Number (EIN) for tax purposes.

It’s important to remember that a DBA (Doing Business As) doesn’t establish a separate legal entity.

If a sole proprietor with no employees intends to use their Social Security number as a tax ID, they may do so.

Still, a DBA that hires employees or operates with a separate business bank account needs an EIN.

Obtaining an EIN can be done online or via mail application.

Open a business bank account

Once you have obtained your EIN, you can create a business bank account using your newly registered business name.

A separate bank account allows you to differentiate your business finances from your personal assets. It also allows you to accept checks and credit card payments more readily.

Useful links

Advantages and disadvantages of a DBA

There are many advantages to registering a DBA: 

  • Brand flexibility: A DBA name can be more versatile than a legal business name. It can be changed if needed, allowing businesses to adapt to product or market 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 under a DBA name, business owners can use their business name on bank transactions, making it easier to keep one’s personal and business finances separate.
  • Better marketing opportunities: A well-chosen name can be more memorable and descriptive than a legal name, 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 more manageable, making it a cost-effective option for small businesses and entrepreneurs.

There are a few drawbacks to registering a DBA name:

  • Limited legal protection: Unlike other business structures like Limited Liability companies 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. The business owner’s personal assets could be at risk if the company is sued.
  • Legal and administrative burden: Using a DBA name requires registering the name with the relevant government agency, which can be time-consuming. The legal and administrative burden increases with multiple DBAs, requiring the owner to maintain and update legal documents periodically.

Who needs a DBA?

  • Sole Proprietors: These individuals run their businesses without forming a separate legal entity. A DBA allows them to use a different name for marketing their products or services, giving them more flexibility to adapt to changes in the market.
  • General Partnerships: Joint ventures between two or more individuals who want to operate under a different name than the partners’ names.
  • Corporations: Companies often need to use a different name than their legal name or take on multiple names for different business activities. For instance, if a company has a subsidiary that offers landscaping services under “Green Solutions LLC,” but they also want to get into selling gardening supplies, it can file a DBA for “Garden Supplies” to distinguish between the two business activities.
  • Limited Liability Companies (LLCs): LLCs are flexible business structures that allow owners to limit their liability and protect their assets.

Why or why wouldn’t you need a DBA?

You would need a DBA if:

  • You intend to operate your business under a name other than your or your company’s legal name.
  • You want a trading name that is easier to market, remember, or describe your products or services.
  • You are a sole proprietor, partnership, corporation, or LLC and want to conduct business under multiple names.
  • You want to test a new product or market without changing your legal name.

You may not need a DBA if:

  • You are operating your business under your personal name or your company’s name.


Can I reserve a name?

If you wish to reserve a name, visit the business services online filing system. Names can be reserved for 120 days.

Do I need to file with my city?

All sole proprietors and general partnerships need to file with their city. Some cities, such as Providence, require incorporated businesses to file with the city and the state. To find out, contact your city.

Do I need to advertise my new DBA?

Many states require you to advertise your new name in a local newspaper. Rhode Island doesn’t need this, but promoting your new business can be a good idea.

Do I need to apply for extra licenses?

Depending on what your business does, you may need to apply for extra licenses. Extra licenses are required if you are in the financial or education sector. Remember that a DBA is not a substitute for a business license.

How long does it take to process my DBA?

It takes between 5-7 days to process a DBA registration. Rhode Island does not currently offer any expedited services.

Find out how to register a DBA in your state

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