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

Last updated: March 12th, 2024
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Starting a new business in Washington can be a daunting undertaking. There are countless legal terms to familiarize yourself with and many forms that need to be filled in. Many key decisions need to be made, with one of the most important being naming your business. A name can go a long way in dictating your business’s success. One way to name your business is by applying for a DBA. This article will focus on what a DBA means, if and when your business needs one, and a step-by-step guide to applying in Washington.

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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. It can be 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.

Sole proprietors, general partnerships, and corporations often choose to register for a DBA if they want to use a different name that better represents their products or services or if they want to use a more creative and catchy 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 DBA filing fee associated with the registration process.

Washington DBA name registration

In Washington, DBAs are referred to as trade names. You must file for a Washington business license to use a trade name. The chances are that you may need a business license anyway, as one is required if:

  • You plan to hire employees within 90 days
  • You offer products or services that generate taxable sales
  • You have an annual gross income of $12,000
  • You require city and state endorsements.

Choose your name

First, you need to choose a name for your business. It’s important to stay compliant with the state-level naming rules and regulations. A list of rules can be found here. The rules state:

  • Trade names should not use any business entity suffixes like LLC, Inc, etc., unless that is that type of business.
  • Certain words are prohibited, such as “bank,” “banker,” “industrial,” and “loan.” If you wish to use these terms, you must receive prior approval.

When you register a trade name in Washington, you let other business owners know that the name is in use.

Your trade name isn’t protected from being used by others, and there is no need for your name to be unique. However, there are many benefits to having a unique name, and we recommend that you create a unique name. 

Check name availability

Next, you need to check that your name is available and that it meets the state requirements.

You should head to the Washington Department of Revenue website and conduct a business search.

Once you have checked that your name is available, we recommend buying the web address of your new name. Even if you are still getting ready to launch your website, by buying the web domain, you prevent others from being able to use it.

Register your name

The Department of Revenue handles business license applications. You can apply online through the My DOR portal or by completing the form.

The Department of Revenue provides a useful web page on how to apply for a new license that can help aid your application, as the form is particularly in-depth.

The form will ask for the following information:

  • Ownership structure
  • Unified business identifier (UBI)
  • Business opening date and place of incorporation
  • Business address and contact information
  • Estimated gross income
  • Date of first employment

If you submit the form physically, you can walk it into any local office. If you are mailing the form, you need to send it to the following address:

State of Washington
Business Licensing Service
PO Box 9034
Olympia, WA 98507-9034

Pay your filing fees

Registering your new DBA costs $5.

However, if you have yet to register a business and are applying for a business license, the cost is $50.

Renew, amend, or withdraw your DBA

  • Trade names do not expire in Washington, so renewing is unnecessary.
  • You can make changes to your trade name by filling in the registration form and checking the box next to “change trade name.”
  • If you want to withdraw your trade name, you can withdraw it online or by emailing [email protected] and requesting a cancellation of your new name.

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 both 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: 

  • Customizable name: A DBA can be altered more quickly than a legal business name, allowing business owners to change their name according to their evolving products and services or market conditions. It also allows multiple names to target different products and markets, increasing the scope and customer base.
  • Clear financial separation: Filing for a DBA allows business owners to establish a business bank account under the company name instead of a personal account. This separation allows for more transparent financial records, prevents confusion, and protects personal assets. It also makes it easier to receive cheques and card payments.
  • Brand recognition: A well-crafted DBA name is often more descriptive and memorable than a legal name. It helps in brand recognition, business promotion, and marketing and advertising the products or services easier.
  • Cost-effective: DBA registration is usually less expensive than other business structures, such as limited liability companies (LLCs). It is a more affordable option for small business owners and entrepreneurs that want to create a unique identity without spending too much money.

However, there are a few downsides to registering a DBA:

  • Personal liability: DBAs do not provide legal protection or personal liability protection, meaning that the business owner is personally responsible for all debts, obligations, and lawsuits related to the business. It exposes the owner to the risk of personal bankruptcy, as the owner is solely responsible.
  • 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?

The following groups may benefit from filing a DBA:

  • Sole Proprietors: Business owners who operate without creating a separate legal entity. A DBA allows them to use a different name for marketing their products or services, allowing them to adapt to market changes more effectively.
  • Partnerships: Joint ventures between two or more individuals who want to operate under a name other than their partners’ names. Filing a DBA can help partners represent their partnership and increase brand recognition.
  • Corporations: Companies that wish to use a name different from their legal name or diversify their business activities under multiple names. For example, suppose a corporation has a subsidiary that sells software named “Tech Solutions LLC” but also wants to sell hardware. In that case, it can file a DBA for “Tech Hardware” to differentiate between the two business activities.

Why or why wouldn’t you need a DBA?

You would need a DBA if:

  • Operating under a different name: If you plan to use a name that differs from your legal or company name, then a DBA may be necessary.
  • Multiple business names: Corporations, LLCs, sole proprietorships, and partnerships that operate under numerous business names may need a DBA to keep their branding and legal structures distinct.
  • Test new products or markets: A DBA can be useful for testing or entering new markets without changing your legal name.

A DBA may not be necessary if:

  • Operating under legal or personal name: A DBA may not be necessary if you operate under your or your company’s legal name.


What’s the difference between a DBA and a trade name?

There is no difference, a DBA is also known as a trade name, an assumed name, or a fictitious business name, but they all mean the same thing.

Do I need to advertise my new DBA name in a local newspaper? 

No, it is not mandated to advertise your DBA in Washington. However, advertising your new business in the local community has many benefits.

Does my DBA give me a business license?

In most states, a DBA does not give you a business license; however, when you apply for a trade name in Washington, you must file for a business license.

How long does it take to process my DBA?

Online applications are normally processed within ten business days. It can take up to three weeks if you file by paper. 

Find out how to register a DBA in your state

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