How to Register a DBA in Wisconsin (Step-by-Step Guide)
If you are starting a new business in Wisconsin, understanding and staying on top of the various requirements, forms, and legal terminology is essential. This can be especially stressful for small business owners and startups who might not have dedicated admin staff. One important decision you will make is naming your business. If you intend on operating under a name that isn’t your legal or company name, you must file for DBA. This article will unpack DBAs. We will explain what the acronym DBA means, its advantages and disadvantages, if your business may need one, and a step-by-step guide on applying for your DBA in Wisconsin.
What is a DBA?
The abbreviation DBA (doing business as) refers to a company or an individual that operates under a made-up business name.
A company can choose a more appealing trade name than its official title by opting for a DBA. This method allows a business to conduct its operations under a different name while remaining legally responsible for its actions under its legal name.
For example, a sole proprietor who sells handmade instruments, like Steve Clarke, may register a DBA name like “Handmade Guitars by Steve” instead of his own name.
The process generally involves:
- Selecting a unique name
- Verifying its availability
- Submitting the appropriate paperwork to the appropriate government entity, such as the Secretary of State or the county clerk’s office
- A processing and registration fee.
Wisconsin DBA name registration
Confusingly, in Wisconsin, registering a DBA name (referred to as a trade name in Wisconsin) is done by registering a trademark with the state.
Choose your name
When choosing your name, it is important to consider the state-level naming requirements. In Wisconsin, it is required that:
- A business cannot legally register a company name that is the same or similar to another business operating in Wisconsin.
- A business cannot use business entity suffixes such as “LLC” unless it is that type of business.
- A business is not allowed to use financial terms like “bank,” “banker,” and “credit union” without prior approval.
Check name availability
You must conduct a name search to check that your name isn’t too similar to another business in Wisconsin.
A name search can be conducted on the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions webpage. Navigate to the Search Corporate Records page and enter your proposed business name.
Once you have confirmed your name is one of a kind, we recommend buying the web domain. Business websites are excellent marketing tools; once you purchase the domain, it is yours for life. Even if you are still getting ready to launch your website by buying the domain, you prevent others from being able to use it.
Register your name
To file a trade name in Wisconsin, you must file a trademark. This can be done online or by walking in the completed forms.
- First, you need to create a free account online. Full instructions can be found here.
- Next, you must complete the trademark filing form. Full instructions can be found here.
- The application form will ask for the following information:
- Name of business
- Office address
- Name being registered
- What the business does
- Contact information
- You must notarize the form first if you are walking the printed document in.
The form can be delivered to:
4822 Madison Yards Way
Madison, WI 53705
Pay your filing fees
The DBA filing fees are $15.
Renew, amend, or withdraw your DBA
- Wisconsin trade names are valid for ten years. They can be renewed six months before the expiry date.
- You can renew it using this form, submit it online, or walk it in.
- You must file a new registration if you wish to change your DBA name.
- If you are changing addresses and contact information, you must file a trademark amendment. This can be done online or walked in.
- To cancel your name, you have to file a trademark cancellation. This can be done online or walked in.
Obtain an EIN
An EIN (Employer Identification Number) is a unique nine-digit identification number the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) assigns to identify business entities for tax purposes.
If you are a sole proprietor and don’t have employees, you can use your Social Security Number as your tax ID instead of obtaining an EIN.
If the DBA business hires employees or wants to establish a separate business bank account, they must obtain an EIN.
Open a business bank account
Once you have received your EIN, you can open a business bank account.
There are many benefits to a company bank account. It allows you to accept check and credit card payments with more ease and also allows you to segregate your personal assets and business expenses.
Advantages and disadvantages of a DBA
There are many advantages to registering a DBA:
- Flexibility: A DBA name can be changed or updated more easily than a legal business name, giving business owners more flexibility to adapt to changes in their products, services, or market conditions. Business owners can also use multiple DBA names to target different markets or products.
- Separation of personal and business finances: A business bank account can be opened once you have a DBA, which allows you to use your startup’s name on bank transactions. This enables you to receive and issue checks under your company name.
- Increased marketing opportunities: A well-chosen DBA name can be more descriptive and memorable than a legal name. This assumed name can help to increase brand recognition and improve marketing and advertising opportunities.
- Cost-effective alternative: Compared to other business structures, such as Limited Liability Companies (LLCs), registering a DBA is typically less expensive and less complex, making it a cost-effective alternative for small businesses and entrepreneurs.
There are a few disadvantages to registering a DBA:
- Limited liability protection: Unlike other business structures, such as LLCs, DBAs do not provide personal liability or legal protection, meaning that the business owner is personally responsible for all debts, obligations, and lawsuits related to the business.
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?
You would need a DBA:
- If you plan to run your business using a name that isn’t your own or your company’s legal name.
- If you want to create a more marketable, memorable, or descriptive name for your products or services.
- If you are a sole proprietor, general partnership, corporation, or LLC and want to conduct business under different names.
- If you want to test new products or markets without changing your legal name.
You may not need a DBA if:
- If you operate your business using your personal or company’s legal name.
- If you are a single-owner LLC, that does not need to do business under a different name than your personal name or the name of your LLC.
Does my new DBA give me a business license?
No, a business license and a DBA are two separate things. If you need a business license, you need to apply for that separately.
Is a DBA mandatory in the state?
It is not mandatory to register a trade name in Wisconsin. Wisconsin State Statute 132.01 provides the full details.
Do I have to advertise my new name in a local newspaper?
Advertising your new DBA is not required in Wisconsin. However, there are many benefits to letting a local community know about your new business.
How long does it take to process my DBA?
It takes between 3-5 business days to process a DBA application. There is no option for expedited services.
Are my Wisconsin DBA and a trademark the same thing?
Generally, a DBA and a trademark are two different things. In Wisconsin, a DBA name is qualified as a state trademark. It is not trademarked nationally.
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