A common question Pennsylvania business owners have is “What is a DBA and do I need one?” There can be a lot of confusing information out there about DBAs so we’re here to break it down for you. DBA stands for “Doing Business As” and typically refers to when:
A sole proprietorship or partnership with no formal legal structure wants to do business under a name other than the name(s) of the owner(s).
An LLC, corporation, etc. wants to do business under a name different from the one registered with the state, or have a product or line of products they want to advertise under a different name than the one registered with the state.
Unfortunately, you can’t just start using the name without formal registration. This is because consumers and customers have to be able to identify who they are doing business with and how to contact them in the case of legal service. Additionally, if you want to enforce a contract or legal matter under the name of the DBA, then you need to have it registered.
So, if you want to have a DBA for your business you have to file a “fictitious name registration” with the Pennsylvania Department of State. This allows you to use the name legally. To file the registration there is a $70 filing fee and a form that can be found HERE. You can also file the form electronically via the Pennfile system.
In addition to the online form, if the DBA is filed for a sole proprietorship or partnership, then an advertisement must be placed in your county legal journal and a paper of general circulation. This requirement does not apply to DBAs filed in association with an entity (LLC, corporation, etc.).
Another important thing to know about DBAs is that they don’t preclude another person or entity filing a DBA or entity with the same name as your DBA. So if you’re looking to formally reserve the name, you may want to protect it separately with a trademark or consider forming an entity. And remember, registration of a fictitious name with the state does not provide liability protection. The use of a fictitious name does not create a separate legal entity but is merely descriptive of a person or association who does business under another name. That means you can’t use “corporation,” “LLC,” or another corporate designator in the DBA name or it could create confusion as to what type of business you are.
Finally, if you filed a fictitious name previously for your sole proprietorship or partnership and now you are filing an entity, you’ll either want to cancel the fictitious name or transfer the ownership of it from the individual owner(s) to the entity to make it clear that when you’re doing business under that name it is under the entity. Even if the entity has the name of the fictitious name, it is important to keep things clean and clear.
DISCLAIMER: This blog post is meant for informational purposes only and does not constitute specific legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship. Readers should discuss their specific situation with an attorney.