What is a “DBA” or Fictitious Business Name “FBN” Filing

Simply put, a “DBA” stands for “Doing Business As…”, where a person or a company is operating their business using a business name other than their real, actual name. DBA is also known as “FBN” that stands for Fictitious Business Name.

For example, John Smith may wish to start a new business called “West Coast Plumbing”. His business name is obviously not his real name, so a DBA registration is required. For a person wanting to file a DBA, as a Sole Proprietorship, if the name of that person (John Smith for our example) is not used in any way as part of the company name, then a DBA will be necessary. But if John Smith wishes to do business as “John Smith Plumbing”, then a DBA is not required because the person’s real name is identifiable within the business name.

Similarly, when a Corporation, an LLC, a General Partnership, etc. wishes to do business under a name other than what the true legal name of the Corporation or LLC etc. was filed under, then a DBA is required. If your Corporation’s name is “Western Consultants, Inc.”, and you are doing business only as “Western Consultants, Inc”, then you do not need a DBA, since it’s the same name, and there is nothing to file the DBA for. If your “Western Consultants, Inc.” corporation wants to also do business under the name “Westpro” for example, then a DBA is required to show the original legal Corporation name and the name it is doing business as.

In many States, the necessary forms to register a DBA are completed and filed with the local County Clerks Office, not with the State or City. Each county has its own DBA filing requirements, forms, filing fees, and newspapers authorized for DBA publication.


Where should I file my DBA or FBN registration?

Generally the DBA/FBN registration forms will ask for the street address of your business. It can be your home or an office. Therefore, the registration will be filed in the county where your business is located. You cannot file it in a different county from your place of business, unless you have a business address in that other county as well. It is possible to file a DBA in multiple counties, but only if you have an address therefore in each of the counties.


Can I use a PO Box as the address for filing?

A PO Box number is not allowed. A street address must be indicated, either your home or office.


What name or words can I use in my DBA?

You may use basically any word as part of your business name, such as “Joe’s Bakery”, “West Coast Plumbing”, “Kids Company”, “The Haircut Place”, “Johnson & Associates”, “Bay Area Consulting”, “Valley Technology Group”, and so on. You may include part of your personal name, or business location, or description of the products or services you will offer.


What words are prohibited?

You may not use any word that will imply your company is a different type of entity than is really is. For example, you may not use “Inc”, “Corp”, “Ltd”, “LLC” as the ending of your DBA name, if your company really is not a Corporation or LLC. This would be misrepresentation. Remember, filing a DBA is not the same as creating a corporation, and you may not pretend or mislead the public to think you are a corporation or LLC by adding “Inc” or “Corp” or “Ltd” or “LLC” to your desired business name.


Similarly, if you are applying for a DBA under an existing corporation, (in other words, a Corporation wants to have a DBA and do business under another name), this is perfectly legal and allowed, as long as the DBA to register does not have “Inc”, “Corp” or “Ltd” in the DBA name. For example, “Smith Technology Corporation” desires to file a DBA of “SmithTech”, which is allowed. However, if Smith Technology Corporation wishes a DBA of “SmithTech Inc.”, this would be rejected, since the “Inc.” on the end of SmithTech seems to indicate SmithTech is a corporation itself.


What does a DBA or FBN filing do for me?

The most important immediate use of a DBA is the ability to open a bank account in the name of the business. Without such a DBA registered, it is virtually impossible to open an bank account, and banks will generally instruct you to come back at a later date, when you can show them your filed copy of your DBA registration certificate.


What does a DBA or FBN filing not do for me?

A DBA is not the same as incorporating your business. It is also not filing of a trademark, and it is not a business license. A DBA registration is merely an official county-level recording of the business’s name and the real name of the person(s) operating a business. Bear in mind, in many cases, a DBA filing will not prevent others from also filing the same DBA business name. DBA’s filed are generally not checked against existing government records by county clerks to see if the name is already in use. Therefore, there is no protection offered your business name. There could possibly be several businesses operating in the county as DBAs, all with the same name. However, according to the county laws, you are required to research your proposed name to see if it will conflict with an existing registered name. Moreover, even if your proposed name may not be in use in your specific county of operations, you would need to consider that there could be a corporation, LLC or other entity filed with the State government, or even an existing State or Federal trademark, which your proposed DBA name would infringe upon.


How many DBA or FBN names can I register?

There is no general limitation to the number of DBAs you can register and do business using. However, there is a fee for each name filed. Since each DBA name is merely a business name and is not formation of a completely new business, you can file and operate under a limitless number of DBA business names. You can file one or several DBA names at the same time, or add new DBA names at a later date. Bear in mind that there are additional costs for each DBA Name you register beyond the first name you desire and the cost varies from county to county, so call you local County Clerks Office to find out the fee.


Who must sign the DBA or FBN application?

In the case of an Individual person making the DBA application, he or she must sign it as the business proprietor. If a General Partnership is applying, then all partners must sign the application. For a Corporation or LLC, any one corporate officer or director may sign. Please note, that Corporations and LLCs must provide copies of their filed Articles of Incorporation/Organization with the application, to prove their existence.


How long is a DBA of FBN registration good for?

DBA filings are for a period of 5 years in most counties but check with your local office to find out the life of your DBA in your county. Remember the the expired time a renewal must be filed, or you will need to start over again with a new DBA filing.


What alternatives to DBA/FBN are there?

If you desire to begin a new business and have been advised you need to “register a business name”, it is also possible to incorporate your business rather than file a DBA. There are advantages and disadvantages to both types of business structures.


If you like this also read Obtaining & Filing a Business Certificate in New York