If you run a business under an assumed name in California, you may want to set up a DBA. Short for “Doing Business As,” a DBA serves as an alternate title for your business. Often, a DBA is the name customers will use to refer to your company. In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about DBAs: who needs one, who doesn’t, and three easy steps to filing your DBA.
In Alabama, the DBA is actually called a “Fictitious Name.” Essentially, they’re the same concept. “Fictitious Name” is just the terminology used within the state. For consistency, we’ll call it a Fictitious Name throughout the rest of this guide.
NOTE: Keep in mind that filing a trade name will not give your business protection through the corporate veil like an LLC will. If this is something you want or need, don’t fret, there are many online services that can help you take care of the paperwork.
Do You Need a California Fictitious Name?
Not all business entities in California need a Fictitious Name. Ordinarily, a business needs a Fictitious Name when the name of their business differs from the name registered with the state.
So let’s say that Lauren operates a sole proprietorship; her legal business formation documents list her full name as the legal owner of the business. But if she wants to run her shop under the name Sew Sweet Creations, she’d need to file a Fictitious Name in order to use that name. A Fictitious Name is also useful for corporations which want to establish additional businesses or locations with a name that’s different from the Corporation name.
Limited liability companies, nonprofit corporations, and corporations operating exclusively under the name on file with the state usually do not need a Fictitious Name. They may choose to use one if they want to establish a new product line or chain of businesses under their original parent company.
A California Fictitious Name does present a few advantages. While it doesn’t offer any specific legal protections or tax incentives, a Fictitious Name allows you to get a business bank account. You can also give your customers piece of mind—most people are more comfortable writing a check to a business than an individual.
1) File Your DBA with the Local County Clerk
California is unique; it does not have a DBA filing at the statewide level. Instead, you must file your DBA with your local government. We strongly recommend you consult your local clerk’s website for filing requirements.
While you’re on your local clerk or recorder’s website, you’ll want to also run a search to learn what names are already in use (and thus unavailable for you to use) in your county. Depending on your local requirements, you may have to make changes to your name if it’s too similar to a pre-existing business.
For example, Los Angeles County serves a wide variety of businesses in California. People completing business under a name that is not their surname must file a Fictitious Name, or a DBA. Prior to doing so, a Fictitious Business Name Search must be completed.
If you operate the same business in multiple counties, you’ll also need to complete this process in those counties.
2) Declare Your California Fictitious Name to the Public
In California, you are required to make a public declaration of your Fictitious Name within 30 days of filing the registration with your local office. Essentially, you’ll put out an “ad” stating your name in a local newspaper or similar publication. You’ll need to do so for four weeks; then, obtain a written declaration that you’ve done so from the publication. Your local clerk will need a copy of this document. This process allows the public to be fully aware who’s behind a business.
3) Maintaining your California Fictitious Name
Renewal fees and requirements for a Fictitious Name vary based on your local jurisdiction. Normally, though, a Fictitious Name Registration is valid for five years. After that, you’ll need to submit a renewal with the state. The renewal forms are usually quite similar to the initial registration. We’d recommend that while you complete the initial registration, you also confirm the renewal requirements for your county.
Need Help Filing your Fictitious Name?
If this process sounds like a hassle, you can get help with setting up your business’s name with a service like Legalzoom. They make the process simple: you simply provide them with the necessary information about your company, and they’ll fill out the paperwork so you don’t have to. The process is both easy and affordable, letting you focus on running your business.
Your name is an important part of your business, but keeping compliant with state requirements can be tricky! We hope this guide made it quick and easy to set up your California Fictitious Name.