There are dozens of decisions to make when you start a business, but one of the most important ones is your business name. Some might even say that it’s harder than naming a baby. After all, the government doesn’t give “rules” about what you can name your children. They do give rules for business names.
Thanks to those legal regulations, DBAs are one type of business name that can get a bit confusing. So if you’re wondering what a DBA is, if you need one, or how you can get one, you’re in the right place. In this guide, we’ll cover all the essentials to Utah DBAs so you don’t have to sort through the legal jargon and focus on what really counts: your business.
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 good LLC services in UT that can help you take care of the paperwork.
What is a Utah DBA?
A DBA—often called a trade name or fictitious name or assumed name—is a type of business name. More specifically, it’s a fake name used by a business, much like you might use a nickname around family and friends.
A bit more technically, a DBA differs from the business’s legal name. Here’s where it becomes important to note what kind of entity you’re running.
For example, let’s say Lauren Smith operates as a sole proprietorship. From a legal standpoint, her business is indistinct from her own person. So her business’s legal name is, well…Lauren Smith. Not many people want to call their business by their own name.
Lauren sells handmade baby clothes, so she decides to name her shop “Sew Sweet Creations.” Unless she incorporates as an LLC or corporation, she’d be using a DBA. Because of this scenario, DBAs are most commonly used by unincorporated entities.
That said, many corporations and LLCs also choose to use DBAs. For example, a local restaurant, “Becky’s Bistro,” might want to expand across their county, with a slightly different name for each location. Instead of creating a new LLC for the new locations, Becky might get a DBA for it. Corporations might do something similar for new product lines, too.
But that’s DBAs in a nutshell!
Is DBA registration required in Utah?
Utah, like most states, requires you to register a DBA if you intend to use one. Thankfully, the registration process is pretty simple, and once you’ve completed it, you effectively prevent anyone else from being able to use the same name as you.
Here’s why: Utah law requires all business names一both legal names and DBAs alike一to be distinguishable on the record. Simply put, no two names can be exactly the same. When you register, you add your name to the state record, which means any future entrepreneur must make their name different from yours. That exclusivity is nice. Even if the state didn’t require registration, we’d recommend it for that reason alone.
Benefits to Registering a Utah DBA
There are several benefits to registering a DBA. Like we’ve just mentioned, one of the biggest benefits is that you’ll effectively get exclusive rights to your name. You won’t technically “own” the name, but since no one else can register a duplicate of your name, you still prevent others from using the same name as you. This doesn’t apply to businesses in other states, of course, but while you’re just starting out, there’s a lot of peace of mind knowing that no one else in Utah has a name like yours.
One benefit you might not think of right away is that a DBA allows you to get a business bank account in that name. This isn’t a necessity for many entrepreneurs, but from an accounting standpoint, it’s really helpful. You can keep all your “business funds” in one place, separate from your personal funds. That’s a good habit to start from the get-go (especially if you ever intend to become an incorporated entity later).
On a similar note, a DBA gives your customers peace of mind. It’s not uncommon for customers to write checks, right? Without a DBA, they’d write the check to you personally. Some people are leery about that. But thanks to a business bank account, Lauren can tell her customers to make their checks out to “Sew Sweet Creations.” It’s just a psychological thing, but a DBA gives your business an extra layer of legitimacy.
Register your Utah DBA in 3 Steps
1. Check that your DBA doesn’t infringe on any legally protected names.
Before you register a DBA, you have to do your homework to ensure that you actually have clearance to use that name. Here are a few of the names you cannot use:
- Names that are already in use as the legal names of any corporations, LLCs, and other protected entities in Utah
- Names that have already been registered as DBAs in Utah
- Names that have been reserved for future use as the legal names of incorporated entities
- Names that are protected by U.S. trademark law
The Utah Department of Commerce will automatically reject your DBA if it infringes on other names registered in the state. They won’t check the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s database for you. That’s why it’s important to complete a few different searches.
First, you’ll need to run a Business Name Search. This is your way to check the state database for any exact matches to your DBA. As a general rule, if you search your desired DBA and the tool pulls up any matches, you’ll need to change your name.
Resource: Need help with the Business Name Search? Check out our full name search guide here.
Next, we recommend searching the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s trademark database. Even though trademarks are usually regarded as visuals or logos, any names and text included within those visuals are nationally protected. That means no other names or visuals in the entire United States can’t be the same or similar as a trademarked name.
There are plenty of examples of different small businesses being taken to court for infringing on the name of large international chains, but we won’t get into them. Just rest assured that you’ll be doing yourself a big favor by ensuring that your name is completely unique.
Another optional search is just your tried-and-true Google search. This won’t give you any systematic, organized results like what you’d get from the Business Name Search. But it will give you insight into names being used everywhere.
For example, you might find that your desired name is being used by another business in a neighboring state. That’s fine as long as the name isn’t trademarked and you intend to run business exclusively in Utah. But if you have any aspirations of expanding into other states, you’ll want to know what names are in use there.
2. File the appropriate DBA application.
In Utah, the actual process of registering your DBA is pretty simple. Your go-to form is the DBA Application. This one-page form requests a lot of information about you and your business: your desired name, your business purpose, your contact information, your registered agent (if applicable), and several other facts about your business.
There’s a $22 fee for this filing, and you can complete it online, by fax, or by mail. But no matter how you choose to file, once the Department of Commerce approves the application, your DBA is set to go.
3. Renew your DBA.
In some states, a DBA lasts forever. But in Utah, the DBA registration only lasts for three years. If you intend to keep using your DBA after that three-year period is up, you can easily renew your DBA online. There’s a $27 fee for the renewal. As long as you renew on time, this is a relatively simple process.
If you accidentally let the name expire, you won’t necessarily face any extreme penalties, but your name gets up for grabs again; someone could register it out from under you because you’d need to re-register your name. To avoid this hassle entirely, we recommend ensuring that you renew the DBA on time.imple.
Other Considerations for Your DBA
Now that you’re a proud owner of a Utah registered DBA, there are a couple things to keep in mind.
Most importantly, you should note that a DBA does not give you any personal asset protection. That’s a perk that comes with incorporating your business, such as forming an LLC or corporation.
If you already are (or you’re thinking about forming) an LLC or a corporation, then you get personal asset protection and even privacy through a registered agent service. This means that if something ever goes wrong with your business, your personal belongings—your car, your house, your personal savings account—are protected. Creditors or legal plaintiffs cannot touch them.
That protection is not available to unincorporated entities like partnerships or sole proprietorships. Moreover, applying for a DBA does not grant you that protection. In these cases, if something went wrong with your business, you’d have to pay any debts out of personal funds. So please don’t rely on a DBA for those protections.
Next, keep in mind that registering a DBA doesn’t prevent businesses in other states from using that name. The same applies for business’s legal names, too. We won’t get too technical with this, but each state governs its own businesses with no effect on businesses in other states. So as a businessperson in Utah, you’ll follow Utah law and federal (national) law for businesses. Colorado, for example, has no jurisdiction over your business unless you choose to expand into Colorado. This affects business names, too.
If you want to protect your DBA or legal name outside of Utah, you do have options. Foremost among them is applying for a trademark with USPTO. If that’s something you’re interested in, we recommend seeking additional legal counsel. Trademarks are a very complicated (and expensive) process, and a lawyer will help you conquer every aspect of the application.
DBAs might sound a bit complicated, but they don’t have to be. As long as you follow the proper state guidelines, it’s actually as simple as filling out the form and paying the filing fee. Hopefully this guide has taken away some of the guesswork to Utah DBAs.
If you decide that forming an actual entity is right for you, we recommend forming a Utah LLC for most small businesses and entrepreneurs. You can either register it yourself or hire a UT LLC filing service.