If you run a business under an assumed name in Wisconsin, 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 two easy steps to filing with the state.
In Wisconsin, the DBA is actually called a “Trade Name.” Essentially, they’re the same concept. “Trade Name” is just the terminology used by the state. For consistency, we’ll call it a Trade 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 Wisconsin Trade Name?
Not all business entities in Wisconsin need a Trade Name. Ordinarily, a business needs a Trade 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 Trade Name in order to use that name. A Trade 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 Trade 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 Wisconsin Trade Name does present a few advantages. While it doesn’t offer any specific legal protections or tax incentives, a Trade Name allows you to get a business bank account. You can also give your customers peace of mind—most people are more comfortable writing a check to a business than an individual.
In Wisconsin, you are not required to register your name, but you may find it helpful. Registering your name makes it a part of public record. For one thing, you technically become the owner of your name by being the first to use it. But in the event of a dispute over name ownership, proving that you were first can be difficult. Having a public record would act as one form of documentation. It may also be helpful for obtaining business bank accounts.
1) File Your Trade Name with the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions
If you decide to register your Trade Name, you can do so with the Department of Financial Institutions. Before you do so, though, you should ensure that your name does not infringe on the rights of another business.
Unfortunately, determining your name’s availability is a bit tricky since the state does not require registration. Only some of the entities will be on file and searchable in the Department of Financial Institution’s database. This database is a good starting point; type in your desired name and check for any exact matches.
Wisconsin also recommends that you search the Internet, phone books, trade journals, and the United States Patent and Trademark database to determine if your name is really yours to use. Your name should be distinguishable from names on record with the state as well as the Trade Names owned by businesses throughout Wisconsin.
After that, you can submit your Registration of a Tradename/Trademark. This form serves to officially register your name with the department. The form includes some information about your business, including your contact information, a signature, and of course, the name you wish to use. You can file by mail.
The state requires a fee of $15 for this registration. You can pay by check made payable to the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions.
For more information, you can consult the state’s Tradename/Trademark Information Sheet. If you’d like to take further steps to protect your name, Wisconsin recommends that you consult an attorney to discuss your options.
2) Maintaining your Wisconsin Trade Name
Your initial registration is valid for ten years after filing. If you want to continue using your Trade Name after that point, you should renew the name. The filing process is exactly the same; it even uses the same form.
In addition, if you ever decide to stop using your Trade Name, you can file a cancellation of your name. Doing so would help keep the both the state and consumers aware of who’s behind businesses in Wisconsin. You can find all forms and information sheets on Trade Names here.
Need Help Filing your Trade 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 Wisconsin Trade Name.