What is a DBA and do I need to get one in California?
Guide to the DBA (aka FBN) in California
The DBA (aka FBN or FBNS). It’s a lot of letters, so what does it all mean?
DBA stands for “Doing Business As,” for example, if you are Suzy James doing business as “Graphic Design Associates.” DBA is also used informally to describe the document you need to get if you are doing business in a name other than your own (more on this in a bit).
FBN is short for Fictitious Business Name, which is simply the formal term for a DBA. FBNS is a Fictitious Business Name Statement, which is the formal term for the document you need to file and obtain if you are using a DBA.
Essentially DBA = FBN = FBNS, so we will just use the term DBA for simplicity.
When do I need a DBA?
If you have an LLC, corporation, or other entity
If you have properly registered or set up an LLC, corporation, or other entity for the business, you do NOT need a DBA simply to do business under the name of the LLC or corporation. (Keep in mind that setting up an entity does not necessarily give you the right to use that name if someone else is already using the name in the same industry; if you are infringing someone else’s trademark, you could be forced to change your business name).
If you have an LLC, corporation, or other entity, and you want to use an additional name for that business, then you DO need a DBA. For example, you have Graphic Design LLC, but you want to also do business as (or solely do business as) Supergraphics Design. FYI you cannot use the terms “LLC,” “Inc,” “Corp,” etc for a DBA. If you wanted to use the name Supergraphics Design LLC you would need to either change the name of your LLC, or create an additional LLC.
If you do NOT have an LLC, corporation, or other entity
If you do NOT have an entity, and your business is owned by just you: you would need to get a DBA if you want to use a business name that does NOT include your last name. For example, if your name is Amanda Gonzalez and you do business as Amanda Gonzalez Consulting or even simply Gonzalez Consulting, you do NOT need a DBA. But if you wanted to do business as Superlative Consulting, you DO need a DBA.
If you do NOT have an entity and your business is owned by multiple people: you would need to get a DBA if you want to use a business name that does NOT include each of the partners/owners last name. For example, if you are Suzy James and Amanda Gonzalez, and you do business as James & Gonzalez Graphics & Consulting, you do NOT need a DBA. But if you do business as Supergraphics Consulting, you would need a DBA.
How do I get a DBA?
You need to file with the county clerk where your business is based. If you are within Los Angeles County, you would file with the Los Angeles County Clerk. If you are in Santa Clara County, you would file with the Santa Clara County Clerk.
First you should check the DBA database (LA County) to see if anyone else has already registered a DBA with the same or similar business name. After filing, you need to contact a certified local newspaper (usually the clerk will provide a list) for them to publish your name once per week for 4 weeks.
Does the DBA expire?
Yes, you will need to renew the DBA every 5 years.
Is a DBA a type of business structure?
No, this is a common misconception. See our Guide to Business Structures.