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Forming a Houston, Texas DBA

You can operate a business in Houston under a name that is not the name of the company or person who is operating the business. This is often called a "DBA" or "Doing Business As." A DBA can also be called an "assumed name," a "fictitious name," an "alias," or a "trade name." The law will protect that DBA name if it is a unique name in the county or state and not protect it if it is not a unique business name.

A DBA is not a legal entity. The underlying legal entity is responsible for the business life of the DBA, including taxation, business permits and licenses, insurance, and so forth. You use the underlying legal entity's tax identification numbers to open a bank account in the DBA name.

Texas law mandates registering the use of a secondary business name with the state or the county in which the business is headquartered, depending on the business type. Smaller companies register with the county, and larger businesses register with the state, and we will walk you through the steps for registering those.

Registering a DBA in Houston is a relatively simple process in and of itself, but the registration will vary depending on several factors. Here is a step-by-step guide through registering a Houston DBA. The City of Houston resides in three counties: Harris, Fort Bend, and Montgomery. We will provide instructions for each of those three counties.

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Step I: Decide if a DBA Is Right for Your Business

A DBA or Assumed Business Name is any name that a business uses that is different from its own legal name. DBAs are available for either incorporated entities (LLCs, Corporations, etc.) or for sole proprietorships.

DBAs got their start as a form of consumer protection, so bad guys couldn't hide behind fictitious business names but had to reveal (and be liable for) their actions regardless of what name they used.

You can use a DBA for advertising, proving the business exists, opening a business bank account, and accepting credit cards as a merchant, among other advantages. Use it to simplify a corporate name, introduce a new product line, or to not use a person's legal name.

A disadvantage of a DBA is that it is not a type of business structure that provides protection to the business owner, like a limited liability company (LLC) would do.

It will be your decision whether or not to use a fictitious name instead of the business's legal name. But there are some situations where a DBA is virtually required.

The most common use of a DBA is in a sole proprietorship or a partnership where the business name is different from the full legal names of the person or people who operate the business. This is true even if the name is a part of the business—for example, "Bob's Greenhouse."

At the same time, you can register your full legal name as your business name if you want. Any questions about this should be directed to the Houston Secretary of State's office.

It is a slightly different question—and process—if the registering business is a corporation or limited liability company (LLC). If the name of the corporation or LLC is already registered, a second registration as a DBA is not necessary. However, if the corporation or LLC wants to do business under another name, a DBA registration is required. An example would be a holding company operating a restaurant: “XYZ Holdings DBA Houston McDonalds."

No Limits

There are no limitations to the number of DBAs that a Houston legal entity can have. As listed in the next section, there are several limitationsFor on what a DBA can call itself.

Step II: Create Your Business Name

After you have decided on a name, and before you register that name as a Houston DBA, take the necessary steps to make that name legally yours. Check the names of businesses by conducting a business license search of whichever county your DBA is setting up shop: HarrisMontgomery, or Fort Bend.

Ensure that another business is not using the assumed name you want to use. If the assumed business name is not unique, it cannot be protected under Texas law.

If you have created a unique business name, then register that name as an assumed name with the state or county, as shown below. Also, be very aware that there are certain words or designations that you cannot use in a Texas DBA:

  • You cannot use a DBA name that is misleading about the nature of the business.
  • You cannot use a name connected to the banking and insurance business unless the business is licensed in those areas.
  • You cannot use a professional name (Doctor, Attorney at Law, etc.) unless you are licensed in those areas.
  • You cannot use any indication that the DBA is a corporation unless one of the entities named in the application for registration is itself a corporation.

Step III: Own That Business Name

You can own your business name so that no one else can use it. That name will have to be unique, though.

To begin with, you have to make sure that no one else can use it in business or on the internet. This means that you have to ensure that no one else is currently using that name.

For the internet, make sure the internet domain name is available. Then follow the steps to own that domain name (that will only cost a few dollars).

You can trademark that name (or register your service mark) with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) if you expect to work in other states. This process takes time and money, but your name is still protected as a common law trademark.

Once you receive your federal trademark, register that trademark or service mark back with the state of Texas. You can also register a trademark/service mark with the State of Texas without filing for a federal trademark.

Step IV: Fill Out All the State and County Government Forms

Texas Name Registration v. Name Reservation

Texas business names are either reserved or registered, depending on the type of business. Completing this process gets you an Assumed Name Certificate.

Most business names are reserved rather than registered. Most names that are registered are financial institutions and foreign companies. Names required to be registered are companies authorized in Texas as a bank, trust company, savings association, or insurance company, or a company that is a foreign filing entity not otherwise permitted to do business in the state.

The Type of Underlying Business Determines Where You Reserve/Register Your Assumed Name

Texas law changed in 2019 to move the registration of assumed names by corporations and other entities from the county to the state level.

Your assumed name will be registered or reserved in Houston County if the underlying business is a:

  • Sole proprietorship
  • General partnership
  • Joint venture
  • Estate
  • Real estate investment trust (REIT)
  • All other assumed names are registered or reserved with the State of Texas. These include:
  • Limited liability companies (LLCs), including professional LLCs
  • Corporations, for-profit or not for profit, and all other incorporated entities
  • Professional associations
  • Limited liability partnerships (LLP)
  • Foreign filing entities
  • If the assumed name is registered with the state, it can also be registered with Houston County. This is optional.

Now Register as a Houston or Texas DBA, Depending on the Underlying Business Structure

Any assumed business name being used in an ongoing business in Houston must be reserved with either the Texas Secretary of State or the appropriate Houston County Clerk:

  1. Harris County Clerk's Office
  2. Montgomery County Clerk's Office
  3. Fort Bend County Clerk's Office

The Texas SOS also has a helpful FAQ page.

Once you go to the appropriate website, the procedures are laid out for you step-by-step. You can register online. You can also download the form, fill it out, and mail it in or take it to the Clerk's office in person. The registration or reservation forms are detail-intensive for the state or the county, so have all of your business information available before you start. You will be asked, among other things, for:

  • The proposed assumed business name of the DBA
  • Principal business address of the DBA
  • Names, addresses, and email addresses of individuals with an interest in the business (owners)
  • Certificate of ownership of the underlying business entity
  • Names and addresses of legal entities with an interest in the business
  • Purpose of the business
  • Contact information
  • Signature
  • Notarization (each owner must either produce a notarized signature individually or have that signature acknowledged by a Deputy Clerk at the appropriate County Clerk's office)
  • Filing fee

The state filing fee is $25. The county filing fees range from $15-25.

Once the registration or reservation is approved, The DBA remains valid for ten years from the date of approval. It can then be renewed every ten years with no limits or lapses. If the DBA is no longer functioning at any time, it can be withdrawn by filling out the form on the appropriate county clerk's website.

After You Register: DBAs and Tax Identification

A sole proprietorship DBA can use the owner's social security number for taxes. In some cases, a partnership can do the same. They do not have to obtain a federal employee identification number (EIN). Your accountant will be able to walk you through this.

Any other type of company should have, use, or obtain a business EIN. The DBA is not a separate business entity. That means that the DBA does not file taxes and does not have to get its own tax identification numbers—federal or state. The underlying corporation pays the DBA's income and employment taxes. Again, this is a job for your accountant.

If the underlying company does not have a federal EIN, you must obtain one.

The underlying corporation will also need to file with the Comptroller of the State of Texas if it will generate sales or use taxes from the DBA and employment taxation. You must also register with the state and for unemployment insurance.

And again, you must renew your status every ten years.

Get Help Registering Your Houston DBA

Want to take the guesswork out of registering your DBA? Use a trusted, simple-to-use online business formation tool that will walk you through the process. Start today!

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