How To File a DBA in California in 3 Steps
A California business operates under a DBA (short for "doing business as") when it uses a legal name other than its own to conduct operations. DBAs are sometimes known as "trade names" or "fictitious names," and businesses must register with the California Secretary of State before conducting operations using a DBA.
California law requires any sole proprietors, partnerships, limited liability companies (LLCs), or corporations that want to conduct their operations and sign legal documents under a name other than their own must file for a DBA.
When Does a Business Need a DBA?
There are many reasons a California business would want to operate under a DBA. One of the most common is that California requires sole proprietors to file a DBA if they are operating under a name other than their owner's last name. Some other common situations include:
- Companies that want to rebrand without changing the name of their business
- Limited liability companies (LLCs) or corporations that want to go into a new line of business or market without changing their articles of incorporation or forming a new company
- Sole proprietorships and partnerships that need a DBA to open a bank account
- To allow a business to operate under its website domain name that is different from the company name
- When a company wants to operate under a name that is more memorable or search-engine friendly
If you need to register a California DBA for any reason, you can follow the steps listed below to ensure that your new business name will be legally valid and recognized by the state.
Step 1: Conduct a Name Search
The first step in registering a DBA in California is choosing a name and making sure it is available. When you choose a name, it should be catchy and easy to remember. While the name you choose can be similar to other names in use, it is generally a good idea to make the name as unique as possible.
When you check to see if a name is already in use in California, you will need to check both the Secretary of State's (SOS's) website and your county website. The SOS's website allows you to search business records to see what names have been used to register LLCs and corporations with the state. However, in California, DBA's are filed with the county clerk's office. That means you will need to check your county's website (and sometimes your city's website) to determine whether the name is still available.
Next, you must make sure your preferred name is not subject to either a federal or state trademark. Even if it hasn't been used to register a business in the state or county, the name may have been trademarked. Using a name that has been trademarked leaves you open to being sued for infringement and could result in your needing to change your company's name and paying monetary damages to the trademark holder.
Finally, it is a good idea to check to see if your name choice is available as a web domain name. You may not need a domain name that exactly matches your DBA name, but the domain name should be easily inferred from the DBA. If your business does not have an easily remembered domain name derived from your company's name, people may have trouble finding your web page.
Step 2: File Your DBA Name With Your County Clerk
Once you have determined that your chosen name is unique and not easily confused with existing businesses, it will be time to register with your county clerk. By law, the DBA must be filed within 40 days of the business starting its operations. In California, DBAs are regulated at the state level, but each county has its own rules and forms. Fortunately, the process is similar for most counties.
When filing with a county, you will need to use the proper DBA form, often referred to as a "fictitious business name form." You will usually have the option of filing in person, by mail, or using a service. The form typically asks for the fictitious name being registered, along with information on the business owner. Additionally, if the registrant is an LLC or corporation, it must submit evidence that it currently exists and is in good standing with the state.
In most counties, the filing fee for registering will run between $20 and $30, plus an additional fee for each name registered. Your registration will expire five years after it was filed, and you will need to refile before the five years have passed. If you want to change your DBA name or even withdraw it, you can also do that with the county clerk.
Out-of-state businesses that wish to file a California DBA are required to file in Sacramento County.
Step 3: Publish Your Fictitious Business Name Statement
California requires that you publish a fictitious name statement within 30 days of registering your DBA. The statement must appear in a newspaper of general circulation in the county where you are registering and appear at least once a week for four consecutive weeks. Most counties maintain a list of qualifying local newspapers on their website.
Within 30 days of fulfilling the publication requirement, you must file an affidavit of publication with the county to verify that you have satisfied the publication requirement.
Additional Questions About DBAs? Contact an Attorney
The process of researching a new name for your small business and filing for a DBA can be complicated and confusing. If you have any questions about the process or want to ensure that your DBA is legally valid, you may wish to speak with a local business attorney. A local lawyer will be familiar with the rules in your county and provide you with guidance through the DBA registration process.
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