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How To File a DBA in Maryland in 3 Steps

You have a few different options if you're considering operating your business under a name other than the legal business name. If you've formed a legal entity, such as an LLC or corporation, you could change the name that you filed when you created your entity. You could form a new business entity with the name that you'd like to use. Finally, you could file a DBA ("doing business as") and use the DBA name to conduct your business. If you're operating as a sole proprietor, you could either form a legal business entity or file a DBA name to conduct business under a name other than your own.

If you're not sure which route you'd like to take, getting an understanding of the process of filing a DBA in Maryland could help you make your decision. The three-step process for filing a fictitious business name in Maryland is relatively simple. You can either handle it yourself or hire a DBA service to assist you.

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What Types of Businesses Can File a Maryland DBA or Trade Name?

There are several types of business structures. Corporations and LLCs (limited liability companies) are popular choices for business owners who want personal asset protection. Business owners attracted to the simplicity and informality of sole proprietorships may choose to operate as sole proprietors instead.

You may register the following types of businesses on Maryland Business Express:

  • Sole proprietorships
  • General partnerships
  • Maryland limited liability companies
  • Non-Maryland limited liability companies
  • Maryland corporations
  • Non-Maryland corporations

Once you've registered your business, you can file a DBA in Maryland. Getting a DBA can benefit your business in many ways, depending on your business type. Owners of corporations and LLCs, who filed a business name when they formed their legal entity, often turn to DBA registration to expand their business.

Suppose a corporation that specializes in healthy food options wants to open a burger spot. To avoid confusing their customers, the owners might use a different name for the burger spot than the name they filed when they formed their corporation. A DBA name could allow them to branch out into a different line of products without going through the formalities of forming another corporation.

Getting a DBA can be beneficial for business owners who have a sole proprietorship or partnership, as well. The legal business name for owners of sole proprietorships and partnerships is the personal name of the owner. Many business owners prefer to use a business name over their personal name because it seems more professional.

A DBA name is just a name, though, and not a legal entity. It doesn't provide any legal protections. For example, if you're a sole proprietor, you don't have the personal asset protection that owners of LLCs and corporations have. You could lose your personal assets, such as your house or car, in a lawsuit or other claim against your business. Getting a DBA name won't change that. DBA names don't offer limited liability protection, but filing a DBA could be beneficial for marketing purposes as your business grows.

Step 1: Conduct a Maryland Trade Name Search

The trade name that you choose for your business must be unique. To ensure that the name you'd like to use isn't already in use by another company in Maryland, you need to conduct a trade name search.

You can conduct your search on the Maryland Business Express website. Simply type in the DBA name that you'd like to use and check for availability. Keep in mind that there are restrictions on trade names in Maryland. Your trade name can't include words that:

  • Suggest your business is a financial institution (such as "bank," "banker," "savings," "trust," or "credit union") unless you offer these services
  • Suggest your business is a government agency (such as "state department" or "treasury")
  • Indicate your business is a legal entity (such as "Inc." or "Corp.") if it's not

Finally, businesses that offer home improvement services should also check with the Home Improvement Commission to ensure that the desired name is available. It's essential to follow the rules for trade names in Maryland because your application could be rejected if you don't.

Step 2: Register a Maryland Trade Name

You can register your trade name in Maryland online or by mail. To register online, simply complete the Maryland State Department of Assessments & Taxation Trade Name Application form. Be prepared to provide the following information on your application:

  • Trade name
  • Business owner's name
  • Business owner's address
  • SDAT ID (identification number provided by the Maryland State Department of Assessments and Taxation)
  • Nature of the business

There is a filing fee for the Trade Name Application. Processing typically takes 4-6 weeks, but you can pay an additional $50.00 for expedited service. 

If the Department accepts your application, you should receive an acknowledgment at the address you listed on your application. Your trade name is good for five years after it's accepted by the Maryland State Department of Assessments & Taxation. You should renew your trade name during the six months leading up to the expiration date if you'd like to keep it. If the expiration date passes, and you'd like to continue to use the trade name for your business, you'll have to file a new application.

Note that there is another way to complete your Maryland trade name registration if you don't want to fill out and submit the application yourself: a professional DBA service. A DBA service will take your information and complete the registration process for you. They may also assist with renewals.

Step 3: How to Manage Your DBA in Maryland

Once your application has been accepted, you can manage your DBA online. Renewals, for example, can be done online. You might also find that you want to make changes to your DBA.

If you want to make changes to the trade name, you'll need to submit a new application. However, if you wish to amend the address or the business owner's name, you can use the Trade Name Amendment Application. Amendment costs $25.00, and expedited service is available for an additional charge.

If you want to cancel your DBA registration altogether, you can use the Trade Name Cancellation Application. Cancellation or withdrawal of your trade name costs $25.00, and expedited service is available for an additional charge.

Frequently Asked Questions About Maryland DBA Filings

1. How much does it cost to file a DBA in Maryland?

It costs $25.00 to file the Maryland State Department of Assessments & Taxation Trade Name Application. There is an additional fee of $50.00 if you'd like expedited service.

2. Can I file for a DBA in Maryland?

An individual can file for a DBA in Maryland. Sole proprietors often seek to file for a DBA in Maryland to use a name other than their personal name to do business. A sole proprietor may also need to get a DBA name to open a business bank account or get a credit card in their name to conduct business. This allows them to keep business and personal funds separate and receive checks made out to their business name instead of their personal name.

3. How many DBA names can I have?

There's no limit on the number of trade names that you can have. Just keep in mind that you'll have to pay the filing fee for each trade name and manage each trade name. If, for example, you don't renew one of your trade names on time, you risk forfeiting it. Make sure that having more than one trade name serves your business goals before you apply.

4. How do I make changes to a Maryland DBA?

Suppose you'd like to change the description of the business, the address, or the owner's name. In that case, you can use the Trade Name Amendment Application on the Maryland Department of Assessments & Taxation website. If you'd like to change the trade name, though, you can't use the Trade Name Amendment Application. To change the trade name, you'll need to cancel the original trade name and file a new trade name.

5. How can I confirm my business is "in good standing" in Maryland?

If the owner of a trade name is an LLC or corporation, the LLC or corporation must be in good standing to file a renewal. "Good standing" means that the business entity complies with the laws governing Maryland businesses. Failure to file reports or make payments on time could affect the status of your business. To check the status of your business entity, search the Maryland State Department of Assessments & Taxation website. You can also request a Certificate of Status to show that your business is active and in good standing.

6. Do I need to file taxes for a Maryland DBA?

A DBA is a name only. Since a DBA is not a legal entity, you won't need to get a separate EIN (Employer Identification Number) or file taxes for your DBA. Whether you have one DBA or multiple DBAs, you'll be taxed based on the business entity that you created. Your DBA is considered to be a part of that business.

7. Is it better to get a DBA or a legal name change?

Depending on your reasons for operating your business under a name other than the legal business name, getting a DBA name could be a better option than getting a legal name change. If you have an LLC or corporation, your legal business name is the name that you filed when you created the business entity. If you decide you'd like to conduct business under a different name, getting a DBA could allow you to use a different business name without going through the more complicated process of changing the name that you have on record.

8. Can another business use my DBA name?

When you file for a DBA in Maryland, the Maryland State Department checks the name that you'd like to use against other names on record in the state. Each trade name must be distinguishable and unique. For this reason, if the Department accepts your application, it becomes less likely that another Maryland business owner will attempt to use it. However, DBA name registration doesn't prevent business owners in other states from using your name, and it doesn't guarantee that it won't be used in the state of Maryland. If you're concerned about protecting your trade name, you should look into getting a trademark.

Next Steps After Filing a Maryland DBA

Once you've completed the process and obtained a new name to use for your business, there are several steps that you should take, including:

  • Opening a business bank account
  • Building a website
  • Getting a logo, signage, and other marketing materials

Be sure to budget for the marketing materials you'll need to get with your trade name on them. You might be able to save money and build a website yourself. If you don't feel comfortable making your own site, you should get assistance with building it to reach more potential customers through the web.

Still Have Questions About Getting a DBA in Maryland? Get Assistance Today

As a small business owner, you have to decide what's the right move for you and your business. Suppose you're a sole proprietor seeking personal asset protection. In that case, you might want to look into forming a business entity such as an LLC or corporation rather than getting a trade name. On the other hand, if you're only interested in having a new business name, you might find that filing a DBA in Maryland will help you reach your goals.

If you're still unsure or have questions about getting a DBA in Maryland, consult with an attorney about Maryland trade names for small businesses. Every business and every situation is unique, so it could be beneficial to speak with an experienced attorney in your area about how you can reach your business goals.

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