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How To File a DBA in North Carolina in 3 Steps

Say you want to operate your North Carolina business under a name that is different from that of your existing company. In that case, state law requires you to register the new name as a "doing business as" (DBA). Sometimes called a "fictitious name," "assumed name," or a "trade name," a DBA allows your company to undertake nearly all its business transactions using the new name.

North Carolina law requires all sole proprietors, general partnerships, limited liability companies (LLCs), and corporations to register a DBA if they want to conduct business or sign legal documents under any name other than their own. The DBA allows customers, creditors, and the government to determine who owns a business by quickly searching state public records.

What Are the Advantages of a DBA?

Operating some or all of your operations under a DBA offers several advantages beyond simply complying with state law. For example, suppose you are running your business as an LLC or corporation. In that case, a DBA lets you go into a new line of business or expand into a new market using a different name without forming a new company or amending its articles of organization or incorporation.

Having a DBA will also allow your company to do the following:

  • Rebrand without changing the name of your business
  • Get a federal tax ID number that is different than the Social Security Number (SSN) of a sole proprietor
  • Open a bank account in the name of the DBA
  • Operate under a name that is similar to an available web domain name for your new business
  • Use a name that is easier to remember or more search-engine friendly than your company's name

Fortunately, registering your DBA so that the state recognizes it is a relatively simple process if you follow the steps listed below:

Step 1: Find an Available Name

Once you have come up with a name that is well-suited to your business, the first step should be to check if anyone else has registered it. Fortunately, North Carolina maintains a database of assumed names that is available to the public and easily searched. A second database lets you see if a name has been used as a DBA or registered with the state as a business entity name.

While you are allowed to register a name similar to one that has already been claimed, it is a good idea to use one that is unique enough that it won't be confused with an existing business. Your name should also be catchy and easy for customers to remember.

Your next step should be to check whether the name is subject to a state or federal trademark. While you can register a DBA that has been trademarked, it is generally a good idea to steer clear of trademarked terms when naming your business. Using a name that has already been trademarked can leave you open to an infringement lawsuit that may require your company stop using the name and change it to something else. There is also a chance that the trademark holder will seek damages if your trademark use has damaged their business.

Finally, you should conduct a quick internet search to ensure that your business can secure a website domain name that is either the same as your DBA name or can be easily inferred from it. If your business does not have a short, easily remembered address for its website, people may have trouble finding your business on the internet.

Step 2: Ensure the Name Meets State Requirements

Even if another North Carolina business is not using your name, the state has several rules for DBA names that you will need to follow. First, your name can't include a business entity suffix unless registered with the state as that type of business entity. For example, you can't use "LLC" or "Corp." in your DBA unless it has been registered with the state as an LLC or corporation.

Second, the state bars usage of the following terms in a DBA without approval from the Secretary of State:

  • Architect, Architecture, or Architectural
  • Bank or Banker
  • Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
  • Co-op
  • Trust
  • Engineer or Engineering
  • Insurance
  • Pharmacy, Drug, Rx, Prescription, or Apothecary
  • Realtor
  • Surveyor or Survey, or Surveying
  • Wholesale

Third, any articles, conjunctions, prepositions, punctuation, spaces, and the substitution of a numeral for a word will be disregarded. In other words, if “Linens 'N Things" has been registered as a company to operate in North Carolina, it is likely that “Linens & Things" and “Linens and Things" will be rejected as a DBA in the state.

Additional information on North Carolina's naming rules is available on the Secretary of State's website.

Step 3: Register Your DBA With Your County

Once you have found a DBA name that fits your business and is easily remembered, it is time to record the DBA with your local county register of deeds. Counties refer to DBAs as "assumed business names" on the registration forms, although both terms are often used interchangeably. A complete list of county registers is available on the North Carolina Association of Registers of Deeds website.

Your county should provide forms that will allow you to do register for the following certificates:

  • Assumed business name certificate that will enable you to register a DBA for a sole proprietorship, general partnership, LLC, corporation, limited partnership, or limited liability limited partnership
  • Amendment of assumed business name certificate that lets you make changes to the information provided in your assumed business name certificate
  • Withdrawal of assumed business name certificate that is used to withdraw a previously filed assumed business name certificate

There is a $26 fee for filing for any of the DBA certificates. The DBA must be renewed every five years.

Applicants will need to provide the county with the DBA name they are requesting, the actual name of the person or entity applying for the DBA, the business's mailing address, the nature of the business, and whether it plans on operating in all 100 of North Carolina's counties. If the registrant is an LLC, corporation, or limited partnership, it will need to provide the exact name it registered with the North Carolina Secretary of State's Office and its SOSID number.

Some services will register for a DBA on your behalf for a fee, but you should be able to fill out and submit the one-page form yourself. Finally, while some states require that you publish an announcement (e.g., in a local newspaper) that you have registered a DBA, North Carolina does not require that you do so.

Additional Questions? Contact a Lawyer

While filing for a DBA in North Carolina is usually straightforward, there are times when the process can be more complex. For example, you may want to use a name similar to one registered or trademarked, but you are unsure whether it will be allowed. A skilled local attorney can help ensure that your DBA name will be acceptable to the state and not infringe on a state or federal trademark. An attorney may also be able to help you with an appeal if your DBA is rejected.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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