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How To File a DBA in North Carolina in 3 Steps

Say you want to operate your North Carolina small business under a name different from your existing company's. 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 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 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.

Register your DBA with confidence through our trusted partner LegalZoom.

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 chosen a name well suited to your business, the first step should be to run a business name search. Check if anyone else has the same name. Fortunately, North Carolina maintains a database of assumed names. A second database lets you see if a name is in use as a DBA or registered with the state as a business entity name.

While you can register a name similar to one claimed, it is a good idea to use a unique one. It should be distinct from an existing business structure.

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 leads to a costly rebrand. There is also a chance that the trademark holder will seek damages if your trademark use has damaged their business.

Finally, conduct an internet search. Ensure that your business can secure a website domain name that's the same as your North Carolina DBA name. You may want to pick a new name if one is in use.

Step 2: Ensure the Name Meets State Requirements

Even if another North Carolina business owner is not using your name, the state has several rules for DBA names that you need to follow. First, your name can't include a business entity suffix like LLC or Corp. unless you are that type of business entity (a limited liability company 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, the state of North Carolina ignores any articles, conjunctions, prepositions, punctuation, spaces, and the substitution of a numeral for a word when reviewing your DBA application. In other words, if Linens 'N Things is a company, it is likely North Carolina will reject applications for Linens & Things and Linens and Things.

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 a DBA name that fits your business, you should record it with your local county register of deeds. Counties refer to DBAs as assumed business names on the registration forms. Both terms are often used interchangeably. The North Carolina Association of Registers of Deeds website has a complete list of county registers.

Your county provides forms that allow you to register for the following DBA certificates:

  • Assumed business name certificate 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. It allows changes to information associated with a North Carolina assumed business name.
  • Withdrawal of assumed business name certificate

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

Applicants must provide the county with:

  • DBA name they are requesting
  • Name of the person or entity applying for the DBA
  • Business's mailing address
  • Nature of the business
  • Whether your business plans to operate in all 100 of North Carolina's counties

If the registrant is an LLC, corporation, or limited partnership, it must provide the exact name registered with the North Carolina secretary of state's office and its SOSID (secretary of state ID) number.

Some services will register for a DBA filing on your behalf for a fee. You should be able to fill out and submit the one-page form yourself. North Carolina does not require you publish your DBA in a newspaper like other states.

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. 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 a DBA rejection appeal.

Disclaimer: The information presented here does not constitute legal advice or representation. It is general and educational in nature, may not reflect all recent legal developments, and may not apply to your unique facts and circumstances. Consider consulting with a qualified business attorney if you have legal questions.

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