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How To File a DBA in Tennessee in 3 Steps

DBA registration is a relatively simple process. In just three steps, you could have an assumed name that you can use for your business activities in Tennessee. Before you get started, you should take some time to consider your other options so that you can make the best decision for your small business.

Think about your business goals and how using an alternate name could help you achieve those goals. Perhaps you'd like to open a business bank account or sign a contract using a name other than the legal name for your business. Maybe you'd like to launch a new line of products or services under a different name. There are many reasons to use a DBA ("doing business as"), but before you begin to use one, you should make sure that you're aware of the DBA requirements in your state.

Do I Need a Tennessee DBA?

Not all businesses use an assumed name. If you only operate your business under the legal business name, you don't need to worry about fictitious business names. However, if you'd like to use any name other than the legal name for your business, you'll need to complete the process of registering an assumed name in Tennessee.

Why would you want to use a name other than the legal name for your business? Consider the following business types:

If you have a sole proprietorship, then the legal business name is your own personal name. If you have an LLC (limited liability company) or corporation, the legal business name is the name you provided when you formed the business entity with the appropriate agency.

Sole proprietors often find that they don't want to conduct business under their own personal names. The reason could be that they want to maintain their privacy, or it could be that they desire the more professional appearance of a business name rather than a personal name. With a registered DBA, a sole proprietor would be able to open a business bank account and get a business credit card or debit card in the DBA name.

Owners of LLCs and corporations often decide to use an assumed name because they'd like to branch out into a new venture. Take, for example, the owner of a designer shoe store who wants to try his hand at customizing sneakers. He doesn't want customers to be confused by using the same name for the new venture, and he doesn't want to go to the trouble and expense of forming a new entity from scratch. Instead, he can get a DBA for the sneaker business.

Process for Filing a DBA in Tennessee

There are three simple steps that you can take to file an assumed name in Tennessee. Whether you need to file at the county level or the state level depends on the type of business you own. If you have a sole proprietorship or general partnership, you'll need to apply for an assumed name with the county clerk in the county in which your business is located. If you have a limited liability company, corporation, or limited liability partnership, you'll need to apply for an assumed name with the Tennessee Secretary of State.

Sole Proprietorships and General Partnerships

Step 1: Conduct a Business Name Search

Before you file your DBA, you'll need to check for name availability. This is an essential step because you'll need to ensure that the name you choose for your business is distinguishable from other business names. If the name you'd like to use for your business is already taken by another business entity, you should choose another name.

To see if the name you'd like to use for your business is available, search the Business Entities database. Type in the business name and click the search button.

After searching the state business records, you should move on to a search of the trademark database. Use TESS (Trademark Electronic Search System) to see if the business name you'd like to use has been trademarked. You'll need to avoid using any name that someone else has registered as a trademark.

Finally, consider the naming restrictions in your state. In Tennessee, you need to avoid the following in your business name:

  • Words that imply that your business is affiliated with or sponsored by any fraternal, veterans, service, religious, charitable, or professional organization, unless such affiliation or sponsorship is certified in writing
  • Words that imply that your business is or is affiliated with a governmental agency
  • Words such as "bank," "credit union," "trust," and "mortgage," unless the business has approval from the Tennessee Department of Financial Institutions

Step 2: File an Application With the County Clerk

To use a DBA in Tennessee as a sole proprietor or partner in a general partnership, you must file a Business Tax License Application. File your application with the county clerk for the county in which your business is located. To contact the county clerk for the county where you do business, check the list of county clerks provided by the Tennessee Department of Revenue.

Although you'll have to check with the county clerk in the appropriate county for specific instructions on filing a Business Tax License Application, you can get an idea of the general process by examining the filing process in Knox County, Tennessee.

In Knox County, there's a separate database that you need to search to make sure that your business name isn't already taken. Once that's done, and you have a business name available for use, you can apply either online or by mail. Be sure to submit the filing fee of $15 along with your application.

Whether you need a standard business license or a minimal activity license depends on your annual gross earnings. If your business is making $10,000 or more annually, you need to apply for the standard business license. However, if you're making less than $10,000 gross in sales, you need to apply for the minimal activity license.

Step 3: Manage Your Tennessee DBA

Once you have your new business name, you may want to make changes to it, renew it, or withdraw it at some point. You'll need to check with the county clerk in the appropriate county for specific instructions on managing your DBA.

To renew a minimal activity license in Knox County, for example, you'll need to submit the Application for Renewal or Reclassification of Minimal Activity License. You can cancel or withdraw a Tennessee business tax license by filing your final tax return with the Tennessee Department of Revenue. Changing your business name will require cancellation and a new registration.

Limited Liability Partnerships, LLCs, and Corporations

Step 1: Conduct an Assumed Name Search

Before you apply for your assumed name, you need to conduct a search to ensure that the name you'd like to use for your business isn't already taken by another business. Your DBA must be unique and distinguishable from other registered names. This is not only important from a marketing perspective, but it's also vital for registration purposes. According to the guidelines set out by the Division of Business Services, the name that you choose to register as an assumed name must be distinguishable from any other name in the Division's database.

To check for name availability, you should first search state business records. Type in the name you'd like to use for your business and see if it's already in use by another Tennessee business entity. If your name is already taken, you'll need to choose a different name to submit to the Tennessee Secretary of State.

If your name appears available in your state, you should also run it through TESS (Trademark Electronic Search System). If someone has already trademarked the name you'd like to use, you should choose a different name to not infringe on a trademark.

Lastly, there are name restrictions that you need to be aware of before you settle on a name. You should avoid using the following in your name:

  • Words that imply that your business is affiliated with a governmental agency
  • Words that imply that you're operating a financial institution, unless you have authorization from the Tennessee Department of Financial Institutions
  • Words that imply that your business is affiliated with or sponsored by any fraternal, veterans, service, religious, charitable, or professional organization, unless such affiliation or sponsorship is certified in writing

Step 2: Register Your Tennessee Assumed Name

There are several different ways to register your Tennessee assumed name with the Secretary of State. You can register your assumed name online through the Secretary of State website. You can also choose the appropriate form for your business entity and submit the form in person or by mail.

If you choose to submit your application in person or by mail, you can find the appropriate form on the Secretary of State website:

Be prepared to provide the following type of information on your application form: the actual name of the business entity, the proposed assumed name of the business entity, and the state in which the business entity was organized or incorporated.

There's also a filing fee that you'll need to submit along with your assumed name application. The filing fee for Tennessee assumed name applications is $20.

Step 3: Managing Your Tennessee DBA

After you get your Tennessee DBA, you may find that you want to change it or cancel the registration altogether. There are several different ways in which you can manage your Tennessee DBA.

Your assumed name is only good for five years in Tennessee. This means that you'll need to renew your DBA if you wish to continue using it. The filing fee for a renewal is $20. The appropriate form for your renewal can be found on the Tennessee Secretary of State website:

If you want to make a change to the assumed name that you chose for your business, you can make a change by using the appropriate form and submitting the filing fee of $20 along with your form:

If you decide that you no longer wish to use the DBA at all, then you can cancel or withdraw it by selecting the appropriate form and submitting the filing fee of $20 along with your form:

What Else Should I Do After Getting a DBA?

It's a great idea to think about branding and marketing opportunities once you have obtained a new name for conducting business. Consider getting marketing materials, such as brochures and signage, that can be displayed to attract potential customers. Get a logo made, and either create your own website or hire someone to build a website for you. Don't forget to think about things like business insurance and business bank accounts. Having a business bank account and business credit card can help you keep your personal and business funds separate. Keeping your funds separate is essential to accounting and tax preparation.

Frequently Asked Questions About Tennessee DBAs

1. Do I need a DBA for my LLC?

If you're only operating your LLC under its true name (the legal business name), then you don't need to worry about registering an assumed name or fictitious name. However, if you're using any name other than the legal business name for conducting business activities, you need to register the assumed name in Tennessee.

2. Do I need an EIN or Tax ID number for my DBA in Tennessee?

An EIN (Employer Identification Number) is a number assigned to business entities by the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) for identification purposes. Your business entity might be required to have an EIN or Tax ID number, but your DBA is only a name. DBAs, therefore, are not required to have their own EIN or Tax ID number.

3. Can someone else use my assumed name?

While the state has regulations that tend to prevent registration of the same name in Tennessee, assumed name registration doesn't guarantee that yours is the only business using the name you registered. To get legal protection for your assumed name, if that concerns you, you should look into trademarking your name.

4. Can I use a DBA for my rental property?

If you're looking for ways to protect your assets, you'll likely be better off forming an LLC or other business entity for your rental property rather than getting a DBA.

5. How often do I need to renew a Tennessee assumed name?

A Tennessee DBA for incorporated businesses is good for five years.

Still Have Questions About Tennessee Fictitious Names? Consult a Legal Professional

If you still have questions, you should speak with a legal professional who can provide guidance and advice regarding your specific situation. Don't hesitate to reach out to an attorney in your area to discuss filing an assumed name in Tennessee.

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