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How to File a Fictitious Name (DBA) in Virginia: 2 Step Process

How To File a Fictitious Name (DBA) in Virginia: A Guide

DBA stands for "doing business as." It allows small business owners to use a different name from the business's legal name. You might also hear DBAs sometimes referred to as "fictitious names," "trade names," or "assumed names." These terms all mean the same thing. The state of Virginia allows you to do business under a name other than your own or your LLC's. This allows you to further your business interests and enhance your front-end branding.

Registering for a Virginia DBA is straightforward, involving a DBA filing and multiple steps. But there are some differences, depending on whether you're registering as an individual or a business entity. Entrepreneurs should read on to learn more about Virginia DBAs and the steps you can take to obtain one for your business.

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Step 1: Understand What a DBA Registration Can Do

DBAs are fictitious business names that business owners use to avoid using their legal or personal names. Suppose you've operated a legally registered company for several years and want to rebrand or expand into a new line of business. In that case, filing for a DBA is easier than changing your business's legal name or creating a new business.

If you're a sole proprietor just starting out, your personal legal name and business name are usually the same. Suppose you own a limited liability company (LLC). In that case, your business's name is the name it was registered as with the state. In either scenario, filing for a DBA name allows business owners to use a name other than the business's legal name.

Another benefit of DBAs is that business owners don't need a separate federal Employer Identification Number (EIN or tax ID) for each DBA filed. This is because DBAs are not business entities. They're simply front-end names that your business entity uses. It does not change your business structure.

DBAs don't offer liability protection for personal assets if your business suffers debts or legal penalties. Business owners seeking such protection should strongly consider registering their businesses as a legal structure, like an LLC. LLC owners can still file a DBA if they wish to operate under a business name other than the one they registered.

Do I Need a DBA in Virginia?

Your business entity isn't legally required to file for a DBA in Virginia.

It's best to think of DBAs as tools for business entities if their owners want to rebrand or expand into a new business area. You can file for as many DBAs as your business requires.

What if I Formed the Existing Business in a Different State?

If you've legally registered your business in a different state, Virginia law considers your company a foreign business entity. But no need to panic. This just adds a step to complete before you begin registering for your DBA.

Start by visiting the SCC's CIS website (State Corporation Commission Clerk's Information Website) to file your business as a foreign entity with the state. This step allows the SCC to recognize your company as a legal entity conducting business in Virginia.

Once you've completed this preliminary step, you can begin the process of obtaining your Virginia DBA.

Step 2: Research and Choose Your DBA Name

This step lets you be creative and choose a name that excites and draws interest in your business—whether from customers, potential business partners, or investors. But beware, you don't want to choose a DBA that's already being used by another entity. This can create legal challenges later on.

Before you begin, note that your DBA should only include a business entity in the name if your company has registered as that entity. For example, don't include the phrase "LLC" in your DBA if the business is not a limited liability company.

Conduct a Preliminary State Search

You'll need a unique and discernible DBA name, especially from other businesses in your industry and locale. So, it's best to choose a few names.

Then, conduct a quick search of business names used in Virginia. Check your local city or county records with the clerk's office and circuit court to see if another company uses your chosen business name.

You should also visit Virginia's State Corporation Commission (SCC) and conduct a business entity search on their website. Make sure no other businesses are using the same DBA.

Perform a Domain Name Search

Next, you'll want to broaden your search. Check if your business name is available as a web domain name. If it isn't, this might indicate that your chosen name isn't as unique as you thought. Perhaps you need to start over. If the domain name is available, you should purchase it for a nominal fee.

You want to avoid people purchasing it out from under you and preventing you from using it in the future. Even if you intend to build your website later, it's best to secure the domain name of your DBA early.

Search social media handles on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.

Check With the USPTO and Secure a Trademark for Your DBA

Trademarks are vital to branding your business. Filing a federal trademark for your DBA with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) ensures that you have legal rights in that name. Once protected, you can enforce your legal rights to that trademark in court if anyone misuses your DBA name.

Begin with a search using the USPTO's Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS). You can check if another business has already trademarked your chosen DBA. If it's already in use, it signals that your chosen name is unavailable. You'll need to start over with a new DBA choice.

If the name is available, strongly consider applying for a trademark. Note that this process can be costly and take between 10 and 18 months. But it will be worth it if someone else tries to use your name in the future. Besides, you can still register your DBA with the state while you await your trademark's approval.

Step 3: Register Your DBA With Virginia's State Corporation Commission

Now that you've performed a thorough search and are comfortable moving forward with your DBA choice, it's time to register it with the state of Virginia.

In Virginia, DBAs are registered through the SCC. Familiarize yourself with the procedural information available on their website. It will be helpful throughout the registration process.

When ready, you can register online via the SCC's Clerk's Information System (CIS). You can also register by submitting one of the two forms listed below. Each form includes instructions on how to file.

Sole Proprietors (Individuals)

This is the form you choose if you operate a sole proprietorship. You must provide the following information:

  • Contact information
  • Name of the sole proprietor using the DBA
  • Chosen DBA name
  • Address of the sole proprietor registering

The filing fee is $10. Once complete, you can mail the filing form to the SCC or submit it online.

Business Entities

This is the form used by legally registered business entities such as LLCs, corporations, or partnerships (general partnership and limited partnership).

You must provide the following information:

  • Company name of the legally registered business entity
  • Chosen DBA name
  • Formation state, county, and city of the underlying entity
  • Mailing address
  • Name of the individual who is the registered agent
  • Assigned SCC ID number (SCCID) and address of the underlying entity

The filing fee is $10. Once completed, you can mail the filing form to the SCC or submit it online.

DBA Registration Approval

Once the SCC files and approves your application, you can use your Virginia DBA. You'll then get a certificate of assumed name to display or provide to clerk's offices or to start a business bank account.

Step 4: Maintaining Your Virginia DBA

You never have to renew your DBA or pay a renewal fee in Virginia.

The process is the same whether you wish to change your DBA or obtain a new one. In either scenario, you must re-register online or fill out a new form.

If you wish to cancel your DBA, complete the SCC's Certificate of Release of Assumed or Fictitious Name on File with the Commission. You can do this through mail or online.

Get Virginia DBA Advice From a Lawyer

Filing for a Virginia DBA is straightforward, but things can get complicated. Questions don't arise until you begin poring through the forms and compiling your paperwork. If you have questions regarding how to file or whether a DBA is right for your business, find a Virginia business attorney who suits your interests. They can also help answer your questions.

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