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How to Get a DBA in Pennsylvania

How To Get a DBA in Pennsylvania

Small business owners can operate a small business in Pennsylvania under a name that isn't the name of the company or person operating it. This is often called a DBA or “doing business as." Pennsylvania lawmakers call a DBA a “fictitious name."

If you operate a DBA, the state of Pennsylvania requires you to register that DBA name with the Pennsylvania Department of State. A DBA is not a Pennsylvania small business legal entity. The underlying legal entity or small business is responsible for the DBA's business needs, including taxation, filing an annual reportbusiness permits and licenses, and insurance.

Registering a DBA in Pennsylvania is a fairly simple process, but it varies depending on several factors. Here is a step-by-step guide to registering a Pennsylvania DBA.

We make business formation EASY. Click here to start your DBA or non-profit.

Step 1: Decide if a DBA Is Right for Your Business

A DBA is any name a business uses that differs from its legal name. A DBA is also called a trade name, an assumed name, or a fictitious name.

You can use a DBA to:

  • Sign a leasing agreement
  • Advertise
  • Prove the business exists to providers or customers
  • Secure a loan with the Small Business Association (SBA)
  • Open a business bank account
  • Accept credit cards as a merchant

A disadvantage of a DBA is that it doesn't protect entrepreneurs from personal liability like an LLC would do.

It is your decision whether to use a fictitious name instead of the business's legal name. Sole proprietors and partnerships use a DBA not to have their personal names in the business name. You can register your full legal name as your business name.

If the corporation or LLC's name is already registered, a second DBA registration is unnecessary. But a DBA registration is required if the corporation or LLC wants to do business under another name.

Step 2: Research Your Proposed Fictitious Business Name Before Registration

After you decide on a name and before you register it as a Pennsylvania DBA, take the steps necessary to make it legally yours. There's no limit on the number of DBAs or fictitious business names you can own in Pennsylvania.

First, conduct a name search on the Pennsylvania Department of State (known in some states as a secretary of state) website to make sure that no one else in the state is using that name.

Then, do an internet search for that name. Is anyone else using it in business, as a non-profit, or on social media? While that may not stop you from registering it as a Pennsylvania fictitious name, it will prevent you from trademarking it. If the internet domain name is available, purchase it.

Step 3: Trademark Your Proposed Fictitious Business Name Before Registration

You can trademark your Pennsylvania DBA name with the federal government at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). This process takes time and money, but it protects your name nationally and allows you the option to secure attorney's fees and damages in an infringement case. Once you receive your federal trademark, register that trademark at the state level in Pennsylvania.

Now, you own the name in Pennsylvania.

Technically, a DBA name can't be protected under Pennsylvania law. For example, three businesses can be called “Bill's Auto Repair". One could exist in Cumberland County, Pittsburgh, or even on the same main street. But if you have a trademark, you can send a cease-and-desist letter to those who operate after you.

Creating a unique name that no one else would use is worth the time and effort. If you've created a unique Pennsylvania name, register it as a fictitious name.

Step 4: Register as a Pennsylvania DBA

Any fictitious name used in an ongoing business in Pennsylvania must register with the Department of State. There is a $70 filing fee. You can complete the registration process by mail or online.

Be aware that there are certain words or designations that you can't use in a Pennsylvania DBA:

  • You can't use a DBA name that's misleading about the nature of the business.
  • You can't use a name connected to the banking and insurance business unless licensed as one.
  • You can't use a professional name (Doctor, Attorney at Law) unless you're licensed.
  • You can't use any indication that the DBA is a corporation unless one of the entities named in the application for registration is itself a corporation.
  • You can use the word “company" for any fictitious name, regardless of the registrants' status.
  • You can use a business entity suffix like "Inc." only if the parent company is incorporated.
  • A sole proprietor who does business under that individual's legal name only does not have to register as a DBA.

There are no limits to the number of DBAs one person or entity can register or use.

Ways to Register Your Fictitious Name in Pennsylvania

The fictitious name registration form is detail-intensive, so have your business information available before you start.

  • Brief description of the business
  • Name of the fictitious business
  • Principal office address (it can't be a post office box)
  • Names and addresses of individuals with an interest in the business
  • Names and addresses of legal entities with an interest in the business
  • Names of anyone authorized to amend or cancel the registration on behalf of the parties
  • Brief statement concerning the character or nature of the business
  • Statement of the activities the business does

Here are two ways you can submit your Registration of Fictitious Name Form, Form 54-311 paperwork:

  • Mail to the Pennsylvania Department of State Bureau of Corporations and Charitable Organizations at P.O. Box 8722 Harrisburg, Pennsylvania 17105-8722
  • File your form online at the PENN File website

Expect this process to take 7-10 business days. Once you have completed the registration process and are approved, your DBA doesn't need to be renewed.

Step 5: Publish a Legal Notice of Your Fictitious Name in a Newspaper

Once you've registered your fictitious name, you must advertise it in two newspapers published in the DBA's home county. This includes regular and legal newspapers. Here are the legal requirements for that advertisement.

That publishing requirement only applies if a sole proprietorship or a general partnership registers the DBA. It's not required when a legal entity—a corporation, LLC, or other legal entity—registers the fictitious name.

After You Register: DBAs and Tax Identification

A sole proprietorship DBA can use the owner's Social Security number for taxes. The fictitious company doesn't have to obtain a federal Employee Identification Number (EIN). If the underlying legal entity does not have tax identification numbers, you'll have to obtain them. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issues a federal EIN.

Get Legal Help in Pennsylvania for Your DBA

Contact a Pennsylvania business formation attorney for professional legal advice in registering your Pennsylvania DBA.

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