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How to Get a DBA in Pennsylvania

You can operate a business in Pennsylvania under a name that is not the name of the company or person who is operating the business. This is often called a “DBA," or “Doing Business As." Pennsylvania calls a DBA legally a “Fictitious Name."

A DBA is not a legal entity. The underlying legal entity is responsible for the business life of the DBA, including taxation, business permits and licenses, insurance, and so forth.

If you are operating a DBA, the State of Pennsylvania requires you to register that DBA name with the Pennsylvania Secretary of State.

Registering a DBA in Pennsylvania is a fairly simple process in and of itself, but the registration will vary depending on several factors. Here is a step-by-step guide to registering a Pennsylvania DBA.

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

DBA stands for “Doing Business As." A DBA is any name that a business uses that is different from its own legal name. A DBA is also called a trade name, an assumed name, or a fictitious name. DBA's got their start as a form of consumer protection, so bad guys couldn't hide behind fictitious business names but had to reveal (and be liable for) their actions regardless of what name they used.

You can use a DBA to advertise, prove the business exists, open a business bank account, and accept credit cards as a merchant, among other advantages.

A disadvantage of a DBA is that it is not a type of business structure that provides protection to the business owner, like an LLC would do.

It will be your decision whether or not to use a fictitious name instead of the legal name of the business. But there are some situations where a DBA is virtually required.

The most common use of a DBA is in a sole proprietorship or a partnership where the business name is different from the full legal names of the person or people who operate the business. This is true even if the name is a part of the business—for example “Bob's Greenhouse."

At the same time, you can register your full legal name as your business name if you want. Any questions about this should be directed to the Pennsylvania Secretary of State's office.

It is a slightly different question—and process—if the registering business is a corporation or Limited Liability Company (LLC). If the name of the corporation or LLC is already registered, a second registration of that name as a DBA is not necessary. However, if the corporation or LLC wants to do business under another name, then a DBA registration is required. An example would be a holding company operating a restaurant: “XYZ Holdings DBA McKeesport McDonalds."

Step II: Create and Own Your Fictitious Business Name

After you have decided on a name, and before you register that name as a Pennsylvania DBA, take the steps that are necessary to make that name legally yours. There is no limit on the number of DBAs or fictitious business names that you can own in Pennsylvania.

First, conduct a name search on the Pennsylvania Secretary of State website to make sure that no one else in the state is using that name.

Technically, a DBA name cannot be protected under Pennsylvania law. For example, there can be three businesses called “Bill's Auto Repair" in the same city, county, or even on the same street. It is worth the time and effort to create a unique name that no one else would use.

If you find that you have created a unique Pennsylvania name, then register that name as a fictitious name, as shown below.

Also, be very aware that there are certain words or designations that you cannot use in a Pennsylvania DBA:

  • You cannot use a DBA name that is misleading about the nature of the business.
  • You cannot use a name that is connected to the banking and insurance business unless the business is licensed in those areas.
  • You cannot use a professional name (Doctor, Attorney at Law, etc.) unless you are licensed in those areas.
  • You cannot use any indication that the DBA is a corporation, unless one of the entities named in the application for registration is itself a corporation. However, the use of the word “company" is permissible for any fictitious name, regardless of the registrants' status. You can use a business entity suffix like "Inc." if, but only if, the parent company is incorporated.
  • There are no limits to the number of BBAs that one person or entity can register or use.

Own That Business Name on the Internet

Make sure that no one else can use it in business or on the internet. This means that you have to make sure that no one else is currently using that name.

For the internet, make sure the Internet Domain Name is available. Then follow the steps to purchase and register that domain name, including any fees.

You Have the Option to Trademark that Name

You can trademark that name (or register your service mark) with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) if you expect to work in other states. This process takes some time and money, but your name is still protected as a common law trademark. Once you receive your federal trademark, register that trademark or service mark back with your state, if your state law allows.

Now that name is yours.

Step III: Register as a Pennsylvania DBA

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

A sole proprietor who does business under that individual's legal name only does not have to register as a DBA.

Here is how to register your DBA. You can file by mail using the Registration of Fictitious Name Form, Form 54-311, from the Pennsylvania Corporation Bureau of the Department of State, or you can file online at the PENN File website.

The fictitious name registration form is detail-intensive, so have all of your business information available before you start. You will be asked, among other things, for:

  • A brief description of the business
  • The name of the fictitious business
  • Principle Office Address
  • 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.

Expect this process to take 7-10 business days. Once you have completed the registration process and been approved, your DBA does not need to be renewed.

Step IV: Publish a Legal Notice of Your Fictitious Name in a Newspaper: Advertising Requirements

Once you have registered your fictitious name, it must be advertised in two newspapers that publish in the home county of the DBA. This includes regular and legal newspapers. Here are the legal requirements for that advertisement.

That publishing requirement only applies if the DBA is registered by a sole proprietorship or a general partnership. It is 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 does not have to obtain a Federal Employee Identification Number (EIN). The underlying legal entity is responsible for all taxes for the DBA. the underlying legal entity is also responsible for employment taxes, unemployment insurance, business insurance, local and state business permits, etc.

If the underlying legal entity does not have tax identification numbers, you will have to obtain them. A federal EIN can be obtained through the IRS.

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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