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How to Get a DBA in South Carolina

You can operate a business in South Carolina 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." A DBA can also be called a “fictitious name," an “alias," or a “trade name." Under South Carolina law, it is simply referred to as a “DBA."

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. You use the underlying legal entity's tax identification numbers to open a bank account in the DBA name.

Registering a DBA in South Carolina is not a requirement to do business in the state. However, it does help with some business transactions, particularly banking. It is a somewhat complicated process, because DBAs are registered in South Carolina by county, and not with the state itself.

Here is a step-by-step guide to registering a South Carolina DBA.

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. DBAs are available for either incorporated entities (LLCs, Corporations, etc.) or for sole proprietorships.

DBAs 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. You can also use it to simplify a corporate name, introduce a new product line, or avoid using a person's name in their business.

A disadvantage of a DBA is that it is not a type of business structure that protects the business owner against personal liability, as 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."

It is a slightly different 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 may be advisable. An example would be a holding company operating a restaurant: “XYZ Holdings DBA Greenville McDonalds."

Step II: Create Your Unique Business Name

Decide on a great business name. Then list a few more names, just in case your chosen name is not available. After you have decided on a name, and before you register that name in the county clerk's offices as a South Carolina DBA, take the steps that are necessary to make that name legally yours.

First, conduct a name search on the South Carolina Secretary of State website to make sure that no one else in the state is using that name. If you find that you have created a unique South Carolina name, follow the steps below to legally own that name.

Note that South Carolina prohibits the use of any word specifically pertaining to banking in a DBA name.

Step III: Own That Unique Business Name

You can own your business name so that no one else can use it. That name will have to be unique, though. To begin with, you have to 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 own that domain name (that will only cost a few dollars).

You will be going through the process of registering the DBA name with the county clerk's offices where you expect to do business. But there are several other steps you can take at the same time, before, or after that registration.

You can trademark that DBA name with the state. Since there is no statewide protection for a DBA name, the Secretary of State's office recommends that you trademark that name if you want statewide protection.

If you want nationwide protection for 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.

Now that name is yours.

Step IV: Now Register as a South Carolina DBA at the County Clerk's Office

As mentioned before, there is no statewide registration for a South Carolina DBA. DBAs in the state are registered by county. However, many banks require a DBA registration to open a business account under the DBA name. Check with your bank to see if this is required.

Each county uses its own form for registering a DBA. These forms can be found at the individual County Clerk's office and some are posted online.

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

  • The name of the DBA
  • The registry number of the DBA
  • Principal business address of the DBA
  • Names, addresses, and email addresses of individuals with an interest in the business
  • Names and addresses of legal entities with an interest in the business
  • Counties in which business is conducted
  • Contact information
  • Signature
  • A filing fee, which varies by county

The DBA form will need to be notarized before it is submitted to the Clerk.

After You Register: DBAs and Tax Identification

A sole proprietorship DBA can use the owner's Social Security Number for taxes. In some cases, a partnership can do the same. They do not have to obtain a Federal Employee Identification Number (EIN). Your accountant will be able to walk you through this.

Any other type of company should have, use, or obtain a business EIN. The DBA is not a separate business entity. That means that the DBA does not file taxes and does not have to obtain its own tax identification numbers—federal or state. The DBA's income and employment taxes are paid by the underlying corporation. The underlying business entity is responsible for all business licenses. Again, this is a job for your accountant.

If the underlying company does not have a federal EIN, you will need to obtain one.

The underlying corporation will also need to file with the State of South Carolina if it will generate sales taxes from the DBA. If the DBA has employees, the underlying company or individual must register with the South Carolina Department of Revenue for payroll taxes and the Department of Employment and Workforce for unemployment insurance. Your accountant will handle all of this.

Additional Questions? Get a South Carolina Business Lawyer

Some of these steps are easy to do. But there are many steps in creating a South Carolina DBA that will be easier and more efficient if you employ the legal skills of a South Carolina business and commercial lawyer.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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