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How to Get an Ohio DBA in 4 Steps

In the state of Ohio, you can operate a business under a name that is not the name of the company or person who is operating the business. This approach is known as a "DBA" or "doing business as." A DBA can also be called a "fictitious name," an "alias," or a "trade name."

Ohio law mandates reporting to the state the business use of a secondary business name. There are two statutes at work here, depending on whether or not that name is unique in Ohio. The law will protect that DBA name if it is unique, but it won't protect it if it is not a unique Ohio business name.

In Ohio, you can register a unique DBA name as a "trade name." A trade name comes with certain protections. They can be used if the DBA name is the same or not "overly similar" to another Ohio business name.

You can also register a DBA as a non-unique “fictitious name." This designation does not come with any legal protections.

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. You can use the underlying legal entity's tax identification numbers to open a bank account in the DBA name. If you are a sole proprietor using only your name, there is no reason to register a DBA.

Registering a DBA in Ohio is a relatively simple process, but the registration will vary depending on several factors. Here is a step-by-step guide through registering an Ohio DBA.

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

A DBA or assumed business name is any name that a business uses that is different from its legal name. DBAs are available for either incorporated entities (LLCs, corporations, etc.) or sole proprietorships.

DBAs got their start as a form of consumer protection, so people could no longer hide behind fictitious business names.

You can use a DBA for advertising, opening a business bank account, and accepting credit cards as a merchant, among other advantages. Use it to simplify a corporate name, introduce a new product line, or instead of a person's name.

A disadvantage of a DBA is that it is not a type of business structure that protects the business owner like an LLC.

It's your decision whether to use a fictitious name or the business's legal name. 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 Ohio 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 registered, a second registration as a DBA is not necessary. However, if the corporation or LLC wants to do business under another name, a DBA registration is required. An example would be a holding company operating a restaurant: “XYZ Holdings DBA Ashtabula McDonalds."

No Limits

There are no limitations to the number of DBAs that an Ohio legal entity can have. As listed in the next section, there are several limitations on what a DBA can call itself.

Step 2: Determine Your Business Name

After you have decided on a name, but before your registration as an Ohio DBA, take the necessary steps to make that name legally yours.

First, conduct a business name search on the Ohio Secretary of State website to ensure that no one else in the state uses that name.

A DBA name that is not unique is called a "fictitious name" under Ohio law. It still has to be registered with the state, but the name is not legally protected under Ohio law. There can be three businesses called, for example, "Bill's Auto Repair" in the same city, county, or across the state. Or even on the same street. So it will be well worth the time to create a name that no one else would use.

If you find that you have created a unique Ohio 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 an Ohio DBA:

  • You cannot use a DBA name that is misleading about the nature of the business.
  • You cannot use a name 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 word "company" is permissible for any fictitious name, regardless of the registrants' status.
  • You cannot use any words in the DBA name that are obscene or offensive to any group.

Step 3: Own That 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 ensure 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).

If you expect to work in other states, you should trademark that name (or register your service mark) with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). This process takes 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. You can also register a trademark/service mark with the State of Ohio without filing for a federal trademark.

Step 4: Now Register as an Ohio DBA

Any fictitious name being used in an ongoing business in Ohio must be registered with the Ohio Secretary of State. There is a filing fee, as noted below.

You can register online or by downloading the form, filling it out, and either mailing or emailing the form.

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

  • The proposed business name of the DBA
  • The principal business address of the DBA
  • Names, addresses, and email addresses of individuals with interest in the business (owners)
  • Names and addresses of legal entities with interest in the business
  • Purpose of the business
  • Contact information
  • Signature
  • Filing fee
  • State fees: the standard filing fee is $39.00. The typical turnaround is 3-7 business days. Expedited service is available for additional fees.

Once the registration is approved, The DBA remains valid for five years from approval. It can then be renewed every five years with no limits or allowed to lapse.

If the DBA is no longer functioning, it can be canceled.

After You Register: DBAs and Tax Identification

A sole proprietorship DBA can use the owner's social security number (SSN) 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 get its own tax identification numbers—federal or state. The underlying corporation pays the DBA's income and employment taxes. Again, this is a job for your accountant.

If the underlying company does not have a federal EIN, you must obtain one.

The underlying corporation will also need to file with the State of Ohio if it will generate sales or use taxes from the DBA. If the DBA has employees, the underlying company or individual must register with the Ohio Department of the Taxation and for unemployment insurance.

And again, you must renew your status every five years.

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