How to Set Up a DBA in California

Last updated: March 18th, 2024
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A DBA (Doing Business As) allows individuals and businesses to operate under a different name or expand their brand presence while maintaining legal compliance. In this guide, we’ll walk you through the step-by-step process of setting up your DBA in California.

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What is a DBA?

The acronym “DBA” stands for “doing business as” and refers to a business operating under a different name than your own. Other states use a variety of terms to refer to this concept, like “fictitious name,” “assumed name,” or “trade name,” but they all amount to the same idea. 

A DBA is a name that will be used for the operation of your business. It’s what you may see on signage and business cards, what customers will know you by, and what you will use on most documents. But with a DBA in place, your business’s proper legal name remains something else, usually the legal standing of the owner. 

How to search DBA names in California

Ready to get your DBA set up? The first thing you have to do is check on name availability. In California, the term used is “fictitious business name.” Here’s how to run a name search.

1
Search for your preferred name

When any business is formed in a state, it cannot have the same name as another business already registered there. Before you create a DBA in California, you will need to be sure that the name is available for use.

To search for the registered names of all California businesses, you can use the California Secretary of State’s name search tool. However, this will not capture DBAs in use throughout the state.

Most counties and cities in California have a fictitious business name search on their individual website. You can also use the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, which provides a search for the majority of localities. 

2
Understand California naming requirements

Besides being unique, business names in California must adhere to other rules, whether DBAs or official names. These names must not mislead the public as to the nature of the business or imply that it is in any way unlawful. You may also not use inappropriate language in your business’s name.

Naming conventions also require that the correct designation is used. For example, if you own a sole proprietorship, you cannot include “Incorporation” or “Corporation” in the name, and a corporation cannot have “LLC” in theirs. 

Have a name in mind? Check on name availability first here.

How to register a DBA in California

The registration process is quite simple. Once you have chosen your business’s fictitious name and confirmed its availability, you can register it formally. This is done through the county where you do business rather than at the state level. Two main steps are required: filing a form and publishing an announcement. 

1
Fill out California DBA forms

Each county will have its form required to file a DBA called a Fictitious Business Name Statement. Typically, you will need to provide the company name, business address, legal owner, and a contact name you would like to use. Here is an example of Sacramento’s FBN Statement.

The form must be signed on behalf of the legal business entity by a corporate officer, partner, member, or manager, depending on the business structure. 

Though rules will vary, most counties will allow you to file and pay online via credit card. The county clerk’s office is usually the best place to find this form.

2
Publishing a statement in the local paper

Within 30 days of filing a Fictitious Business Name Statement, California requires that the registrant publish a statement in a local paper of general circulation near the principal place of business. This notice must appear weekly for four consecutive weeks. The county office will be able to provide a list of approved publications for this statement. 

Once this has been completed, an affidavit of publication must also be filed with the county office where the DBA registration occurred. This is due within 30 days of the last publishing date. Some publications will file an affidavit on their behalf upon completion, so always check with them.

Foreign DBAs in California 

If your business is not based in California and you want to file a DBA, this is considered a foreign entity DBA. These businesses must register through the Clerk of Sacramento County and pay the $44 fee.

What comes next

After establishing your business’s DBA, it becomes a public record. Now, you can take other steps to get your business running properly. Some of these can be completed as soon as the company is registered, but others require your fictitious name. These steps will help ensure your business complies with California law and can run efficiently.

1
Consider getting an EIN

While your business’s name is used to identify it in California, the federal government relies on unique tax IDs. These nine-digit IDs are known as Employer Identification Numbers and are used to track taxes through the Internal Revenue Service. 

Any business with employees or pays excise taxes must have an EIN. Companies that operate as separate legal entities, like corporations, must also have an EIN.  However, any business can file for one, regardless of whether it is required. It is free to obtain an EIN, and having one can make it easier to get a business bank account and lend credibility to your business. For sole proprietors, an EIN can also prevent you from needing to share your personal Social Security Number during tax discussions.

If you plan to get an EIN, you can do so on the IRS website.

2
Obtain licenses and permits

California does not require a general business license, but each business must obtain a seller’s permit or business tax certificate. This allows companies who intend to sell or lease tangible property or taxable services to collect sales tax on behalf of the state and then pay that tax to the state. There is no cost to obtain the seller’s permit in California. 

Certain industries and professions will require specific licensing through the state. Each county and city in California may also require permits and licenses, so you must check with all local governments to ensure you remain in compliance. 

3
Renew your DBA

In California, DBAs are valid for five years before they require renewal. The fictitious name must be refiled through the county, though no additional publishing requirement exists. There is typically a renewal fee between $10 and $100 for each new DBA filing.

Who is a DBA best for? 

Not all businesses will need to use a DBA. Along with state-specific requirements, the legal structure of your business and the owners’ personal preferences will be significant factors in whether this is necessary. 

Regarding business structures, the legal process for registering your business may indicate whether a DBA is applicable. The most common uses of a DBA are:

  • Sole proprietorships and partnerships will be registered by default under their owner’s name. Since there is no formal paperwork to name the business, there is no other name that it could be listed as. In this case, a DBA would allow the new business to have a publicly-facing name other than your own.
  • Franchises often use a DBA to establish their business as a local one. For example, you may own a local McDonald’s and will need to register it as something like an LLC or corporation. The business may then be called ABC Burgers, but a DBA would allow you to operate as “McDonald’s” to tie you to the parent company.

Other business structures, like a limited liability company or corporation, do not usually need to use a DBA. This is because part of registering these businesses includes choosing a name, which can be anything beyond your own name. Some localities may require this, but it is rare. These businesses can always choose to register a DBA if they choose. 

Why would entrepreneurs choose to set up a DBA in California?

For sole proprietors and franchisees, a DBA is a way to brand their business to the public. Business owners often do not want to operate under their name, especially if they are difficult to remember or spell. A DBA allows these businesses the same ability to choose their character and present themselves to the world how they choose, no matter what they are legally registered under.

Some benefits of having a DBA include the following:

  • Ease – DBAs are relatively inexpensive and easy to file through the state.
  • Versatility– an LLC or corporation may choose to use a DBA to rename one line of business or a spin-off entity without forming a new company altogether.
  • Privacy – for business owners who do not want their names on public materials.
  • Flexibility – if a business name is taken within a state where you’d like to expand, you can still use a DBA to operate there.
  • Legitimacy – a business name may make your company seem more credible to customers, vendors, partners, banks, or lenders.

While a DBA requires some administration and upkeep, it is usually worth it for your business to have the name you chose and be known that way to the public.

Cost to get a DBA set up

Each county in California is responsible for registering and administering fictitious business names. The cost could vary based on where your business is located. For example, in Los Angeles County, a $26 filing fee is required to register a DBA. Most counties will range from $10 to $100. 

California also requires each DBA to publish a statement in a local newspaper, which can cost additional fees.

FAQs

Is a DBA the same as a California fictitious name?

DBA, or “doing business as,” is a common term for names that a business operates outside of its legal name. This can also be called an assumed or trade name; in California, this is known as a fictitious name. All of these terms mean the same thing and have the same impact on a business.

How much does a DBA cost in California?

In California, each county is responsible for administering fictitious names. This includes setting prices, so they vary by county. These state fees typically range from $10 to $100 and may have additional fees based on the type of business and the number of owners.

Does my California LLC need a DBA?

Sole proprietorships and general partnerships are the business structures that need a DBA. LLCs can choose their name when registering, so they do not need a DBA. However, they may use a DBA to open a new company branch, so you may choose to use one for your LLC.

How long does a DBA last in California?

DBAs in California are valid for five years, starting at the date of DBA filing with the county clerk. They will then need to be renewed to maintain your business’s DBA.

Where do I file a DBA in California?

Fictitious business names in California are administered by the local governments, not the Secretary of State. To register, you will need to identify the county recorder or registrar’s office in the county where your business is principally located. Each office will have its form and fee structure for DBAs.

Find out how to set up your DBA

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