How to Start a DBA in Montana
It may be known for its sprawling landscapes, but Montana is also the home to a deep entrepreneurial spirit and thriving economy. It’s no wonder that a state filled with farmers and a “do it yourself” attitude has high business survival rates, a large number of entrepreneurs, and new small businesses being formed every day. If you are among the ranks of Montana’s small business owners, it is important to go through the state for all registration and startup needs, including naming your business and establishing a fictitious business name. Here’s how to start a DBA in The Treasure State:
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What is a DBA?
The acronym “DBA” stands for “doing business as” and is used to refer to a business operating under a different name from its legally registered name. Different 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 concept.
A DBA is a name that will be used for the operations 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 true legal name remains something else, usually the personal name of the owner.
How to search DBA names in Montana
Before you take the steps for a formal DBA registration, you will need to take time to determine what name is best for your business to operate under. Along with considering your own branding and customer needs, you will need to consider what Montana allows businesses to use as a DBA. You should perform the following searches before committing to a name.
Montana assumed name search
In Montana, the term used is assumed business name rather than DBA. State law requires all business names, including assumed names, to be unique. This means you will need to search the Montana Secretary of State’s Business Search Website to see if your name is available or already in use. If the name does not appear, you can move forward.
Names must be distinguishable, which means you should also check for very similar names. Remove articles like “the” or “and” to see if names that look like yours come up.
Montana naming requirements
Along with requiring names to be unique, Montana also has their own set of rules for naming a business that you will need to follow. These rules include the following:
- Names may not include a business entity suffix that is not the business’s actual structure. For example, your LLC cannot contain the term “incorporation” and vice versa.
- Terms that are used by financial institutions, like “bank” or “credit union,” may not be used without proper licensing and permissions.
- There can be no implication that the business was formed for an illegal purpose or one not specified on the formation paperwork.
- Names cannot be considered inappropriate.
Broader internet search
Just because your name has to be unique in Montana does not mean it isn’t used in other states. This may be okay, especially if your business is different from others with the same name. But it is always a good idea to type the name into a search engine and see what comes up, whether that is competition or not.
This can also help you determine if website domains, social media handles, and other marketing tools are available for use with your name or taken by another business.
Have a name in mind? Check on name availability first here.
How to register a DBA in Montana
After you’ve chosen the right business name, the process to complete a DBA filing in Montana is extremely simple. The whole process is completed online.
Complete the online form
You will need to fill out a Registration of Assumed Business Name form, which can be done through the Montana online portal. In order to complete and submit the form, you will need to provide the following:
- The business’s existing name
- A mailing address and phone number for the submitter
- The type of business (LLC, sole proprietorship, etc.)
Submit and monitor
The processing time for a DBA registration is 7 to 10 business days. In that time, you will be able to login to the portal and look for a completion or name certificate.
Ready to register your DBA? Fill out these forms.
What comes next
Having a DBA registered is only one step for creating, branding, and operating a business under your new name. It is critical that you maintain all requirements and keep your business in compliance with Montana and federal law. Below are some common steps you will need to take as a small business owner.
Consider getting an EIN
Depending on the structure of your business, there may be federal taxes owed by the business itself as an income tax. There may also be excise taxes, employer taxes, and a variety of others due to the federal government at the end of each year. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) tracks these using unique tax IDs, known as Employer Identification Numbers.
Some businesses, like sole proprietorships with no employees, may be exempt from having an EIN as they do not have federal taxes to file independently. But even if your business falls into this category, it can be a good idea to have an EIN. Some benefits to obtaining this ID include:
- Banks and lenders may require an EIN before you can open an account.
- An EIN can make you appear more credible to partners or potential investors.
- When asked for a tax ID, someone without an EIN would give their personal Social Security Number. This can open you up to identity theft and other security concerns.
- In the event that you later need an EIN, it will already be in place and easy to access.
There is no cost to getting an EIN, which can be issued immediately online.
If you plan to get an EIN, you can do so on the IRS website.
Obtain licenses and permits
The majority of businesses in Montana will not need to obtain a state-level license. Because there is no sales tax, there is no seller’s permit required, and no general business licenses issued. However, there are hundreds of business licenses that could be required for certain industries and professions.
Each local government in Montana can also require licenses and permits based on their own rules and laws. They may require these based on things like business activity, location, or other criteria. For example, the City of Missoula requires every business there to have a general city business license. It is important to contact your county clerk’s office to determine what requirements your new business will have.
Open a business bank account
Having a dedicated bank account for your business expenses may be more important in some scenarios than others, but can always be useful.
If your business is a sole proprietorship, you are considered the same legal entity for tax purposes, and all profits are taxed as your income. In this case, there is no legal need for you to have a bank account just for your business – however, it can be easier to track income and expenses when you keep them delineated.
Other businesses will require an account because they are a separate legal entity. For example, in an LLC, you are granted legal protections that protect your personal assets when the business owes money. Part of this protection is the assumption that you are acting independently from the business, so if you are mingling finances, you can lose this status.
Along with checking accounts, you can also open credit cards in the name of your business, which helps establish a business credit score over time.
Keep your DBA current
In Montana, assumed business names need to be renewed every five years. This will include paying a $20 filing fee and completing an online form. If this is not completed, you could lose your right to use the business name. You can also change or withdraw your DBA within the portal.
Who is a DBA best for?
Not all businesses will have a need to use a DBA. Along with state-specific requirements, the legal structure of your business and the owners’ personal preference will be major factors in whether this is necessary.
When it comes to business structures, the legal process for registering your business may indicate whether a DBA is useful. The most common uses of a DBA are:
- Sole proprietorships and partnerships will be registered by default under the name of their owner. 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 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 an 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. 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 Montana?
No business is ever required to have a DBA – it is a choice that a business owner may make to help with their operations or branding. However, it is a very smart choice for certain businesses. The benefits will vary based on business structure and needs, but any business could find benefits.
For a sole proprietorship or general partnership, there is no formation document that allows for the business to be named. Instead, the legal name is the owner’s own name. If the business needs a more customer-friendly name or the owner wants to maintain some privacy, a DBA is the best way to choose the name of the business without restructuring.
Other structures, like an LLC or corporation, are able to give the business a name during formation. But if the owners want to operate a separate branch or product line under a different name, run a franchise, or work in another state where the name is taken, a DBA can be a great way to do so.
The name of your business is an important decision, and a DBA can help keep logistics simplified while still maximizing branding.
Cost to get a DBA set up
The filing fee to start a DBA in Montana is $20, payable online during the registration process.
How long does it take to get a DBA in Montana?
There is a 7 to 10 business day processing window for assumed names in Montana. You can also have this expedited. For $20, there is a 24-hour processing window through the Secretary of State.
Do businesses in Montana need a DBA?
DBAs are not a requirement for any business, only those that want to operate under a name besides their legal name. If a business in Montana is planning to do this, it will need to complete the assumed name registration through the Secretary of State to do so.
Is an assumed name the same as a DBA?
DBA, or doing business as, refers to a business using a name other than its legal name to do business. This can also be called an assumed name, fictitious name, or trade name. In Montana, this is referred to as an assumed business name.
Can I get a Montana DBA online?
Yes, the online Secretary of State portal allows for you to register, change, and withdraw a Montana assumed name. You can also download the form and send it in via mail or hand it in in person.
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