How to Set Up a DBA in North Dakota

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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 North Dakota.

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North Dakota can feel like a bit of a paradox: one of the largest states by land area, it has one of the smaller populations and economies. But that does not mean North Dakota is a bad place to start a business, in fact, it has seen a huge growth in urban centers like Fargo or Bismarck. Oil production is a primary industry, though it is becoming more common to see startups of new businesses. This is due to the state’s tax-friendly environment and high quality of life. For small business owners looking at a North Dakota enterprise, there are numerous steps and logistics to consider along the way. One task may be to register your business’s DBA before operating publicly.

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 business operations. 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 legal name of the owner. 

How to search DBA names in North Dakota 

Before you can move through the process of DBA registration in North Dakota, it is important to know what the new name of your business will be. Trade names in the state must follow all regulations for business names, as well as some rules for this type of name specifically. 

1
Review all naming rules

Most of the time when someone uses a trade name, it is to avoid running a business under their own name. As a part of this, North Dakota defines trade names as a name that does not include the true name of the organization or an individual’s first and last name. 

Other general naming rules apply, which prohibit names that imply the company is organized for an unlawful purpose or one other than its purpose stated on formation paperwork. Business entity suffixes must also match the business type. For example, you cannot use the term “Incorporation” in the name of your LLC. 

2
Check name availability

North Dakota does not allow two businesses to use the same name or names that are “deceptively similar” to existing businesses. To avoid choosing a name that is in use, you can check the state’s Business Records Search portal. Be sure to search for not only your exact name but similar versions that could be considered close enough to be deceptive. If you don’t get any results, you can move forward.

3
Consider best practices for naming

Outside of the laws around business names in North Dakota, you will also want to choose a name that is good for your business. Typically, a good name is consistent with your brand and offerings, easy to pronounce and spell, and distinguishable. 

Be sure to perform an internet search for the name to be sure you can obtain website domain names and social media handles in your business’s name.

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

How to register a DBA in North Dakota 

Depending on your business structure, there may be slight differences in how you complete a North Dakota DBA registration. But the process is conducted at the state level and can be completed through a few simple steps. 

1
Complete the correct form for registration

There are two types of DBAs in North Dakota, so it is important to be sure you complete the proper registration form. 

For a partnership, this is called a fictitious business name and requires you to fill out a Fictitious Partnership Name Certificate. This form will ask for the fictitious name being registered, the type of partnership, the names of the partners, and a description of the business.

All other business types will complete a Trade Name Registration form. To complete this, you will need to provide: the trade name being registered, the type of entity registering, whether the name will be used by a franchisor, and a description of the business. 

2
Look for your confirmation

Within 30 days of completing your DBA filing, you will receive a Certificate of Registration from the Secretary of State. Be sure you receive this certificate to have on hand for any future needs and your renewal. 

Ready to register your DBA? Fill out these forms.

What comes next

As a business owner, you will be responsible for ensuring that you meet all regulatory requirements that allow your business to remain operational. Once you have a DBA in place and the name of your business is established, here are some next steps to consider.

1
Consider getting an EIN

An EIN is a unique, nine-digit tax identification number issued by the IRS – it stands for Employer Identification Number. You can think of an EIN like a Social Security Number for your business. In the same way that your SSN is used for tracking and identification of your taxes, an EIN does the same for businesses. 

Business entities like corporations and LLCs are typically required to have an EIN in place. But if your sole proprietorship or general partnership has any employees, files excise taxes, or has been inherited, it will need to have an EIN as well. 

Even if it is optional for your business, having an EIN is recommended. The ability to use an EIN as your tax ID offers identity protection by preventing you from needing to share an SSN. Additionally, banks and lenders may require an EIN to establish accounts with them, and the number can give you extra credibility. There is no cost to obtain an EIN, so having one is usually of benefit.

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

2
Obtain licenses and permits

The permit or license that is applicable to most North Dakota businesses will be the sales tax permit, also known as the seller’s permit. This is required for anyone who is engaged in business in North Dakota that will sell or lease taxable personal property. You can visit the Department of Tax and Fee Administration to apply for this permit, which has no filing fee. 

Based on your profession and industry, you may need another state licensure as well. 

Each city and county throughout North Dakota can also require licenses. For example, the City of Bismark requires all food service and pawnbrokers to be licensed at the city level. Be sure to contact your county clerk’s office to understand your business’s required business licenses.

3
Open a business bank account

As a sole proprietor, you are treated as a single tax entity with your business. Income and expenses for your business can be conducted through your personal account, but this can make tax accounting complicated. Having a separate checking account, even if it is through the same bank, may be a good idea. 

Other business structures will need to have a bank account in place to maintain the owner’s legal protections against the company’s financial obligations. For example, if you are found to be mingling your LLC and personal finances, you are considered to not be acting as separate legal entities. As a result, you could become liable for the business’s debt. 

4
Keep your DBA current

Once you have established a North Dakota trade name, you will need to renew it every five years. Between 60 and 90 days before this date, you will receive notice from the Secretary of State. The renewal process is the same as the filing process and can be completed online. 

If you fail to renew your trade name, it can be removed from your use after one year. 

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 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. 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 North Dakota?

When a business owner decides to pursue a DBA, it is often because this is the simplest route to using the business name they prefer. Because the North Dakota Secretary of State makes the process simple, the efficient nature of a DBA is appealing. 

Some common scenarios may include the following: 

  • A sole proprietor may not want to form an LLC or corporation, which means they can only operate under their personal name. A DBA allows them to maintain the legal name of their business while using another name publicly.
  • An LLC or corporation may operate under a name that describes their services, like a restaurant Robert’s Burgers. If they want to open another location that serves Hot Dogs, a DBA would allow them to use the name Robert’s Hot Dogs without forming a new business.
  • A large nationwide company, like Arby’s, will have its name registered and trademarked. If someone wants to open a local franchise, they cannot use that name legally for formation purposes but can use a DBA to operate accordingly.

Cost to get a DBA set up

The filing fee for both a trade name and a fictitious name in North Dakota is $25. This is in addition to any formation fees, business license application fees, and other startup costs associated with establishing your business.

FAQs

Can other businesses use my DBA name in North Dakota?

No, once a name has been filed with North Dakota, it cannot be used by any other business. This includes trade and fictitious names. So long as you maintain your renewals, the name will be exclusively yours to use.

What is the processing time for a North Dakota DBA?

It usually takes between 2 and 3 weeks for a DBA to be processed in North Dakota. You should expect to receive a Certificate of Registration in the mail within 30 days of filing.

What is a DBA called in North Dakota?

DBA is a common term for business names that are different from the registered name of the business. In North Dakota, this can be called different things. For a partnership, the term is a fictitious name. All other business structures will be referred to as a trade name. 

Does North Dakota require DBAs to be published?

Some states require a notice to be published in local newspapers when a DBA is registered. This may include additional requirements like submitting proof of publication. North Dakota does not have this requirement, so a name can be used as soon as a certificate is issued.

Find out how to set up your DBA

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