How to Set Up a DBA in Tennessee

Last updated: March 17th, 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 Tennessee.

Jump to

DBA meaning

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’s 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 personal name of the owner. 

How to search DBA names in Tennessee 

Before you register a business name, you need to come up with one first. What do you want your business to be called? A good name should be relevant, easy to say, and memorable. Have you got a name in mind? If so, you have to see if the name is available first. The state maintains a complete database of business names, which will help during our naming phase.  

1
Check name availability

Tennessee won’t allow two businesses to have the same name, so you need to run your proposed name through a database first. 

Start on the Tennessee Secretary of State’s website. You’ll find a business search tool on the site where you can enter your name and see if there’s another business with the name. 

Some county clerks may have a similar database for your county too. Check on your county website or call the county clerk’s office to inquire about it. 

2
Check the results

If your search results return a business name that matches the one you wanted, the name is taken and cannot be duplicated. What does that mean for you? You’ll have to pick another name. If you try to register a DBA name that’s already in existence, your application will be denied. 

3
Know the rules

The state won’t let you “slightly alter” a business name to make it different. In other words, you can’t make a name plural or change the spacing of a name. Every business name, including DBAs, must be unique.

Unique business names avoid confusion. Customers won’t mix your business up with another, and in the event your business is sued, the papers will be issued to the correct company. 

How to register a DBA in Tennessee as a sole proprietor

With an available name picked out, you can move on to DBA registration. In The Volunteer State, if you run a sole proprietorship, you register a DBA at the county level. 

Each county is a little different. You need to check with your county officials, but here’s what the process looks like in Knox County, as an example: 

1
Find your nearest county clerk’s office

In some counties, you can file online while other require you to stop into the office. First things first, you need to find the closes office to your business. Here’s a list of county clerks in the state. 

2
DBA filing requires appropriate forms

In Knox County, to file a DBA, you fill out the Business Tax License form. You can submit this form online, or you can print it, fill it out, and mail it in. 

3
Pay the filing fee

Each county charges a filing fee. In Knox County, it’s $15. Other counties may charge a little more or a little less. Most counties will accept a check or credit card. 

4
Wait for state approval

The state will review your form within a week and let you know if there are any problems. If not, you can officially start using your DBA. 

How to register a DBA in Tennessee as an LLC or corporation

If your business entity is designated as an LLC or corporation, you register a DBA at the state level with the Secretary of State. The state refers to the process as an Assumed Name Registration.

1
Check name availability

As with any DBA, or in this case, an assumed name, you need to make sure the name you want is available. Check for name availability using this search tool. If the name is already in use, you can’t use it. 

2
Register on the Secretary of State’s website

Visit the Tennessee Secretary of State’s website to submit an Assumed Name Registration. To do so, you’ll look up an already registered LLC or corporation online and fill out the necessary forms to add a new business name

Expect to provide basic information like the company address, contact information, and of course, the new name. 

You won’t need to provide a registered agent. Registered agents, who serve as a point of contact for a business, are only required when you file formation documents for an LLC or corporation.

3
Pay the filing fee

There’s a $20 filing fee associated with this form. You can pay by credit card. 

4
Wait for approval

State approval usually happens within three to five business days. Once approved, you can use the new name. 

What to do next

With the proper forms filed, you can move on to other tasks. If you’re a sole prop and just starting out, use this checklist:

1
Get an EIN from the IRS

The IRS issues EINs, or employer identification numbers. Not all businesses need them, but most do apply for one. The nine-digit number is used for tax purposes but is also needed to hire employees, offer retirement plans, or open a business bank account. You need it to apply for loans or seek funding from lenders too.

To get an EIN, you simply answer a few questions on the IRS website. The number is issued to you instantly. 

2
Open a business bank account

One of the best business practices you can follow as a small business owner is to keep your personal and business finances separate. All business income, even if it’s a few hundred dollars, should be collected in a business bank account and then transferred to your personal account. Why? During tax time, you need to know how much money your business brought in. 

It’s the same idea as expenses. Any expense associated with the business should come out of the business checking account. 

3
Research business licenses

Tennessee does require business licenses, though they vary depending on what kind of business you have or where your business is located. Speak with your county clerk to learn more about required licenses or permits. There are fees associated with some. 

4
Set up a website

Before you start selling products, it’s a good idea to have a website. You need to buy a domain name first. The domain name should match your business name. Once you buy the name, you can start designing a site. There are plenty of DIY website builders that you can use to get a site up. Remember, you can always add to it later on. 

5
Set up social media channels

Most businesses have at least one social media channel that they use to promote the business. Set up a channel that makes the most sense for your business and its target audience.

It’s best to start with just one channel. If you start five or six channels, it can be too overwhelming to maintain. Start small and build as you go. 

6
Talk with an accountant

Filing taxes may be different with a business. It’s best to speak with a qualified tax accountant in Tennessee so you can understand which tax laws apply to you. For instance, Tennessee charges a sales tax but does not charge income tax. What will that mean for your small business? An accountant can help answer these questions.

Who is a DBA best for? 

Sole proprietorships often use DBA names so they can separate their personal name from the business name to protect personal assets. General partnerships use it for the same reason, so all partnerships can monitor business dealings. 

Any type of legal business entity can do business under a DBA, and many do it to build a branded image or because they have multiple niche businesses they wish to keep as separate legal entities. The idea is to keep a DBA name from the legal name, which can be a company name or a personal name. The name of the business is one of the most important things you can do.

Why would entrepreneurs choose to set up a DBA?

There are many reasons to get a DBA instead of an LLC or any other business entity, especially when you are just starting. With that in mind, here are some of the benefits of starting a DBA:

  • Having a DBA allows you to apply for an employee identification number or EIN, which allows you to hire employees or freelancers.
  • Getting a DBA is the most affordable way to start a legitimate business as a sole proprietor.
  • A DBA will allow you to do business using a different name, which also allows you to create a business bank account under an assumed name other than your legal name.
  • Existing companies can use a DBA to do a rebrand without having to change their original name, whether it is an incorporation or your LLC.
  • A DBA offers privacy protection since you can do business under a different name.
  • A DBA will make your startup more legitimate and trustworthy, which is essential for growing your client base.

FAQs

Do you have to renew a DBA in Tennessee?

DBAs are renewed via tax forms. If you file your taxes using the DBA, it’s automatically renewed. Other states require renewal forms and additional payments, but Tennessee does not. 

What’s does a DBA cost to set up?

To file any kind of business-related paperwork, you typically pay a filing fee. If you file a DBA, which requires a Business Tax License form to be submitted to the county clerk, it costs $15 on average. 

Do you have to advertise a DBA in Tennessee?

No. While some states require newly formed DBAs or Assumed Name registrants to advertise their establishment in a local newspaper, Tennessee does not.

Is a DBA registered at the state level in Tennessee?

If you want to register a new business name and you already have an existing LLC or corporation, you will file an Assumed Name form with the state. However, if you’re a sole prop or solopreneur, you’ll fill out the proper forms with the county clerk.

Do you have to register a DBA in Tennessee to start a business?

No. You can start a business without a DBA, but if you want to use a name other than your legal name, you need to file a DBA. The forms establish a new name of your business.

Is a DBA the same as a limited liability company?

No. An LLC is a separate business entity. It offers greater protections than a DBA does, like limited liability coverage. An LLC takes more to set up too. It’s registered with the state, has higher filing fees, and more requirements for taxes and renewal each year.  

Is Tennessee a good place to establish a DBA?

Tennessee is a business-friendly state, and it doesn’t charge income tax, so that could be significant savings for business owners. 

Find out how to set up your DBA

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