How to Set Up a DBA in Virginia

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 Virginia.

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What is a DBA?

DBA is an acronym that stands for “doing business as.” The legal definition is when a business operates under another name other than its legal name that is on state records. This can also be called “an assumed name,” “a fictitious name,” “a trade name,” and “an alias.”

Practically, the DBA meaning is when you call and promote your business under a name that is what people know your business by, while the legal name is something else. Most people do this for marketing reasons, but it can protect personal assets. There are some tax benefits and other legal protection, as well as it is a separate legal entity from your other businesses.

How to search DBA names in Virginia

Some may think that it doesn’t matter what the DBA is since there is a different, approved legal name also. That’s not true. Virginia doesn’t allow two businesses to have the same name. Potential business owners must check for name availability against a registered name even when picking a DBA name. Besides, the name of your business is important.

Start with the state list, but you can also double-check local DBA names against business licenses at the county clerk’s office.

1
Go to the Virginia Clerk’s Information System (CIS) page

Once you are on the CIS name availability page, put your name idea into the entity box. This is a free tool to check as many names as you want.

2
Review search results

The search will show you any exact matches to the name you want. It will also show you any similar names. The state requires you to have a distinguishable name, so the DBA you choose can’t be too similar to other business names listed.

3
Reserve a name you like

Those who find a unique name can hit the CIS page link to reserve a name for future use. Reserving a name means no one else can use it. You can reserve a name for 120 days with a $10 fee. However, reserving a name isn’t the same as registering it. There is a different fee for that, and different rules apply to gain registration approval. For more information on business names in Virginia, click here.

Be aware that you will need to extend the reservation or register the name at the end of the period. You can register it as a DBA or go ahead and register the business with the State Corporation Commission.

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

How to register a DBA in Virginia

There are two methods to registering a DBA in Virginia. The first is using a form for sole proprietors. The second is for those who have a company name already registered and plan to use a DBA name rather than the legal entity business name. 

1
Sole proprietors fill out a form

Those who have been operating as sole proprietors will need to use the form titled Certificate of Assumed or Fictitious Name – Business Conducted by an Individual

2
Businesses fill out a form

Those who already have a business registered with the state should fill out the form called the Certificate of Assumed or Fictitious Name – Business Conducted by an Entity. 

3
Submit the form

You can submit the forms electronically through the CIS office or print them out and mail it to:

State Corporation Commission
Clerk’s Office
P.O. Box 1197
Richmond, VA 23218-1197

4
Pay a filing fee

You can pay the fee online with a credit card. Those sole proprietors who fill out a fictitious name form can attach it to a business it registers with the state later, but that takes an extra step. First, you must register your business and then attach the name to the business as it is currently linked to the sole proprietor’s name. You can find out more about how to do that here.

  • All DBA certificates filed with the State Corporation Commission are $10 whether you are a sole proprietor or a registered business.
  • Those who wish to register their limited liability company (LLC) or other business will pay a $100 fee to get a state certificate. Then, you can get a DBA certificate for a $10 fee for your LLC.

Ready to register your DBA? Fill out these forms.

What comes next

Several things should be on your to-do list once you’ve registered your DBA name with Virginia. These are things that make sure you are cleared legally to do business. 

1
Open up a business checking account

Banks will allow those with DBA certificates to open up accounts under the DBA name. This should be one of the first things you should do for your new business to accept payments and pay for expenditures.

2
Get an EIN

This is a federal employment identification number associated with your business. It’s crucial to have checking accounts, vendor purchases, and hiring employees. It is also required on your taxes. While sole proprietors legally aren’t required to have one, it will become necessary if you grow or turn your business into an LLC or some other entity.

3
Check state tax requirements

All states are different regarding how to tax DBAs. Some of that depends on whether you are a sole proprietor or a registered business like an LLC, but it’s always safe to check to make sure you’re aware of the requirements by clicking here.

4
Check with state insurance and hiring requirements

States have different laws regarding hiring practices and worker’s compensation for employees. Some require it for even part-time or family workers. Be sure to look here at Virginia’s laws so you stay within the standards. You should include liability insurance in your plan to have liability protection.

5
Set up your business goals and policies

Even sole proprietors benefit by having goals and policies written down. This makes for a good business structure reference whenever something comes up where you can refer to a policy. This may be on things like handling returns, customer service, new products, contracts, and accounting. 

6
Establish a marketing plan

Every business should have a marketing plan created before it starts doing business. A good marketing plan, including internet and local newspaper ads, will help you hit the ground running and be an avenue for growth. It helps establish your brand and keeps your DBA in front of the public.

7
Connect with resources for help

You should align yourself with other small business owners and with Virginia resources to help you as you get your business entity started. Some to call on are the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, SCORE, and the Virginia Small Business Development Center (SBDC). Each can guide you on getting grants, and investors, getting lenders, finding buildings, and gaining customers.

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

Who is a DBA best for? 

Most people with a DBA are sole proprietors, although they are also an option for partnerships and other business types. A sole proprietorship has a personal name as the legal name of the business, but they want a business name to be a different name from their own name. 

Partnerships follow the same reasoning. The partnership may be in one or both personal names, but they want a name that reflects the business. An incorporation can also do it for legal or branding reasons.

One reason to have a DBA is to be able to open a business banking account. Many banks insist sole proprietors and partners have a DBA name to open a business bank account.

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

Virginia has a lot to offer entrepreneurs who want to establish a new DBA in the state. Many industries are rooted there, so there are lots of opportunities for a startup, depending on your type of business. 

  • It’s a good place to get government contract work. Virginia is home to more than 30 military bases across all military branches, plus it’s within driving distance to the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.
  • It has a lot of colleges and universities. This can also mean contracted work for some DBA businesses, but it also means an educated workforce.
  • Virginia has a wealth of business incubators and entrepreneurship courses. There are 30 that are known and listed with many at the universities. Others are found in local communities.
  • The state is set up well for travel and distribution. Two of the nation’s busiest airports, Ronald Reagan Washington International and Washington Dulles International, are there, along with 64 other public-use airports, with nine being commercial. It has a railroad system with more than 3,200 miles of track, and the Port of Virginia has 55 public and private marine terminals.

Cost to get a DBA set up

Doing business as a DBA can be more affordable to set up than traditional LLCs. However, a DBA filing has some costs also. There is a process for DBA registration in Virginia. Those who use a DBA or fictitious name without filing through the state will be charged and likely convicted of a misdemeanor. 

That could mean a fine of up to $2,500, jail time, or both. It also means you cannot maintain any action in any Virginia courts.

FAQs

Are there wording restrictions for fictitious names?

No, unlike typical business names, Virginia doesn’t have wording requirements on DBA names like using designators like LLC. Another difference is the state is a lot more lenient on alias names regarding how similar they are to other business names than they are regarding unique business names.

Can I get a copy of my DBA certificate?

Yes, all those filing for a fictitious business name will get a receipt showing you’ve filed for a name certificate in Virginia. Then, you can request a certified copy of your receipt by going to the CIS System page to file for it. You can also ask for a Certificate of Fact of Fictitious Name in writing from the Office of the Clerk. The request comes with a $6 filing fee.

Can a general partnership or trust file for a DBA certificate?

Yes, the clerk’s office in Virginia collects all the filings for those wishing to do business under a fictitious name. That includes general partnerships and trusts, which can file like sole proprietors and registered businesses.

Can others file the same DBA as me?

The Commonwealth of Virginia allows anyone to file a DBA, even if it is being used by another DBA. However, it can’t be used by a registered business. The commission, according to state law, doesn’t have the authority to decide who has a right to use a DBA. More information can be found in these FAQs.

Can an assumed name filed with the state be released?

Those who no longer wish to use their fictitious name for their business in Virginia will need to either go onto CIS to make the filing to release it or print the paper form and mail it. The fee is $10 to release a filed DBA name. 

How many DBA businesses can I have in Virginia?

Virginia doesn’t limit the number of DBA businesses anyone has. As long as you pay the fee and register the name, you can have as many as you want.

Find out how to set up your DBA

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