How to Set Up a DBA in Wisconsin

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by How to Start an LLC Team
Last updated: June 19th, 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 Wisconsin.

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What is a DBA?

A DBA is an acronym for “doing business as,” sometimes known as a fictitious name, trade name, or DBA name, depending on which state you are acquiring, and is a state-level name that your company can use to do business under. Or, in simpler terms, a DBA is just another name you can use for your business.

Sole proprietors can benefit greatly from using a DBA because instead of using their own name to run their business, they can use a DBA to operate under a different name, which makes your company look more legitimate and trustworthy to future consumers. 

If you are thinking about a unique business name for your startup as a sole proprietor, the next step would be DBA filing to make sure the name of the business you thought about could be the legal name for your business. When you register for LLCs, general partnerships, or any type of business entity, acquiring a DBA is a good way to start. 

How to search DBA names in Wisconsin

The first step in setting up a DBA in Wisconsin is thinking of a unique name for your business. When choosing a name, it has to meet state-specific requirements, such as being unique and relevant to your business. If you want to make sure the name you had in mind is available to be trademarked, here is a step-by-step guide on how to do so:

Know the naming rules in Wisconsin

There are also specific requirements when considering a name you want to use for your business. For example, you cannot use the word “insurance” unless your business has something to do with insurance, and you cannot use any words that insinuate your business is connected to illegal activity.

In addition, the words, “architecture,” “engineering,” and “design” cannot be used without further government approval.

Visit the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions website

When filing for a DBA, you must go through the Department of Financial Institutions in Wisconsin. The first step is to make sure the name you had in mind is free to use, and you can find out with their simple name search tool

Search for the name you want

Once you are on the search page, take your list of names and search each one for availability. Note that in other states, you need to go to the Secretary of State’s website to search for a business name. But it is different in the case of Wisconsin.

Wait for the search results

If the search results show an existing business with the name you wanted, you can’t use it. No two businesses can have the same name. If there aren’t any businesses with your preferred name, you can register it as your fictitious business name or trade name with the Department of Financial Institutions.

Note that you can either register in person or online through their online portal. 

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

Cost to get a DBA set up

Getting a DBA setup in Wisconsin only costs $15 for ten years. The renewal price is also $15, and you can file everything online at the Department of Financial Institutions website. You can do it in person and pay cash or pay via credit card when you do the process online.  

How to register a DBA in Wisconsin

Now that you have gathered everything you need and have a business plan for your startup, it’s time to register for a DBA. Here is the quickest way to get your trade name on the way:

File DBA forms online or in person

To file online, go through the state’s portal and fill out the online forms. You can also input your credit card information through their secure payment method to pay the $15 filing fee.

You need to set up an account, which also allows you to change any details and manage your application. 

If you plan on filing the DBA in person and paying with cash, you must visit the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions in Madison, WI. However, if you don’t live in Madison or anywhere near Madison, you can file online or mail the paperwork in.

Wait 3 to 5 for approval business names to get your name certificate

Once you are done filing, you must wait for the state to approve your application. It usually takes three to five days, but it may take longer if there’s a backlog.

Receive a name certificate

When approved, you’ll receive a name certificate in the mail. If it takes longer than a week, you can follow up on your application by calling or sending an email to the Department of Financial Institutions. 

Ready to register your DBA? Fill out these forms.

What comes next

Once you have your name certificate, you probably wonder what to do next. Well, if you already have the necessary business permits and licenses to operate, have all the equipment you need to operate, and have the products you want to sell, you can now start generating income from your new business.

Here are a couple of steps you may need to take to get your business up and running:

Get a domain

Although getting a domain is not necessary for all types of businesses, some small businesses benefit from getting their business online and building an online presence. If you already have social media accounts for your business, you can take it up a notch and add an extra layer of legitimacy by getting a domain name. A domain name can help you broaden your reach, generating more leads and eventually increasing sales in the future. 

Filing for an employer identification number or EIN

An EIN, also known as a federal tax identification number, is used to identify a business entity. Your DBA can benefit from an EIN because it will allow you to legally hire employees to work for you. You can easily file for one by visiting the IRS website.

Open a business bank account

Opening a separate bank account for your business is an easy way to manage your business’s finances. Having a DBA will allow you to open a bank account under your trade name, which is an excellent way to make your business more legitimate in the eyes of potential customers. Plus, you can easily track your expenses and profits, which will allow you to make better operating decisions as you grow your new business. 

Getting the necessary business permits and licenses

Some businesses, especially professions that require licenses, are required to get the necessary permits before legally operating. Although small businesses in Wisconsin are not required to register for general business licenses, professions like barbers or accountants need a license to offer their services. You can visit the Wisconsin Business website to see which licenses you need to operate your business.

Note that each license requires a separate filing fee, and this process is where the money can add up. 

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

Who is a DBA best for?

A DBA is best for a sole proprietorship that wants to operate or do business under a different name other than its legal name. For sole proprietors, a DBA allows them to work under an assumed name of your business without having to file or open a separate LLC business structure.

Note that a DBA is different from an LLC or any other business entity. While your LLC is a formal business structure, a DBA is another name your business can operate under. However, an LLC is a legal entity that can also benefit from having a DBA for business growth and creating separate entities within a growing small business. 

For example, suppose you already own a small business that sells one thing. In that case, you can also expand and create a separate legal entity with a DBA to differentiate between these two businesses regarding legal protections and liability. 

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

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 in Wyoming:

  • 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 other than your personal name, which also allows you to create a business bank account and start credit lines with an assumed name other than your legal name.
  • Acquiring a DBA is sometimes required by state laws to open a business.
  • Existing companies can use a DBA to rebrand without having to change their original name, whether it is an incorporation or LLC.
  • A DBA offers privacy protection since you can do business under a different name.
  • A fictitious business name will make your business more legitimate and trustworthy, which is essential for growing your client base.
  • Having a separate company name or trade name is essential for small business owners to start a brand.
  • It allows you to separate personal assets from business assets.


How long does it take to get a DBA in Wisconsin?

Getting a DBA in Wisconsin takes about 3 to 5 business days after filing. However, it could take longer if you don’t have all the requirements or forget to fill up all the necessary details needed in the forms. Wisconsin does not offer expedited services, and the quickest way to get a DBA is to gather all requirements to avoid delays.

Is registering for a DBA in Wisconsin mandatory?

All businesses with any business structure are required to get a DBA if they plan to do business and operate under a fictitious name. However, if you are planning on using your personal name for your sole proprietorship or limited liability company, you don’t need to get a DBA. Although it is not a requirement, there are many benefits to getting a DBA.

Do I need a bank account for a DBA?

No, you don’t necessarily need to open a bank account for your DBA. However, having a separate bank account will make it easier for you to manage business profit and spending. Note that having a separate bank account does not guarantee liability protection for personal assets in the event of a lawsuit. 

Where can I get funding to start a business in Wisconsin?

The local government of Wisconsin has programs that provide grants that can help local residents open up small businesses. However, you will need to provide them with a full-proof business plan and convince them how you can make an income from your business idea. You can also talk to private lenders if you don’t get the grant. 

Is an LLC better than a DBA?

An LLC provides more benefits like liability protection, and a DBA merely allows you to operate a small business under a different name. Unlike an LLC, a DBA is not a business entity. However, getting a DBA for your business in Wisconsin is a good way to start a brand you want to grow. 

Find out how to set up your DBA

Click on your state below to get started.

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