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Step By Step Guide

How To File a DBA in California: Step-by-Step Guide

Filing a DBA (also known as Doing Business As) allows you to operate and receive payments under a name that is different from your legal business name. This helps you create an identity for your business that presents it in a professional light to customers and vendors, while allowing customers to write you checks and make payments directly to the business name you have chosen. Follow our step by step guide or let us handle the paperwork on your behalf, ensuring your business is filed quickly and accurately.

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Why start and file a DBA in California?

The state of California is home to more than 4 million small businesses, which employ an estimated 7.1 million people across the state. Small businesses in California employ 48.8% of the state's workforce, making startups a vital part of The Golden State's economy. Thanks to its diverse and well-educated population, California offers small businesses an excellent source of skilled talent to tap into to create a successful business. Some of the world's largest companies have their roots in California, including Apple, Intel, Disney, The Gap, and Wells Fargo.

Two Ways to File DBA in California

MyCorporation® can help you file all of the necessary documents to file your DBA in California.

File and submit the formation paperwork yourself

Our free guide provides you with all of the information you'll need to file your DBA in California. Bookmark this page as a reference so you can return easily as you complete each step of the process.

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How to File a DBA in California

For those unfamiliar with the acronym, DBA stands for "doing business as." In most California counties, it is referred to as a fictitious business name, or FBN. No matter which type of business structure you have incorporated as (sole proprietor, partnership, corporation, or LLC), if you plan to operate your business under a name different than your real name or an existing corporate name, then you need to file DBA in California. In California, you must register your DBA within 40 days of the commencement of the business.

What else can you do with a DBA? Here are a few additional benefits you'll receive by registering a fictitious name in California:

  • The ability to open a business bank account. You are unable to use your personal bank account to issue or receive checks under your business name. Filing for a DBA allows you to open a bank account under your startup's name, as most banks will require a certified copy of your DBA before you can open an account. Once you have a business bank account, you may collect checks and payments under your company's name.
  • Public advertising. Now that you have registered your official business name, you may begin publicly advertising and marketing under the DBA. This will help increase the visibility of your business
  • Create a separate business identity. Small businesses look much more professional once they file for a DBA. The assumed name allows them to establish a separate business identity for customers and vendors. This allows you to present your business in a professional light.
  • Discourage others from usage. You'll be able to protect your brand and discourage others from registering your name by officially registering your DBA.

The first step is determining if a DBA is right for you. There are a few common situations where registering a DBA makes the most sense:

  • Sole Proprietors: Let's suppose Jane Smith is a graphic designer doing work as a sole proprietorship (no LLC or corporation formed). She may wish to conduct business with her clients as "Designs by Jane," as well as open a bank account and accept checks under that name. Filing a DBA for the name Designs by Jane would allow her to do so.
  • LLC/Corporations: In the case that you have already filed an LLC or Corporation for your business, you may register another name for your business with the state. Let's say you filed an LLC for your auto repair business under the name "L.A. First Auto Repair" but have decided to expand your business into auto detailing. You could file a DBA in California for "L.A. First Auto Detailing" as a second name for your business. Doing this ensures you keep these two separate business activities distinct.
  • LLC/Corporations:
    In California, your corporation or LLC's full legal name may include an indicator (such as Inc or L.L.C). If your company's full name is "Doggie Day Care, INC," but you wish to operate your business as "Doggie Day Care," you would file for a DBA without the indicator.
Tip: In California, if you operate a sole proprietorship that contains your surname (e.g., "Smith Lawncare Services"), then you do not need to register a DBA.

The next important step seems obvious: you'll need to decide on a name to register. In California, there are a few simple rules to keep in mind as you come up with a name.

  1. No two fictitious names in California can be similar or the exact same. In other words, a DBA cannot mislead the public by being deceptively similar to any other business name.
  2. A DBA name cannot include a corporate indicator, like Corp or LLC, or any other words that imply an entity type, unless the business has been incorporated as an LLC or corporation. This is to prevent a sole proprietor from posing as an incorporated business.

How do you find out if a DBA name is available in California?

There are a few approaches you can take once you have chosen a name that meets the guidelines listed above in order to determine if the name is available to register. One basic approach is to do a Google search for other California businesses with the same name.

While it may not prove that the name you want to register is available, it is an easy way to weed out any names that are already taken. You can also check to see if the web domain for your business name is available, since it is likely you will need a website domain that matches your company name.

Another, more reliable approach is to conduct a California DBA Name search. MyCorporation may complete a thorough business name search on your behalf, and report back the findings to help you avoid unnecessary rejections.

Tip: Even when the DBA name has been checked, you should avoid ordering business cards and advertising signage until you receive notification of filing from the Secretary of State.

In California, there is no central office for registering a fictitious name for your business. Unlike LLCs and Corporations that are filed with the state, a DBA is filed at the county level. You may contact the Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk's Office in the county you wish to conduct business in for more information about registration. You can find your specific office location on the list of California county registrars and recorders Opens a new window.

Now that you have determined the name is available for registration, it's time to complete the filing with the forms provided by your county. It is important that you file your DBA in the county where you plan on operating your business. Most counties in California require similar, basic information:

  1. Your name and address
  2. Your fictitious business name(s)
  3. The address and mailing address of your business. P.O. Box numbers are not acceptable as a business address when used alone without a street address.
  4. The full name of the registered owners
  5. Your Corporation or LLC identification number provided by California, if the DBA is for a corporation or LLC.
  6. The entity type of business you have (Corporation, LLC, etc.)

Once you have completed the application, you will submit it to the county registrar for approval either via mail, or deliver in-person. The fee for setting up a DBA varies from one county to the next. For example, fees for filing a DBA in Los Angeles County are currently $26 for the first name and $5 for any additional name. Alameda County, on the other hand, currently charges $40.

Tip: Most counties in California will allow you to register multiple fictitious names at a time if desired.

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California state law requires that within 30 days of filing, you must publish a statement in a newspaper of general circulation in the county in which the principal place of business is located. This is sometimes referred to as a DBA publication. It is a small legal notice that is printed in the back portion of an adjudicated newspaper.

Usually you can find a full list of newspapers that are acceptable for this purpose on your county clerk's website, or by contacting the office directly by phone.

This process is not as complicated as it seems. It is very common that the newspaper you choose will help walk you through the process. Here's what you need to know to get started.

  • The newspaper must be a general circulation publication that circulates in the county where you register your fictitious business name.
  • The notice must appear once a week for four straight weeks.
  • You must publish within 30 days of filing your DBA
  • If re-filing your fictitious business name is required (after the original has expired), you must publish the DBA notice again.
  • In most situations, the newspaper will charge a publication fee. This must be paid.

After four weeks of publications, the newspaper you choose will send you an affidavit proving that your publication requirement has been met.

Now that you have met your publication requirements, you will need to submit the affidavit (proof of publication) you received from the newspaper who published the statement to the county clerk's office where you registered your DBA. In some cases, the newspaper you choose will complete this filing for you, so be sure to ask them about the process. Just remember that filing the proof is your responsibility.

Some counties, like San Francisco, charge an additional fee for filing the proof. You can get more information regarding this from your county clerk.

We hope you find this detailed list of steps makes the process of registering a doing business as name (DBA) a bit more simplified for you. However, we understand that filing a DBA for your business can be confusing and time-consuming process. That's why MyCorporation offers DBA filing services for businesses in all 58 counties across California.

Our experts will complete the forms for your county, check its registration status, and even publish the DBA notice where required. All you need do is sign and return a few documents in our prelabeled envelope. You'll receive the approval and publication certificate for your records without any heavy lifting.

We make filing a DBA in California easy.

Operate your business under your business name, open a bank account for your business, and build credibility without all of the hassle. MyCorporation will handle the paperwork for you, so you can focus on building your business.

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California DBA Frequently Asked Questions

No. A business license is required of all businesses, whereas a DBA is required only if the business is operating under a name different from the name of the owner.

In California, all businesses are required to file for a general business license (sometimes referred to as a business tax certificate). Business licenses are issued by cities and municipalities, and every city in California differs in their requirements. If you plan on operating your business in multiple cities, you will need to apply for a business license in each location. Some additional permits may be required in addition to a general business license, which may need to be filed with the county or the state. You can find out about the specific licenses applicable to your business by checking with the city offices where you will conduct business, or by using MyCorporation's business license compliance package. Our team of skilled professionals will identify the licenses required by your business and provide you with all the information you need to file.

You may also utilize CalGold Opens a new window, which helps California businesses find appropriate permit information. Keep in mind that CalGold does not issue permits or licenses directly to businesses. However, they do provide contact information that allows entrepreneurs to reach out to the appropriate agency contact for administering and issuing out permits.

A DBA does not grant exclusivity for the use of a business name. DBAs identify the business and claim the business's name, but they only claim the name itself. Once you file for a DBA, the name cannot be used by another business on the state level. However, if a business in a different state wanted to register the same DBA as your business, they could so long as no other business in their state had already claimed that name. It is also possible to trademark a DBA. This would offer nationwide protection against infringement.

Under California law, you are required to renew your DBA every five years after the initial filing date. Each county has its own forms and requirements to do so, so you should contact your county clerk for any questions. If you fail to renew your DBA within the five year limit, you will most likely be required to complete your publication requirement again, which could lead to extra headaches and fees.

Filing a DBA in California will not impact your taxes, as it does not alter your tax status. Only the name you conduct business as will change. The structure of your business is what determines how you will be taxed (sole proprietor, corporation, LLC, etc.), so you will continue to pay taxes as usual after filing a DBA.

If you are not planning to continue using your DBA, you can file a statement of abandonment with the county clerk where you registered. Most counties will provide you with the required forms you need to complete this filing.

Helpful California Resources

See Our How To Startup Guides for California

Are you looking for another entity type? We offer several other guides to help you start your business in the state of California.

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