Quick Guide to using a DBA name in Pennsylvania

Clients often ask about “doing business as” names, commonly known as DBA names.  Given the confusion, I have put together a quick guide to using a DBA name in Pennsylvania that applies to both for-profit and nonprofit businesses.

What is a DBA name?

A DBA name is another name for a fictitious name.  It is a name used when your business operates under a name other than the registered, legal name.

A DBA name can be used by a business entity, such as a corporation, nonprofit, LLC, or partnership.  It can also be used by an individual who wants to operate a business under a fictitious name but does not want to form a legal business entity.

For more information about using a DBA name, including how to do it and the important legal details, read my article here on Does My Business Need to Register a Fictitious Name.

Keep in mind, a DBA name is not the same as a legal business entity.  This means that if you are a sole proprietor, your DBA name does not protect your assets from liability.  If you are a registered business entity, the DBA is the same as the business entity.  This means you do not protect the business entity and shield it from liability by registering a DBA.

How much does it cost to obtain a DBA name in Pennsylvania?

Pennsylvania charges a $70 filing fee to register a fictitious name (a DBA name).  Pennsylvania waives the filing fee for veteran-owned small businesses.

You are also required to publish a notice in the county newspapers of your intention to use the DBA name for your business.  The fees vary by newspaper but you can expect to spend about $150.

If you enlist an attorney or accountant to assist you, you will also incur their fee.  However, registering a DBA is simple and you should be able to do so yourself.

Can I have more than one DBA?

Yes, and there are many legitimate reasons to do so.

Maybe you offer multiple services and want to advertise them separately.   For example, your company does excavation and homebuilding.  In that case, you could register two fictitious names, one for Smith Excavating and Smith Home Builders.

Maybe your registered business name is nondescript.  For example, you own several rental properties under the name ABC Properties Company but want to advertise as Pittsburgh Real Estate or Buena Vista Apartments.

Maybe you want to rebrand.  This happens when a business expands beyond its original line of business.  Rebranding also occurs when the original name just doesn’t resound with customers, has become outdated, or has negative connotations.

If you operate in multiple locations under the same business entity or structure, you can use the DBA to differentiate between locations.

Some businesses even strategically use a DBA along with a domain name to enter a new market.

Can a Pennsylvania nonprofit use a DBA?

Of course!   Many nonprofits use d/b/a names.  There are many reasons for this:

  • To differentiate between multiple services or missions of a nonprofit.
  • To differentiate between the organization and its auxiliary
  • To shorten a cumbersome, long name.
  • To modernize a name when the organization has existed for decades.
  • To adopt the name or acronym commonly used by the public.

Contrary to common misunderstanding, nonprofits are not prohibited from operating under a DBA.  Nonprofit organizations are business corporations and while the name cannot be deceptive and cannot stray from the nonprofit’s mission, it is entitled to use a DBA just as a business corporation may.

Questions?

Contact Concerto Law if you have questions about using a DBA, how to determine if your DBA is already being used by another business, or you need assistance setting up a DBA.