How to File a DBA for Your Business in California

How to File a DBA in California

If you want to legally operate a business in California under a name different from your personal name or registered legal business name, you must file for a DBA – Doing Business As.

This registration doesn’t create a formal business entity but allows you to conduct business activities under an alternate “fictitious” name.

Read on to understand what a DBA is, why you may need one, and how to file a DBA for your California business.

What is a DBA?

A DBA, known officially as a Fictitious Business Name Statement, registers an alternate “fictitious” name with the county where your business is located. The DBA name then links back to the business owner(s) or entity.

For example, John Smith owns a corporation called Smith & Associates, Inc. He wants to open a wedding photography company under this entity called “Evermore Weddings.” John must file a DBA to do business under that name unless the name is expressly stated in the articles of incorporation filed with the state.

The county records the DBA filing, publicly showing that Evermore Weddings ultimately links back to John Smith’s incorporated business behind the scenes.

So, in short, a DBA offers branding flexibility without forming a distinct business entity. Many small business owners find DBAs useful for such reasons.

Who Needs a DBA in California?

In California, you must have an active DBA to legally operate any business that:

  • Is a sole proprietorship that uses a name that does not include the surname of the owner
  • Conducts business under a partnership
  • Operates under a corporate entity but wants to use an alternate business name

For example, a sole proprietor named James Johnson would not need a DBA for “Johnson’s Handyman Services.” But he would need to file a DBA if operating as “ Johnson and Son’s Home Repairs” instead. The name implies a potential partnership.

Additionally, corporations almost always use DBAs when operating several businesses under their legally incorporated name. For instance, an incorporated tech services company could operate under a DBA when expanding into software consulting.

Ultimately, if you want to do any business in California under a name different than your personal identity or legal entity’s name, register a DBA.

Why Bother Filing a DBA in California?

Beyond mere compliance, using a properly filed DBA offers advantages like:

  • Keeps your personal information private – A DBA allows you to operate under a business name that does not include personal details like your surname. This adds a layer of privacy.
  • Expands marketing capabilities – You can create branded assets like signs, websites, and products exclusively around your DBA name.
  • Allows versatility without new entities – If you have already established a legal entity like an LLC or corporation, DBAs let you use new business names under that existing structure. This avoids needing to form whole new entities each time you want to operate another venture.

Filing a DBA not only keeps your business compliant in California but can grant useful benefits. Investing the time into a DBA sets your business up for flexibility and security as you grow.

Step 1: Choose an Acceptable Name

Start the process of filing a DBA by thinking of an appealing fictitious name. You likely want one that communicates your offerings or brand image clearly to customers.

In California, acceptable business names:

  • Must use English letters, Arabic numerals, or approved symbols only. Accent marks and special characters don’t apply.
  • Cannot be misleading to the public or the same as existing names on record.

Once you have DBA name ideas, verify availability. While the California Secretary of State does not offer DBA search options online, some counties do have databases.

For instance, if you’re filing a DBA in Oakland, Alameda County provides an FBN search site to check names. However, if no online database exists in your county, you should contact your local county clerk’s office for assistance.

Step 2: Prepare Your Fictitious Business Name Statement

With a unique name secured, complete your Fictitious Business Name (FBN) Statement. This mandatory form provides key details about your DBA.

In California, FBN statements must include:

  • The fictitious business name
  • Street address of the principal place of business
  • Mailing address if different than the business address
  • Full legal name of person(s) or entity behind the DBA along with street/mailing address
  • Entity type (i.e. individual, partnership, trust, LLC)

The FBN form PDF is available from most county clerk websites.

Step 3: File Forms at the County Clerk’s Office

Filing your completed Fictitious Business Name Statement represents the final steps of the process. You must file your FBN statement within 40 days of starting business operations.

Start by contacting your specific County Clerk-Recorder’s Office. They will instruct you on current fees and specific filing protocols. While some counties now handle these requests online, rules vary across California.

For instance, Los Angeles County utilizes online DBA filing, but smaller areas like Fresno require in-person or mail submission instead.

Confirm requirements with your county clerk. Once filed, they’ll certify and return copies to you, keeping the original.

Step 4: Publish Your DBA Name

The final step makes your filing official – publishing a notice locally announcing your registered DBA name.

Within 30 days after filing your DBA, California requires publishing a statement in a newspaper with general circulation in your county. This must run weekly for four consecutive weeks.

Then, 30 days following the final notice date, you must obtain and submit an affidavit of publication from the newspaper to the county clerk. This legally confirms satisfying DBA announcement rules with the public.

Next Steps to Maintain Your California DBA

In California, DBAs are valid for five years. Mark your calendars in advance to refill paperwork on time.

Also remember to update or withdraw your registration if:

  • You relocate outside the original county of filing
  • You plan to discontinue the DBA
  • Any of the facts in the original FBN statement change

Staying informed on California’s DBA rules prevents business disruptions down the road.

Let’s Keep Exploring How We Can Help Your Business Thrive

Forming a compliant business entity involves many legal considerations beyond just DBAs. As your operations grow, ensure every decision sets you up for growth and security. That’s where our business law team can help steer you in the right direction.

We advise California business owners, offering strategic guidance on optimizing structure while limiting liability. Whether starting up or expanding business operations, count on our experience.

Our passion lies in helping you thrive long-term.

Contact us today for a consultation.

Author Bio

Vincent Tong

Vincent Tong is the CEO and Managing Partner of TONG LAW, a business and employment law firm located in Oakland, CA. Vincent is a fierce advocate for employees facing discrimination and wrongful termination. With several successful jury trial victories and favorable settlements, he has earned a strong reputation for delivering exceptional results for his clients.

In addition, Vincent provides invaluable counsel to businesses, guiding them on critical matters such as formation and governance, regulatory compliance, and protection of intellectual property assets. His depth of experience allows him to anticipate risks, devise strategies to avoid legal pitfalls, and empower clients to pursue their goals confidently.

Vincent currently serves as the 2021 President of the Board of Directors for the Alameda County Bar Association and sits on the Executive Board for the California Employment Lawyers Association. Recognized for outstanding skills and client dedication, he has consecutively earned the Super Lawyers’ Rising Star honor since 2015, reserved for the top 2.5% of attorneys. He also received the Distinguished Service Award for New Attorney from the Alameda County Bar Association in 2016. He is licensed to practice before all California state courts and the United States District Court for the Northern and Central Districts of California.

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