How to Get a California Fictitious Business Name
A California DBA is any name your business operates under that isn't its legal business name. Under California state law, a DBA is referred to as a fictitious business name, or FBN. California sole proprietors, general partnerships, LLCs, and corporations can use a California DBA to establish a brand, increase brand awareness, and maintain their business's public image. To register a DBA in California, you must file a fictitious name statement in the county where your business is located. Each county has its own DBA registration process, so prices and requirements can vary. We'll show you how it's done.
Your California DBA Guide:
What is a California DBA (Fictitious Business Name)?
A California DBA is like a nickname that your business can use instead of its legal business name. For example, if you own Jimmy and Sal De Luca’s Authentic Italian Bistro Restaurant and Lounge LLC, you can operate under the much shorter DBA, like “De Luca Bistro.” The acronym DBA stands for “doing business as.” In some states, DBAs are also called trade names or assumed names.
Any type of California business can use a DBA, but DBA registration is only required for for-profit businesses (CA BPC § 17910). According to state law, nonprofit corporations such as churches, charitable organizations, and educational foundations don’t need to register any of the DBAs they use (CA BPC § 19711). DBA registration also isn’t required for unincorporated real estate investment trusts (CA BPC § 19712).
What’s unique about DBA registration in California?
- Only for-profit businesses are required to register their DBAs.
- California DBAs must be filed at the county level, unlike many other states where DBAs are filed with the state.
- You can start using a DBA before registering it, but you must file a fictitious name statement with your country clerk within 40 days to continue using the name legally.
- California has a publication requirement, meaning that you must publish notice that you are using a DBA in a local newspaper as part of the registration process.
Why Register a DBA in California?
On top of the legal requirement, there are numerous reasons to register a California DBA, such as:
You’re a California sole proprietor
Sole proprietorships are one-person businesses that aren’t registered with the state. Because there’s no legal separation between business owner and business in a sole proprietorship, the business’s legal name is the owner’s name. In California, any name you operate under as a sole proprietor that doesn’t include your last name must be registered as a fictitious name (CA BPC § 17900).
So, as Joshua Arteaga, you can do business as “Arteaga Rentals.” However, a more descriptive name might better inform customers about your services or products. For example, you could use a DBA like “Rambling Rose Villas” or “Redwood Vistas Cabin Rentals” instead.
To market your business
DBAs can be essential branding tools if your business is changing course or even if you just feel like your business needs a snappier name. Operating under a DBA can help you build and maintain your business’s brand and public image. Common ways to use a DBA include:
- On websites and social media accounts
- On signs, business cards, and other marketing materials
- In commercials and advertisements
- On merchandise
- To open a business bank account
- To make and receive payments
To expand your business
When starting a new business line, you can use a California DBA instead of starting a new or additional business (like an LLC) to save a hefty chunk of change.
A DBA generally costs less than $100 to file and lasts for 5 years. Meanwhile, all California LLCs are required to pay an LLC franchise tax of at least $800 every year. Currently, the franchise tax is being waived for the first year for all LLCs registered before January 1, 2024, but the cost of the tax ($3,200 at the least over four years) still far exceeds the cost of registering a fictitious business name for the same 5-year period.
Tip: Registering a California fictitious business name or trademark doesn’t guarantee another business won’t use it. You can apply to trademark your DBA name at the federal level for stronger legal rights to your name.
How to Get a California Fictitious Business Name
In order to register a California DBA, you need to file a fictitious business name (FBN) statement with the county clerk’s office in the county your business is located. Out-of-state companies conducting business in California that wish to use a fictitious name must file their FBN statements in Sacramento County.
Registration requirements and fees vary from county to county, so you’ll have to contact your county clerk’s office for specific details. Additionally, you’ll need to publish a notice announcing that your business is using a fictitious business name in a local newspaper. Here’s an overview of the process.
Before you do anything else, you’ll need to find out if your desired DBA name is available. You can’t use any name that has already been registered as a legal business name by any business entity formed with the state or any name that has been trademarked by another company.
You can use the following to find out if your desired name is available in California:
- California Online Business Search to search names of all registered LLCs, limited partnerships, and corporations
- Business Entities Records Order Form to request business filings by limited liability partnership (LLP) or general partnerships
- California Trademark Search
- US Patent and Trademark Office Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS)
To avoid using name that is the same as or similar to another DBA in your county, you’ll need to contact your county clerk’s office. Some offices will have fictitious business name databases available online—for example, the Los Angeles County Clerk has an online Fictitious Business Name Search with records going back to April 2011. However, other counties may require you to call or visit in person to examine fictitious business name records.
In addition to being available, your California DBA must comply with California’s naming guidelines for fictitious business names.
CA BPC § 17910.5 stipulates that fictitious business names cannot include business entity identifiers like “LLC” or “Corp” if those identifiers do not actually apply to the business. For example, you can’t use the DBA “Venice Beach Puppets LLC” if you’re a sole proprietor. You can, however, use simply “Venice Beach Puppets.”
The exact registration process for a California DBA varies, depending on the county where you register.
Most county clerk offices provide businesses with a fictitious business name statement form, like the San Deigo County Fictitious Name Statement or the San Bernardino County Fictitious Business Name Statement.
If your county doesn’t provide a form, you can draft your own fictitious name statement using the requirements listed in CA BPC § 17913(b):
- Intended fictitious business name
- Street address of the principal place of business
- Business owner’s name and address (for all owners)
- Business classification, such as individual owner, partnership, corporation, LLC
- The date the business started (or will start) doing business under the fictitious name
Remember: a fictitious business name statement must be filed no later than 40 days after your business has started using its DBA.
In some counties, you may encounter additional requirements. In Mariposa County, for example, you must include an Affidavit of Identity along with a Fictitious Business Statement if filing by mail. Be sure to check with your county clerk’s office to make sure you fulfill all filing requirements. California state statutes note that registered businesses may also be required to include a Statement of Good Standing with their applications.
Some counties also offer online filing for FBN statements, such as Los Angeles County’s Business Filing and Registration System. However, in other counties, you’ll need to mail in or deliver your statement in person. For example, in Fresno County, you can mail in your statement or make an appointment to file in person.
The fee to file varies by county and also depends on the number of people considered company owners. On the low end, in Colusa County, you’ll pay a $10 base fee plus $2 for each additional owner or fictitious name. By contrast, in San Francisco, you’ll pay a base price of $60 and another $15 per additional owner/fictitious name.
After registering a fictitious business name, California law requires business owners to publish a statement in the county newspaper in the location where the business is registered (CA BPC § 17917). According to state law, the statement must be published no more than 45 days after your DBA is filed with the county and run once a week for four consecutive weeks. However, note that some counties, such as Sacramento, require publication within 30 days of filing your FBN statement.
Bear in mind that publication costs are not uniform from county to county. It can cost as little as $25 to publish in Orange County and up to $194 in Kings County.
After publication, an affidavit of publication—sometimes called proof of publication—must be filed with your county clerk. The clerk will then send you official clearance that the fictitious business name is valid and active.
How to Renew a Fictitious Business Name in California
California DBAs expire after 5 years and must be renewed by repeating the registration process—all forms and fees remain the same. However, the publication requirement is not necessary for renewals unless you’re renewing more than 40 days after your FBN statement expired or some of the information on your FBN statement has changed (CA BPC § 17917).
Additionally, refiling is required if any of the information in your fictitious business name statement becomes inaccurate. For example, if your business address or number of owners changes, you must refile to update this information. As with renewal filings, re-filings for updates follow the same process and require the same fees as registration.
Can I cancel a DBA in California?
Yes. Canceling a California DBA is referred to as abandonment. If you wish to abandon your DBA before it expires, you’ll need to file a statement of abandonment of use of a fictitious business name with your county clerk’s office. Depending on your county, you may also need to pay a fee.
As with the fictitious business name statement, some counties provide forms for abandonment, like Sonoma County’s Fictitious Business Name Statement of Abandonment, which costs $31 to file. However, in other counties, you may be required to draft your own statement according to the guidelines in CA BPC § 17922. You’ll need to include:
- The fictitious business name being abandoned
- The date that the fictitious business name was filed, the file number, and the county it was filed in
- Street address of the principal place of business
- Business owner’s name and address (for all owners)
You’ll need to contact your county clerk’s office for exact instructions specific to your county.
Filing a DBA vs. Starting a Business
Filing a DBA is sometimes confused with starting a business. In reality, a DBA is just an alternate business name—like an alias. Registering a fictitious business name doesn’t change your business structure. If you’re a California sole proprietor and get a DBA, you’re still a California sole proprietor. This is true for all types of businesses.
Also, it should be noted that because filing a DBA doesn’t create a separate business entity, there are some things you can’t do under your DBA. For example, when signing a contract, you’ll need to include both your legal business name and your DBA name to ensure that your business’s identity is clear to whoever you’re signing the contract with. Any contract signed only with your DBA might not hold up in court. Additionally, you must pay taxes under your business’s legal name.
There are two ways to start a business in California:
- Register your business with the state. To form a business entity like an LLC or corporation, you must file formation documents with the state and pay a filing fee.
- Sell something. To start an unregistered business—for example, a sole proprietorship or general partnership—all you need to do is sell a product or service. (You may still need to obtain local or state business licenses, though, depending on your line of work.)
DBA vs LLC in California
While a California DBA is just a name, a California LLC is a business entity. LLCs are considered legally separate from their owners, which provides owners with liability protection. This means that if an LLC is sued or owes debts, owners’ personal assets are typically considered off-limits for creditors.
As an LLC owner, this protection applies whether or not you adopt a DBA. If you’re a sole proprietor, a DBA won’t protect your assets. So, if you want liability protection, an LLC is the way to go. You can always register a DBA (or more than one) to your LLC.
Does a California DBA keep my personal information off the public record?
Unfortunately, no. DBA registration is meant to help consumers figure out who they’re doing business with, so you’ll have to provide your business name and address on DBA paperwork. If you’re a sole proprietor or member of a general partnership who works out of a home office, this may include your home address.
The simplest way to reduce the amount of personal information you put on the public record is to hire a California registered agent like Northwest and form an LLC. Instead of listing your own information on state documents, we’ll list ours wherever allowed to increase your privacy.
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California DBA FAQs
How long does it take to register a California fictitious business name?
It can take up to two months to complete registration, depending on how long you wait to fulfill your publication requirement. You must publish notice for four weeks, so you can expect a minimum of 5 weeks, allowing for mail transit times. However, you can start using your DBA up to 40 days before starting the registration process.
How much does it cost to get a DBA in California?
Filing fees for California DBAs vary throughout all 58 counties in California. Typically, you’ll need to pay a flat fee and then an additional smaller amount for each additional owner. You’ll also need to pay to publish a public notice announcing that your business is using a fictitious business name. Fees for both filing and publishing a notice range widely, from less than $20 or more than $180.
Is registering a DBA in California required?
Yes. Businesses must register any California DBA they use. The exceptions are nonprofit companies and unregistered real estate trusts, which do not need to register their DBAs.
Do I need to register a California DBA in every county where I do business?
No. According to state law, you only need to register a California DBA in the county that is your “principal place of business”—the county where your business address is located (CA BPC § 17913).
How many fictitious business names can I have in California?
There’s no limit to the number of California DBAs your business can register, but keep in mind that you’ll need to complete the registration process for each name. (You can register multiple DBAs at the same time, which can reduce the price.)
Do I need a separate bank account for my DBA?
It’s not required, but it can be a good decision. A DBA is not a separate legal entity (like an LLC or a corporation), so you don’t need to keep your DBA finances separate. However, doing so can be helpful for bookkeeping, so you certainly can open a separate bank account if you wish.
Do I need a separate EIN for my DBA?
No. Because a DBA is just a name and you’re not starting a new business, you don’t need to get a new EIN. Multi-member LLCs, corporations, and businesses with employees all need EINs, but you don’t need a separate one for your DBA.
How long does DBA registration last in California?
Fictitious business names are registered for five years. Afterward, you will need to refile a new fictitious name statement to keep the name active.
Do I need to update my DBA if my business information changes?
Yes. Any time any of the information provided on your fictitious business name statement changes, you’ll need to refile (this will involve completing the entire process again, including the publication requirement).
Can I cancel my California DBA registration?
Yes. If you want to, you can cancel your registration through a process called abandonment. The abandonment process and fees vary by county, so contact your county clerk’s office for more information.
Can I sign contracts with my DBA?
Yes and no. Since a DBA isn’t a business, signing a contract with only your DBA isn’t recommended (your contract might not hold up in court). However, you should include your DBA along with your legal business name on contracts so that anyone you’re signing a contract with is clear about your business’s identity.
Can I buy a domain name under my DBA?
It depends. Some domain registrars allow businesses to purchase domain names under a DBA, but some don’t. If you’re concerned about buying a certain domain name using your legal business name, you’ll need to find a registrar that will allow you to do so under your DBA instead.
What is my legal business name?
Your legal business name is the name that appears on your business’s government documents (state filings, tax filings, etc.).
- For formal business entities like LLCs, corporations, and nonprofits, a business’s legal name is the name listed on its formation documents, including the company’s corporate identifier (“Company Name, LLC,” “Company Name, Inc.,” etc.).
- For sole proprietors, a business’s legal name is the owner’s legal name.
- For general partnerships, a business’s legal name is either the partners’ last names or a name the partnership gave itself in a written partnership agreement.