Washington DC DBA
How to Get a Washington DC Trade Name
A Washington DC DBA is any name used to identify a business other than its legal business name. In Washington DC, DBAs are referred to as trade names, and you're legally required to register any trade name you use with the district. Any type of business—DC sole proprietor, general partnership, LLC, corporation, or nonprofit—can use a DC trade name to establish a brand identity, for marketing campaigns, and to maintain its public image. To apply for a DBA in Washington DC, you'll need to submit a Trade Name Registration Application to the Department of Licensing and Consumer Protections (DLCP) for $55. We'll break down the process below.
Your Washington DC DBA Guide:
A Washington DC DBA, or “doing business as” name, is essentially an alias for your business. For instance, as a sole proprietor, you may operate under the DBA “Honest Abe’s Lie Detection Services” instead of under your own name, Abe Eagleton. In some other states, DBAs are also known as fictitious or assumed names.
State law requires that any business using a Washington DC DBA register that name with the Department of Licensing and Consumer Protection (Code of DC § 47.2855.02).
Why Register a DBA in DC?
Here are some common reasons to register a DBA in Washington DC:
You’re a Washington DC sole proprietor
A sole proprietorship is a one-person business that isn’t registered with the state. Selling something? If you haven’t filed paperwork with the DLCP, you’re a sole proprietor. In a sole proprietorship, there’s no legal separation between the business and business owner, so the legal name of a sole proprietorship is the owner’s full name. However, if you’re a sole proprietor, you may not want to do business under your full name. Using DBA allows you to operate with a more professional name or one that better describes the products or services you offer. For example, instead of George Harris, you can work under the DBA “Harris Landscaping.”
For marketing purposes
Many businesses choose to adopt a DBA when expanding or rebranding. Getting a DBA can be especially useful if you want to create a new business line without starting a whole new business. Say you own A to Z Translations LLC, and you form a new department that focuses specifically on legal translations. Instead of creating an additional LLC, you can have that department do business under the DBA “Expert Legal Translation.”
Common ways to use a DBA to market and maintain your professional image 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 (Note: some banks will require proof of DBA registration)
- To make and receive payments
If you do business under your domain name, you can also register that name as a DBA.
Tip: Registering a Washington DC trade name doesn’t guarantee that another business won’t use it. For stronger legal rights to your name, you can apply to trademark your DBA name at the federal level. Here’s how to apply for a trademark.
How to Get a DBA in DC
To register a trade name in Washington DC, you’ll need to submit a Trade Name Registration Application to the DC Department of Licensing and Consumer Protection Corporations Division (DLCP).
Before you can get your trade name approved, you’ll need to make sure the name is available and file your paperwork. If you own a registered business entity like an LLC or corporation, your business must be in good standing before you file—i.e., up-to-date on all required District filings and fees—but you won’t need to submit a certificate of good standing. Here’s an overview of the process.
Washington DC requires trade names to be unique among all domestic and foreign business names and trade names registered with the district. Additionally, your name cannot too similar to the name of any government agency or organization.
To check if your desired DBA is available in DC, you’ll need to create an account with DC’s CorpOnline to search the entity database. You can also use the US Patent and Trademark Office Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) to find out if your desired DBA has been trademarked at the federal level.
It is possible to share a trade name with another business that owns the name if you are able to obtain written consent from the original owner. If this is the case, contact the DLCP for specific details regarding how to submit this information.
Note: Along with being available to use and unique, your trade name cannot include a business entity qualifier like “LLC” or “Corp,” according to the DLCP Trade Name site. However, you can include the word “company.”
When you file your Trade Name Registration Application with DC, you’ll need to provide the following:
- Name of business or person using the trade name
- Proposed trade name
- Industry of business
- Name and address of someone with authority to make decisions for business
- Business address
- Registered agent name and address (sole proprietors put their own name and address)
Unlike some states, your application does not need to be notarized before submitting it in the District of Columbia. It’s important to note that your registered agent address must be based in Washington DC.
Once you’ve completed your trade name application, you’ll submit it to the Washington DC DLCP. You may file online or by mail. The filing fee for DC’s Trade Name Registration Application is $55.
Department of Licensing and Consumer Protection
PO Box 92300
Washington, DC 20090
Note: Expedited filing is available at $50 for 3-day processing and $100 for same-day processing.
How to Renew a DBA in DC
Washington DC DBAs must be renewed by April 1st of the second year following your registration. For example, if you registered your trade name in June of 2021, your renewal would be due April 1st, 2023. After that, you must continue to renew your trade name every two years. To renew, you can submit a Trade Name Renewal Form, which costs $55 to file.
On your renewal form, you’ll need to provide the name of the individual or entity using the trade name, the trade name itself, the trade name file number, your trade name expiration year, and the name and signature of the person filing the form.
Trade name renewal is always due by April 1st, but you can file late for an additional $55. Late applications are accepted until August 31st. If you haven’t renewed by August 31st, your Washington DC trade name registration will be canceled on September 1st and you’ll have to register again in order to keep the name (as long as it is still available).
Amending your DBA
If, for some reason, you need to amend your initial DBA registration filing—for example, maybe you misspelled your trade name—you can file a Trade Name Amendment Form. Like registration and renewal, amending your trade name in Washington DC will cost $55.
The Trade Name Amendment Form requires all the same information as the Trade Name Renewal Form, along with an explanation of the amendment(s) to be made to the original registration and your original registration date.
Canceling your DBA
To cancel your DBA in DC, you must submit a Trade Name Cancellation Form to the DLCP and pay a $55 fee. You’ll be required to provide most of the same information that is required on the renewal form.
Filing a DBA vs Starting a Business in DC
It’s easy to confuse filing a DBA with starting a business, but the two are actually very different. A Washington DC trade name is only an alternative business name, not a business in and of itself. And using a DBA doesn’t change the structure of your business. For example, if you own a Washington DC sole proprietorship and start using a DBA, you’re still a sole proprietor—just using a different name.
Since a DBA isn’t a separate business entity, you must continue to use your legal business name for government and legal purposes, like when you file taxes or sign a contract. With contracts, you’ll actually need to list both your legal and DBA name so that your business is properly identified to the party you’re contracting with.
To start a business in Washington DC, you can take one of two approaches:
- Sell something. If you’re starting an unregistered business like a sole proprietorship or general partnership, all you need to do is make a sale. Once you do that, you’re in business (though you may still be required to get local or state business licenses, depending on the type of work you perform).
- Register your business with the state. If you’re starting a business entity like an LLC or corporation, you’ll need to register your business with the DLCP. This will require filing formation documents (such as articles of organization for an LLC) and paying a fee.
DBA vs LLC in Washington DC
A DBA is just a name, but a Washington DC LLC is a business entity. Unlike unregistered businesses like sole proprietorships, LLCs are legally separate from their owners, which allows an LLC to provide its owner(s) with liability protection. This means only the business assets are at risk if the business is sued or owes debts. Owners’ personal assets are safe.
If you’re currently a sole proprietor, getting a DBA won’t give you liability protection. The easiest way to safeguard your personal assets from business losses is to form an LLC. After that, if you still want to use a DBA, you certainly can.
Does a Washington DC DBA keep my personal information off the public record?
Unfortunately, using a Washington DC DBA doesn’t keep your personal information off the public record. When registering your DBA, you must provide the name of your business and the name and address of at least one person authorized to file on behalf of your business.
To limit the amount of personal information you share, you can hire a Washington DC registered agent to form your business. For example if you hire Northwest as your registered agent can we can put our information in place of yours wherever possible on your formation documents.
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Washington DC DBA FAQs
How much does it cost to get a DBA in DC?
It costs $55 to file for trade name registration.
How long does it take to get a Washington DC DBA?
In DC, you’ll have to wait 4-5 days from the time the department receives the form. If submitting by mail, you’ll also have to include mailing time.
Is registering a DBA required in Washington DC?
Yes. DC Code § 47–2855.02 states that “a person who carries on, conducts, or transacts business in the District of Columbia under any trade name shall register that trade name with the Department.” You don’t need to use the trade name first to register it, like in some states. In fact, you’re required to register the trade name before you start using it.
Do I need a separate bank account for my DBA?
No. A DBA or trade name is not a business itself, so it does not require a separate bank account. Some business owners may set up a different bank account for their DBA to keep their business finances separate for tax or accounting reasons.
Do I need a separate EIN for my DBA?
No. You do not need a separate EIN for your DBA since a trade name is not a new business but a business name.
How long does trade name registration last in Washington DC?
Two years. To renew your trade name with DC, you’ll need to file the Trade Name Renewal application by April 1st every other year.
Can I change or update my trade name in Washington DC?
Absolutely. To change or update your DC trade name, you’ll file the Trade Name Amendment Form with the Corporations Division for $55.
How many DBAs can I register in Washington DC?
There is no limit. You may register as many DBAs for your business as you want as long as you file the Trade Name Registration Application and pay the $55 fee.
Can I cancel my trade name in Washington DC?
Yes. You’ll file the Trade Name Cancellation Form with the district for $55.
Can I sign a contract under my DBA?
Actually, you’ll need to list both your legal business name and your DBA on any contracts you make while doing business under your DBA. If you sign with only your DBA, the contract might not hold up in court. However, you should include your DBA so that your business is clearly identified to whoever you’re contracting with.
Can I buy a domain name under my DBA?
That depends. Some domain registrars allow businesses to buy domain names under a DBA, but some don’t. If you’re concerned about buying a certain domain name using your legal business name, find a registrar that will let you make the purchase under a DBA.
What is my legal business name?
A business’s legal business name is the one that is listed on its government documents, such as state filings, tax filings, and so on.
- 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.