How to Get an Iowa Fictitious or Trade Name
In Iowa, if you want to do business under any name that isn't your legal business name, you'll need to get an Iowa DBA. Iowa sole proprietorships, general partnerships, LLCs, and corporations can use a DBA for activities like social media marketing and opening a business bank account. Depending on what type of business you own, you'll either register with the secretary of state (LLCs, corporations) or with the office of the county recorder where you conduct business (sole proprietors, general partnerships). Here's the lowdown on getting a DBA in Iowa.
Your Iowa DBA Guide:
What is an Iowa DBA (Fictitious or Trade Name)?
A DBA is an alternative name for your business. For example, if you own a soap company and your legal business name is Johnson Sisters Inc, you could get a DBA to operate under a more descriptive or memorable name, like “Cedar Scents.” In Iowa, DBAs for business entities like LLCs are known as fictitious names. DBAs for unregistered businesses like sole proprietorships are called trade names. However, all of these terms mean the same thing.
Iowa state statutes require businesses to register any DBA they use. If you don’t register, you could face legal consequences. For example, any sole proprietor and general partnership that conducts business under an unregistered trade name risks being charged with a simple misdemeanor (Iowa Code 547.4).
What’s unique about DBA registration in Iowa?
- State- and county-level filing: To register a DBA, LLCs, corporations, and other business entities registered with the state must file a resolution to adopt a fictitious name with the secretary of state. Sole proprietors and general partnerships conducting business under a trade name must register that name with the county recorder in the county where the business is located.
- Filing exceptions: You don’t need to register if you do business under your surname. For example, as sole proprietor Melanie Davis, you could operate under “Davis Artworks” without registering but not “Kinetic Sculpture.”
Why Register a DBA in Iowa?
Here are some other common reasons to register a DBA in Iowa:
You’re an Iowa sole proprietor
A sole proprietorship is a business that is owned by one person and isn’t registered with the state. There’s no legal separation between a sole proprietor and their business, so the legal business name of a sole proprietorship is simply the owner’s name.
However, if you’re a sole proprietor, you may not want to do business under your name. One solution is to get a DBA so that you can use a more professional name or one that highlights the products or services you offer. Say you’re a horseback riding instructor. With a DBA, you could do business as “Saddle Up!” instead of Michelle Jackson.
To market your business
You might also get a DBA when expanding or rebranding your business. A DBA is a cost-effective way to market a new business line without having to start a whole business. For example, if you started out as a diner called Micky’s Place LLC, but you’ve decided to specialize in gourmet waffles, you could get the DBA “Waffletopia.”
Common ways to use a DBA to build brand awareness 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
You want to do business under your domain name
If you purchase a domain name that you start doing business under, you must register that name as a DBA. For example, say you own Pistachio Roasters LLC and you buy pistachioparty.net. Then you start advertising as pistachioparty.net or as “Pistachio Party” in commercials, on social media, and so on. In a situation like this, your domain name is functioning as a DBA, so you need to register it.
Note: Registering an Iowa DBA doesn’t prevent another business from using the same name. For stronger legal rights to your name, you can apply to trademark your DBA at the federal level.
How to Register an Iowa Fictitious or Trade Name
The DBA process is similar for all businesses in Iowa, regardless of whether you must register at the state or county level. Here’s what you need to do, according to business type:
Check name availability
Before registering your DBA, you must find out if the name you want to use is available. You can’t use any name that already belongs to a registered business or that is too similar to the name of a registered business. Additionally, you can’t use a trademarked name.
To find out if your name is available, you can search the following databases:
- Iowa Business Entities Search
- Iowa Trademark Search
- US Patent and Trademark Office’s Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS)
Because DBAs are not exclusive in Iowa, you don’t need to check name availability among trade names at the county level. However, for marketing reasons, you may want to avoid using the same DBA name as another business in your county, so it can be a good idea to check the records anyway. Lake County has an online Records Search, but in other counties, you may need to contact the recorder’s office directly to access assumed name records.
Note: Professional corporations must include the words “professional corporation” or the abbreviation “PC” in their fictitious name (Iowa Code 4896C.5).
LLCs and corporations: file fictitious name resolution
Registered business entities like LLCs and corporations must register DBAs by filing a Fictitious Name Resolution with the secretary of state.
On this form, you must include:
- The name and signature of at least one business owner or person authorized to file on behalf of your business
- Business entity name
- The date your entity adopted the resolution
- Your fictitious name
You can submit your Fictitious Name Resolution by mail, in person, or online.
Mail or hand delivery:
Secretary of State
Business Services Division
Lucas Building, 1st Floor
Des Moines, Iowa 50319
Fast Track Filing
The filing fee is just $5 for all entities. No renewal is required.
Sole proprietorships and general partnerships: file with the county recorder
Unregistered businesses like sole proprietorships and general partnerships must file a Trade Name Statement with the county recorder in the county where they operate. You can find contact and website information for your county recorder using the Iowa Land Records’ County Recorder Directory.
Most recorders’ offices provide a form, most of which are very similar. For example, Polk County’s Trade Name Form and Linn County’s Trade Name Form are the same except for the county name.
If, for some reason, you must prepare your own Trade Name Statement, you must list:
- The name and address of the business owner(s)
- Your desired trade name
- The legal name and address of your business
- Signature(s) of business owner(s)
Filing costs $7 for the first page and $5 for each additional page (Iowa Code 331.604). Once you’ve filed, you’re good to go for as long as you want to use your trade name—renewal is not required. Some counties allow online filing, whereas in other counties, you’ll need to mail or hand-deliver your filing.
Your Trade Name Statement must also be notarized.
Filing a DBA Vs. Starting a Business
Even though the process may feel similar, there’s a big difference between filing a DBA and starting a business. A DBA doesn’t create a new business or change the structure of your existing business—it’s just a name. If you’re a sole proprietor, you’re still a sole proprietor after you get a DBA.
Because of this, there are some things you must do with your business’s legal name, such as filing taxes and signing contracts. With contracts, you should list your DBA alongside your legal business name for transparency.
To start a business in Iowa, you’ll need to do one of two things:
- Sell a product or service. To create an unregistered business like a sole proprietorship or general partnership, all you need to do is make a sale. That’s it—you’re officially in business. Keep in mind, though, that you may be required to get a business license to operate, depending on your line of work.
- Register your business with the state. To establish a business entity like an LLC or a corporation, you must file formation documents (Articles of Organization or Incorporation) with the state. You’ll also need to pay a filing fee.
DBA vs LLC in Iowa
An Iowa LLC is a business entity that is considered legally separate from its owners. If you own an LLC, this separation helps protect your assets. In the event that your LLC is sued or owes debts, agencies or creditors can come after your business assets, but your personal assets (cars, property, savings) are off-limits. This is called liability protection.
DBAs don’t provide liability protection. So, for example, as a sole proprietor with a DBA, your personal assets aren’t shielded from any legal or financial problems your business may encounter. If you want liability protection, the best way to get it is to form an LLC.
Does an Iowa DBA keep my personal information off the public record?
No. DBA registration is designed to protect consumers by allowing them to find out who they’re doing business with. If you’re filing with the county and you work out of a home office, your DBA application may include your home address.
One way to keep more of your personal information off the public record is to start an LLC. LLC owners don’t need to disclose the names and addresses of their members when filing formation documents. And, if you hire Northwest as your Iowa registered agent, you can use our address in place of yours on state documents wherever allowed.
Protect Your Assets with an Iowa LLCGet Started Today!
Iowa DBA FAQs
How much does it cost to register a DBA in Iowa?
Registered business entities, who must file at the state level, will pay $5. Unregistered businesses registering at the county level will pay $7 plus $5 for each additional page.
Do I need to register a DBA in every county where I do business?
No. If you register your DBA at the county level as a sole proprietor or general partnership, you only need to register in the county where you conduct business.
Is registering a DBA required in Iowa?
Yes, you must register a DBA in order to legally use one in Iowa.
Can I amend or cancel a fictitious name?
There’s no set procedure for amending or canceling your fictitious name at the state level, so you’ll need to contact the secretary of state’s Business Services Division for instructions regarding your specific case.
Many county Trade Name Statement forms contain the option to change ownership or address information or to dissolve the trade name, as you can see from Black Hawk County’s Trade Name Form. The filing fee remains $7 for the first page and $5 for each additional page.
Do I need a separate bank account for my DBA?
No. A DBA isn’t a separate business entity, so you don’t need to open a separate bank account for DBA dealings. However, separating your business finances can make bookkeeping easier, so it might be a good idea.
Do I need a separate EIN for my DBA?
Nope. Certain types of businesses need an EIN, including multi-member LLCs, corporations, and all businesses with employees. But you don’t need a separate EIN for a DBA.
How long does DBA registration last in Iowa?
DBA registration lasts as long as you want it to. Renewal is not required.
How many DBAs can I register in Iowa?
As many as you would like. There’s no limit on the number of DBAs you can register, but keep in mind that you’ll need to register and pay the fee for each one separately.
Can I sign contracts with my DBA?
You may include your DBA when signing a contract, but only if you list your DBA alongside your legal business name. A DBA isn’t a business on its own, so any contracts signed solely with your DBA might not hold up in court.
Can I buy a domain name under my DBA?
It depends. If your domain registrar allows your to purchase a domain name with a DBA, you can. However, some registrars require businesses to use their legal business names.
What is my legal business name?
Your business’s legal business name is the name listed on your business’s government documents, such as state and tax filings.
For formal business entities like LLCs, corporations, and non-profits, a business’s legal name is the name on its formation documents, including the company’s entity identifier (“Company Name, LLC,” “Company Name, Inc.,” etc.).
For sole proprietors, a business’s legal name is its owner’s legal name.
For general partnerships, a business’s legal name is either the partners’ last names or a name the partnership has given itself in a written partnership agreement.