How to Get a Fictitious Name in Pennsylvania
A Pennsylvania DBA, also called a fictitious name, is any name your business uses that isn't its legal business name. DBAs can be used for almost all business-related activities—from advertising in print and on social media to accepting payments from customers, paying vendors, and opening business bank accounts. All types of businesses use DBAs, including Pennsylvania sole proprietors and general partnerships, LLCs, and even multinational corporations. If your business plans to use a fictitious name in Pennsylvania, you are required to register it with the state. Registering a DBA in Pennsylvania involves researching your preferred name to make sure no one else is using it, filing paperwork with the state, and paying a $70 fee. Our guide walks you through the process.
Your Pennsylvania DBA Guide:
What is a Pennsylvania DBA?
A Pennsylvania DBA (fictitious name) is simply an alternative name that you can use in place of your legal business name. DBAs are especially popular among sole proprietors, since their first and last name is their legal business name. For example, if Doug Smith paints murals, a DBA name like “Walls Street Art” tells potential customers more about his business than “Doug Smith.” DBAs can be used in almost the same way you’d use your legal business name, including:
- Websites and social media accounts (Facebook, Instagram, etc…)
- Advertising (billboards, print media, radio, television, etc…)
- Business cards, company letterhead and merchandise
- Opening a business bank account
- To set up a point-of-sale system
- Issue checks to vendors
DBAs are also important for franchise businesses. For example, if you own a 7-Eleven franchise, the legal name of your business might be “Pittsburgh Convenience, LLC,” but you’ll need to get a DBA to use the actual 7-Eleven name.
Can I sign a business contract using my DBA?
Not without including your legal business name. Since a DBA is just a name and not a legal entity, you’ll need to sign any contracts with the legal name of your business. You’ll also want to include your DBA on the contract. For example, a sole proprietor with a DBA for their lawn mowing business might sign a contract “Laura Sanchez, DBA Lawns of Beauty.” Any formal entity (LLC, corporation, nonprofit, etc…) that operates under a DBA would have an authorized company representative (member, manager, etc…) sign a contract using their name, the name of the business, and the DBA.
Why Register a Pennsylvania DBA?
For one, state law (54 Pa.C.S. § 311) requires that all fictitious names be registered with Pennsylvania’s Department of State (DOS). Failure to register your DBA with the state will prevent your business from maintaining a lawsuit in any Pennsylvania court until the registration has been filed and approved. Pennsylvania can also levy a $500 penalty against any business that knowingly uses a DBA without registering. Beyond simply adhering to state law, you might want to register a DBA if:
You’re a sole proprietor or general partnership.
Sole proprietors and general partnerships don’t have to file registration forms to do business in Pennsylvania. If you’re in business as a sole proprietor, by law you have to use your full name as your business name (example: John Smith). If you’re in a general partnership, you’ll be required to use the last names of the business owners (Smith, Jones, and Johnson).
Getting a DBA that better reflects the kind of services or products your business offers can help your business attract more customers. For example, instead of running your business simply as “Enrique Valdez,” you can get a DBA, like “Total Home Roofing.”
You want a new business name but not a whole new business.
DBAs aren’t just for sole proprietors and general partnerships. Formal entities like LLCs and corporations may also want to operate under a name that isn’t their legal business name. In fact, as time goes on, some businesses find that their legal business name is too long or no longer describes what the business does. Or you might want to add new services or brands to your business under a different name. A DBA allows formal entities to operate under a new name without having to start a whole new business or file paperwork to amend their legal business name.
You use your domain name as your business name.
You only need a DBA for your domain if you intend to market your business under the domain name. For instance, if your legal business name is “Yinzers Cheesesteaks, LLC,” but your website is “yinzhungry.com,” and you market your business under your domain name, you’ll need to register it as a DBA. Registering your domain name as a DBA makes it clear that there is a connection between your business and the name that you’re using to operate.
Will a Pennsylvania DBA keep my personal information off public record?
No. Pennsylvania wants to know who owns the business that registers the DBA, which is why the state asks for the names of the business owner(s) on the DBA application. This means that the information you submit on your DBA application will be public knowledge. The best way to safeguard your privacy is to hire a Pennsylvania registered agent that will form a Pennsylvania LLC for you. At Northwest, we can list our information on your state filings wherever allowed, which keeps you from having to include personal information (like your name or address) on the public record.
How to Get a DBA in Pennsylvania
The process for getting a DBA in Pennsylvania involves performing a name search, filing an application with Pennsylvania’s Department of State (DOS), and paying a $70 filing fee. But there’s more to it than that. We’ll walk you through it.
Your first step is to make sure no other business is using your DBA name. To do this, check with Pennsylvania’s Business Name Search to confirm your desired name is free to use. If it’s already in use, you’ll need to find another DBA to use.
You must also follow Pennsylvania’s fictitious naming guidelines found in 54 Pa.C.S. § 311. Your name can’t:
- Be the same or similar to the name of a registered business entity in Pennsylvania.
- Use words like “LLC,” “Inc.,” “Corp.,” and other identifiers that suggest your business is a different entity type than it is. Use of the word “company” or “co.” in a fictitious name registered by a sole proprietorship is allowed (54 Pa.C.S. § 311(b)(1)).
- Use words or titles that suggest that the business does something that it doesn’t (doctor, lawyer, accountant, etc…).
- Use words like “college,” “university, “seminary,” “engineering,” “architecture,” “surveyor,” “banking,” “trust,” “cooperative,” or any other word implying that the entity is involved in the named activity unless approved by the state department or license board associated with the profession.
The official form you’ll fill out in order to register your DBA is the Registration of Fictitious Name. You’ll need to list the following information on your paperwork:
- Fictitious name being registered
- Brief description of the business activity
- Address of the principal place of business (PO boxes are not acceptable)
- Names and addresses of the owners of the business
- Names and addresses of entities (other than individuals) that own the business
- Names of anyone authorized to amend or cancel the registration on behalf of the existing parties
Once the application is complete, it’s time to submit it to Pennsylvania’s DOS. Applications are accepted by mail or online. Online filings will take about 5-10 business days to be processed. Mailed filing will take longer.
Pennsylvania Department of State
Bureau of Corporations and Charitable Organizations
PO Box 8722
Harrisburg, PA 17105-8722
Pa. Code § 17.208 requires all businesses that register or plan to register a fictitious name to advertise their new fictitious name in two newspapers in the county where they do business. One of the newspapers must be a legal publication, and if there is no legal newspaper or journal in your county, you’ll need to publish notice in two county newspapers. If there is only one newspaper in the county where your business is located, publishing in that newspaper is sufficient.
The advertisement should include:
- Your new fictitious name
- Address of the principal office where the business under the fictitious name will be carried out
- Names and addresses of anyone listed on the fictitious name registration form
- Statement that an application for registration of a fictitious name is to be or was filed under the Fictitious Names Act
Publication prices vary by county. For example, Allegheny County’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette costs $150 for fictitious name publishing. The Pittsburgh Legal Journal will cost $135. Cumberland County’s Cumberland Law Journal charges $105. Blair County’s Altoona Mirror charges at least $32.70 to publish (plus $8 for them to mail you proof of publication).
Once your ad has run, the newspaper and/or journal will mail you proof of publication. You are not required to send proof of publication to the DOS, but you should keep it with your business records.
Registering a DBA vs. Starting a Business in Pennsylvania
Getting a DBA and starting a business are two different things. DBA registration allows a business to use a nickname in place of its legal business name. Starting a business, however, is another undertaking entirely. For starters, you need a business before you can get a DBA. A business is an activity or organization that provides goods or services to customers, with the aim of making a profit. A DBA is just a name businesses can use to market themselves. There are two ways to start a business in Pennsylvania:
Formally register with the state: To form a registered business entity like an LLC or corporation, you’ll need to file formation documents with the state and pay a filing fee.
Sell a service or product: Unless you form an entity like an LLC or corporation, your default business is a sole proprietorship (one owner) or a general partnership (multiple owners). You are your business, at least in the eyes of the law. This means that any of your business’s liabilities fall on your shoulders.
DBA vs. Pennsylvania LLC
A DBA is just a name that your business can use. It isn’t an actual business like a Pennsylvania LLC. While both LLCs and DBAs are required to be registered with the state, only an LLC gives business owners asset protection in the event of a lawsuit or bankruptcy. If you’re a sole proprietor just looking for a cool name for your business, a DBA is really all you need. But if you want asset protection and a business name, an LLC is the way to go. Northwest can help you get one.
Protect Your Assets with a Pennsylvania LLCGet Started Today!
Pennsylvania DBA FAQs
Is a DBA required in Pennsylvania?
Yes. State law requires that any business that uses a name that is not its legal business name register a DBA.
How much does it cost to get a DBA in Pennsylvania?
Is there a publishing requirement to get a Pennsylvania DBA?
Yes. Pennsylvania requires that you publish a notice of intent to use a fictitious name in the county where your business is located. You can do it before you register your DBA, or after, but if the state rejects your DBA registration after you’ve already published your DBA name, you’ll have wasted a bunch of money. It’s best to wait to publish until after your DBA has been accepted by the state.
How long does it take to get a Pennsylvania DBA?
It takes Pennsylvania about 5-10 business days to process DBA applications. Mailed filings will take longer due to postal times.
How long will my Pennsylvania DBA last?
Pennsylvania DBAs do not expire.
Can I update or cancel my DBA in Pennsylvania?
You can. To update or cancel your DBA in Pennsylvania, you’ll need to fill out and submit an Amendment, Withdrawal, Cancellation of Fictitious Name Registration form. You can print out a copy and mail it in, or if you want faster service, you can file online with PENN File. It costs $70 to cancel a DBA.
How can I protect my DBA?
Do I need a separate EIN for my DBA?
Do I need a separate bank account for my DBA?
How many DBAs can I have in Pennsylvania?
You can have as many DBAs as you want.
What is my legal business name?
Your business’s legal name is the name that is listed on government documents (for example, 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.