Rhode Island DBA
How to Get a Fictitious Business Name in Rhode Island
Any Rhode Island business that uses a name other than its legal business name is using a DBA (doing business as) name. Rhode Island sole proprietors, general partnerships, LLCs, and corporations can all use DBAs. DBAs can be used for almost all business-related activities, including creating social media accounts, advertising online, setting up payment systems, or opening a business bank account. Rhode Island refers to DBAs as fictitious business names, but they’re the same thing. Sole proprietors and general partnerships register DBAs at the local level in the jurisdiction where they do business, while LLCs and corporations file with Rhode Island's Secretary of State. Here's what you need to know.
Your Rhode Island DBA Guide:
What is a Rhode Island DBA?
A Rhode Island DBA (fictitious business name) is another name that your business can use instead of its legal business name. Whether you’re a sole proprietor with an Etsy store, a growing LLC, or a multinational corporation, all types of businesses can operate using a DBA.
A DBA can be used on:
- Websites and social media accounts (Facebook, Instagram, etc…)
- Advertising (billboards, print media, radio, television, etc…)
- Business cards, company letterhead and merchandise
- A business bank account
- Vendor checks and point-of-sale systems
Some states don’t require DBAs to be registered, but Rhode Island does. If you plan to use a name that isn’t your legal business name, you’re required to file at the state (LLCs and corporations) or local (sole proprietors and general partnerships) level.
It is important to remember that a DBA is just a name for your business and not a business itself. Registering a DBA does not change the fundamental structure of your business. If you were a sole proprietor before you got a DBA, you’re still a sole proprietor after. Because a DBA is not a legal entity, you’ll still file taxes under your legal business name and existing EIN (or SSN for most sole proprietors).
Can I sign a business contract with my DBA?
Not by itself. Since a DBA is not a legal entity, you’ll need to use the legal name of your business in order to enter into any contract. However, you’ll also want to list your DBA on the contract in order to be transparent about your business operating under a DBA. For example, a sole proprietor using a DBA would sign a contract “Guy Johnson, DBA Smart Guy Tutoring.” A formal entity like an LLC would have an authorized representative sign their name, their title, the legal name of the business, and finally the DBA (ex: Caroline Smith, member, Home Style Interiors, LLC, DBA Fancy and Formal Designs).
Why Register a Rhode Island DBA?
Here are some common reasons business owners register DBAs in Rhode Island:
You want a different business name
If you’re in business as a sole proprietor, your full name is your legal business name (example: Christa Jones). If you’re in a general partnership, you’ll be required to use the last names of the business owners (Jones and Smith) as the legal business name. While there’s nothing wrong with using your name as your business name, it may not stand out when you’re trying to attract customers. Getting a DBA that better reflects the kind of services or products your business offers can make you look more professional.
You use your website domain name as your business name
In most cases a business domain name is just an address for your customers to find your business online. For instance, if your legal business name is “Quick Auto Body Repair, LLC,” but that domain was already taken, you may have had to get a domain name like “rhodeworthy.com.” If you start doing business as “rhodeworthy.com,” or even “Rhode Worthy,” you’ll need to register that name as a DBA.
You’re looking to expand your brand.
DBAs give businesses the opportunity to add new brands, products, or services, all without having to start an entirely new business. For example, if “Fancy Formal Wear, LLC” wants to shift its focus towards athletic clothing, a DBA such as “Fancy Footwork and Athletic Wear,” can create two distinct business names and brands under one LLC. Essentially a DBA is an affordable way for business owners to add new services, expand their product lines, or even take the business in a new direction.
Will a DBA keep my personal information off the public record?
No. Rhode Island’s DBA application requires you to list the name and address of the person or business entity applying. All of that information will go on Rhode Island’s public record, easily searched by anyone who’s looking for it. In order to live privately as a business owner, your best option is to hire a Rhode Island registered agent and to form a Rhode Island LLC. When you hire Northwest, we can list our name and address on the public record instead of yours wherever the state allows. We do this to keep your private information out of the public eye.
How to Register a DBA in Rhode Island
How you register your fictitious business name in Rhode Island depends on the type of entity that is filing. Sole proprietors and general partnerships register DBAs in the jurisdiction where they do business. LLCs and corporations file with Rhode Island’s Department of State (DOS).
No matter how you file, you’ll need to make sure your DBA is unique among Rhode Island business names and adheres to state naming guidelines. Let’s take a look at how to register a DBA in Rhode Island.
To find out if your name is available, search the Rhode Island Department of State’s corporate database. Rhode Island will reject any DBA name that they deem to be too similar to any other business name in the state. It’s also a good idea to perform a federal trademark search of your DBA name to make sure it isn’t registered on a national level.
You can’t just name your DBA anything you want. In general, your Rhode Island fictitious business name must follow the Department of State’s Name Availability Guidelines. Most importantly your fictitious business name needs to be unique among registered business names in Rhode Island. It also can’t:
- Suggest the business provides a professional or licensed service like engineering or architecture if it does not.
- Use the official name of a government entity like “police” or “parks department.”
Registration for LLCs and Corporations
LLCs and corporations will register with Rhode Island’s Department of State, Business Services Division.
- LLCs file: Limited Liability Company Fictitious Business Name Statement.
- Corporations file: Business Corporation Fictitious Business Name Statement.
Both filings will need the following information:
- Entity ID Number (assigned to your business when you register the entity with the state)
- Legal name of the business (ex: Providence Weightlifting, LLC)
- Fictitious business name to be registered (ex: Strong Arm Weightlifting)
- State, jurisdiction, or country where business was originally formed
- Date of formation
- Rhode Island registered office address (corporation form only)
- Type of business activity (corporation form only)
- Authorized signature and date
- Filer information (name, address, phone number, email address, entity name)
LLCs and corporations that plan to register their DBA online will need a Customer Identification Number (CID) and PIN, which are assigned when you register your business entity with the DOS. If you don’t have your CID or PIN, you’ll need to contact the DOS.
Here’s where you submit your filing:
Division of Business Services
148 W. River Street
Providence, Rhode Island 02904-2615
Note: Once a fictitious business name has been registered with the state, local registration may be required. For example, R.I. Gen. Laws § 45-2-31 states that any business—including corporations and LLCs—using a trade name in North Providence will need to register with the town clerk and pay an annual $25 fee to maintain that name. You’ll want to check with your county or town’s clerk’s office to see if you need to register at the local level.
Registration for Sole Proprietors and General Partnerships
Sole proprietors and general partnerships will file for a fictitious business name in the city or town where the business is located. Each jurisdiction will have its own form and fee. For example, if your business is located in Exeter, you’ll need to complete a Business Trade Name Certification and pay a $10 registration fee (a 2% + $1.00 processing fee will apply for all credit card payments). You’re application will also need to be notarized, which can cost up to $25.
The general information required to be listed on county trade name applications is:
- Name, address, and phone number of applicant
- Trade name (fictitious business name)
- Location of business
- Phone number
- Nature of business activity (ex: math tutor)
- Signature of applicant
- Notary public signature and stamp
Note: Most jurisdictions in Rhode Island refer to DBAs as trade names or assumed names, and their applications reflect this. Don’t get confused. These terms mean the same thing as “DBA” and “fictitious business name.”
Not sure where to file or who to contact? Rhode Island has a handy list of cities and towns.
Filing A DBA Vs. Starting A Business In Rhode Island
- Sell a product or service: If you’re getting paid to provide a service or product, you’re in business. Giving historical tours of Providence on your own? You’re a sole proprietor. If you’ve got a business partner, you’re in a general partnership. Depending on what kind of service or product your business offers, you might need to obtain state or local business licenses, but otherwise you won’t have to register your business with the state.
- Register your business with the state: LLCs and corporations protect the personal assets of their owners in the event that the business gets sued or goes bankrupt. To get this liability protection from a Rhode Island LLC or Rhode Island corporation, you’ll need to file formal registration documents with the state and pay the required fee ($150 for an LLC, $230 for a corporation). You’ll also need to file a Rhode Island annual report ($50 for both LLCs and corporations).
DBA vs. Rhode Island LLC
A DBA is like a nickname that you can use for your business. A Rhode Island LLC is a legal business entity that gives its owners personal asset protection in the event of a lawsuit or bankruptcy. Registering an LLC with the state creates a distinct legal entity, separate from the owners (members) of the business. It’s this separation that protects the assets (401k, car, house, savings, investments) of the owners of an LLC. A DBA can be used by an LLC to operate under a different business name, but a DBA does not offer any additional liability protection for the business.
For sole proprietors or general partnerships that want an affordable way to get a business name, registering a fictitious business name (DBA) is probably the way to go. But if you want an entity that will protect your assets, a Rhode Island LLC is what you’re looking for, and Northwest can help you get one.
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Rhode Island DBA FAQs
Is registering a DBA required in Rhode Island?
Yes. Rhode Island law states that if a business is going to use a fictitious business name in place of their legal business name, they need to register it.
How long does it take to get a Rhode Island DBA?
If you file your Rhode Island fictitious name application online, you’ll get your DBA in about 5-7 business days. Mail filings takes longer.
Do I need to renew my Rhode Island DBA?
No. Rhode Island DBAs last forever.
Can I update my DBA in Rhode Island?
LLCs and corporations can’t update their Rhode Island DBAs. To change the information of your DBA (name, address, etc…), you’ll need to register a new DBA with Rhode Island’s Department of State, Business Services Division.
Sole proprietors and general partnerships need to contact their local clerk’s office where they registered their DBA in order to update their registration. For instance, Woonsocket allows updates to be made with just a phone call or an email. No paperwork to fill out, no fee for the update.
How do I cancel my DBA in Rhode Island?
LLCs and corporations can cancel their fictitious business name by filing a Statement of Abandonment by mail or online with Rhode Island’s Business Services Online Filing System. It costs $50 to cancel your DBA in Rhode Island.
- Corporations file: Business Corporation Statement of Abandonment of Use of Fictitious Business Name.
- LLCs file: Limited Liability Company Statement of Abandonment of Use of Fictitious Business Name.
Sole proprietors and general partnerships need to contact their local clerk’s office where they registered their DBA. For example, Cumberland allows for free DBA cancellation with just a phone call or email. Providence, however, will email, upon request, a “Trade Name Certificate Cancellation of Business” form. There is no fee.
Do I need a separate bank account for my DBA?
Nope. Registering a DBA doesn’t create a new business, which means you won’t be required to get a separate bank account. However, some business owners prefer to open a separate bank account for their DBA to keep different branches of the business financially separate from each other.
Do I need a separate EIN for my DBA?
No. A DBA is just a name for doing business, not a new entity. However, if you have a business with employees, you will need to get an EIN from the IRS.
How many DBAs can I have in Rhode Island?
Rhode Island allows businesses to have as many DBAs they want. Each DBA will need to go through the same registration process.
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.).
- LLCs, corporation, and other formal business entities: The legal business name of a state-registered entity is the name listed on its formation documents. This includes the company’s corporate identifier (ex: “Tony’s Plumbing, LLC, or “Advanced Auto Parts, Inc.,”).
- Sole proprietors: The legal name of an unincorporated single owner business is the owner’s legal name (ex: Sarah Willard).
- General partnerships: The legal business name of a general partnership is the partners’ last names or a name the partnership gave itself in a written partnership agreement.