South Carolina DBA
How to Get a South Carolina DBA
A South Carolina DBA is any name that a business uses that isn’t its legal name. South Carolina sole proprietorships, general partnerships, LLCs, corporations and non-profits can use DBAs to get a snappier name, or add new brands and services to their business. DBAs can also be used to open a business bank account, set up credit card processing, and for all types of marketing. DBAs for domestic entities (LLCs, corporations, non-profits) aren’t accepted or recognized by the state. They are only recognized in the municipalities where the business operates. State-level DBA (assumed name) registration is required for limited partnerships and foreign entities (LLCs, corporations, limited partnerships, and non-profits). This guide shows you how to get a DBA in the Palmetto State.
Your South Carolina DBA Guide:
What is a South Carolina DBA?
A South Carolina DBA (doing business as) is simply an alternative name that you can use in place of your legal business name. Business owners can use a DBA in almost the exact same way they’d use their legal business name. Popular ways to use DBAs include:
- Company merchandise (mugs, pens, business cards, letterhead, T-shirts, etc…)
- Opening a dedicated business bank account
- Setting up payment systems
- Writing checks to vendors
- Advertising (billboards, print media, TV commercials, etc…)
- Social media accounts (Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, etc…)
DBAs are especially popular among sole proprietors, since a sole proprietor’s legal business name is the owner’s first and last name. For example, if sole proprietor Kelly Stafford has a business building websites, a DBA name like “Pro Web Services” sounds more professional and descriptive than “Kelly Stafford.” Kelly will also be able to use her DBA to send invoices to customers, hand out business cards, or showcase her skills on Instagram.
It’s important to remember that a DBA isn’t an actual business, it’s just a name. You won’t file taxes under your DBA name, so you won’t need a separate EIN (or SSN for most sole proprietors) for your DBA. And unlike formal entities like LLCs or corporations, a DBA won’t give you or your business partners personal asset protection in the event of a lawsuit or bankruptcy.
Is registering a DBA required in South Carolina?
It depends. South Carolina sole proprietors, general partnerships, LLCs, and corporations can use a DBA without registering it with the state, though they can register it in the locality where they operate. However, South Carolina law (S.C. Code § 33-42-45) requires foreign and domestic Limited Partnerships to register an assumed name if they use one. Foreign LLCs, corporations, and non-profits must also register a DBA with the state if they plan to use a business name that isn’t their legal name.
Why Use a DBA in South Carolina?
DBAs can be used for a variety of reasons, including:
You’re an Informal Business
Both sole proprietors (one owner), and general partnerships (two or more owners) are informal businesses. This means they haven’t filed paperwork or paid a fee to to the state to formally register their business. Legally they are their businesses. For sole proprietors this means that their legal business name is their full name (ex: Kelly Stafford). The legal business name of a general partnership is the combined last names of the business partners (ex: Stafford and Reid). If you want to use a name for your business that doesn’t feature your name, a DBA is a must.
You Want a New Business Name But Not a New Business
Getting a DBA can make sense if your business adds a new service or brand. Imagine that you registered an LLC to sell used cars. Business is booming and you see an opportunity to branch out into ATV and motorcycle sales. But “Bubba’s Auto Sales, LLC” may not reflect your new business offerings. Using “Bubba’s ATVs and Motorcycles” as your DBA will keep you from having to start a new LLC or amend your South Carolina LLC (both actions cost $110). With your DBA, you’ll be able to market the ATV and motorcycle business, build a website, and even open a separate business bank account. A DBA will allow you to operate two businesses with two distinct names, without having to get a whole new business.
You Use Your Domain Name as Your Business Name
If your legal business name is “Hot Mamma’s Hot Chicken, LLC” but your domain name, “frickingoodchicken.com,” is the name you use as your public-facing business name you’ll want to list this as your DBA name on any required state and local business licenses. That way you’ll have a stronger claim to the name should another business attempt to use it.
You’re a Franchisee
DBAs are often used by franchise businesses. For instance, if you own a Taco Bell franchise, the legal name of your business might be “Tacos Tacos Tacos, LLC,” but you’ll need to use a DBA to adopt the Taco Bell name.
Will a DBA protect my privacy?
No. DBAs are simply names that businesses can use for branding. They won’t shield your private information from prying eyes. In order to live privately as a business owner, your best option is to hire a South Carolina registered agent and to form a South Carolina LLC. When you hire Northwest, we’ll let you list our name and address on the public record (where allowable) instead of yours. We do this to keep your private information out of the public eye.
How to Get a DBA in South Carolina
Since South Carolina doesn’t have a process to register DBAs with the state, all you need to do to get a DBA is to pick a name and start using it. However, there are a few things to consider before you start using your DBA.
You’ll want to use South Carolina’s Business Name Search to see if the name you want is being used by a registered business. Since DBA names aren’t registered with the state, you’ll also want to type the name into a search engine to see if another South Carolina business is using your desired DBA, or something similar.
It’s also a good idea to research state-level trademarked names. To do this you’ll need to sift through South Carolina’s Trademarks and Service Marks online search. You’ll also want to perform a federal trademark search using the Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS).
While South Carolina’s Secretary of State doesn’t record DBAs, you’ll still need to make sure your DBA name follows best practices. This means your name shouldn’t:
- Use a business name that has already been registered in the state.
- Use a name that suggests a government connection. For example: you can’t use “police” or “fire department” in your DBA name.
- Use words or abbreviations implying it’s a corporation or LLC, like “Inc.,” or “LLC,” unless it is that entity type.
In most cases you can record your DBA by including it on your city, town, or county business license application. You’ll also want to contact your county clerk’s offices to see if they have any other DBA registration requirements. Most businesses will be able to register their DBA with the county or city clerk’s office where they conduct business. For example, if your business is located in Myrtle Beach, you’ll need to fill out a Horry County Application for Annual Business License, as well as a City of Myrtle Beach Business License. The information you’ll need in order to complete most license applications is:
- Legal name of business
- Type of business activity (ex: plumbing)
- Mailing address
- Physical address of the business
- Business type (LLC, corporation, sole proprietor, etc…)
- Business start date
- Contact information (email, phone, fax)
Note: While you are not required to list your DBA on your license applications, it’s a good idea to have it recorded. That way, when the license is issued, it will list your legal business name and your DBA. Your business will look more professional if the DBA you use to operate is listed on official documentation.
Even though South Carolina won’t officially register your DBA, section 3 of the state Tax Registration Application allows you to list the legal name of your business and a DBA on your application. Most businesses will need to fill out this application in order to collect state sales tax. Once approved by South Carolina’s Department of Revenue, you’ll receive a tax certificate that will list your legal business name alongside your DBA name. Again, this does not register your DBA with the state, but it will give your business a stronger claim to the name should someone else try to use it.
While you can use your DBA before you even list it on your license applications, it’s now officially recorded where you do business. You can go ahead and use your DBA on social media accounts, T-shirts, notepads, business cards, your point-of-sale system, business bank accounts, and more.
Note: There’s no way to prevent other businesses in South Carolina or another state from using your DBA. You can apply to trademark your DBA name at the federal level for stronger legal rights to your name.
Using a DBA vs. Starting a South Carolina Business
Using a DBA and starting a business are two different animals. A DBA is a tool a business can use to market itself under a different name, that’s it. Starting a business may involve getting a DBA, but it doesn’t have to. There are two ways to start a business in South Carolina:
1. Register with the state: To form a business entity like a South Carolina LLC or South Carolina corporation, you’ll need to file formation documents with the state and pay a filing fee. Corporations and LLCs have limited liability, which means that the owners usually can’t be held personally liable for damages against the business.
2. Sell something: Being in business is really as simple as getting paid to provide a service or sell a product. Sole proprietors (one owner) and general partnerships (two or more owners) are two of the most popular types of businesses because they don’t require formation paperwork or filing fees to get started. The downside, of course, is that you are your business, which means if you get sued or go bankrupt, your personal assets (car, home, savings, 401k, etc…) may be at risk.
DBA vs LLC in South Carolina
While LLCs can use DBAs to operate under a different name, a DBA doesn’t offer any of the legal protections of an LLC. A DBA is just a name, not a business entity. An LLC is an actual legal entity that gives business owners liability protection in the event of a lawsuit or bankruptcy. Registering an LLC with the state creates legal separation between the business and the owners (members) of the business. If someone sues a business that is registered as an LLC, they’ll be suing the LLC and not the owner. This separation is what keeps the personal assets of LLC owners from being used to satisfy debts.
While sole proprietors and general partnerships have less paperwork and fewer filing fees to deal with, they don’t have protection in case of a lawsuit because in the eyes of the law, they are their business. If you want legal protection, a South Carolina LLC is the way to go. Northwest can help you get one.
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South Carolina DBA FAQs
How much does it cost to register a DBA in South Carolina?
There is no fee to use a DBA in South Carolina because there is no statewide DBA registration. You get a DBA simply by using it. However, you can record your DBA on local business license applications, and getting a business license sometimes involves a paying a fee. License fees vary by jurisdiction. For example, the price of an annual business license in Horry County is based off a percentage of gross revenue from the prior year.
Can I sign a business contract with my DBA?
Contracts are entered into between people or entities, not names. While a DBA is a name that you can operate under, it is not a legal entity. If you have a DBA, you’ll need to sign contracts using the legal name of your business. You’ll also want to disclose that the business operates using a DBA. For example, a sole proprietor with a DBA would sign a contract “John Smith, DBA Righteous Vintage Guitars.” A formal entity like an LLC would have an authorized member or manager sign their name, the legal business name, and the DBA name.
Do I need to renew my DBA in South Carolina?
Because your DBA is a component of your local business license, your DBA will be renewed whenever you renew your license.
Can I cancel my South Carolina DBA?
To cancel your DBA in South Carolina you’ll need to contact your local clerk’s office and let them know you plan to take your DBA off your business license(s).
Is a South Carolina DBA the same as a fictitious name?
No. A South Carolina fictitious name is used when an LLC, corporation, or nonprofit from outside of the state wants to do business in the state and their business name is not available. The act of registering an out-of state entity in South Carolina is called foreign qualification, and all fictitious name forms can be downloaded from the South Carolina Secretary of State website.
Do I need a separate bank account for my DBA?
You can get one, but it’s not mandatory. However, there are some reasons why you might want to open a new bank account for a DBA. You might want to keep your business finances separate from your personal money for bookkeeping purposes. Or, if you have two distinct brands, you may want to keep them financially separate from each other. In that case, it might be simpler to have two business bank accounts.
Do I need an EIN for my DBA?
No. Remember that a DBA is merely a name for doing business, not a new entity. So you can’t get an EIN under a DBA name. But if you have a multi-member LLC, corporation, or any other business with employees, you will need to get an EIN from the IRS.
What is the legal name of my business?
Your business’s legal name is the name that is listed on its government documents like state and federal tax filings.
- Formal Businesses
The legal name of an LLC, corporation, non-profit, and any other state-registered entity is the name on the formation documents that are filed with the state. The legal name also includes the entity identifier (ex: “Big Lou’s Towing, LLC,” or “Walmart Inc.”).
- Sole Proprietors
A sole proprietorship’s legal name is simply the owner’s legal name. If John Smith sells trinkets on Etsy as a sole proprietor, the legal name of his business is “John Smith.”
- General Partnerships
The legal name of a general partnership is either a combination of the partners’ last names or a name the partnership has given itself in a written partnership agreement.