How to Get an Assumed Name in Tennessee
Any Tennessee business that uses a name other than its legal business name is using a DBA. A DBA (doing business as) can be used for most business-related activities—including posting on social media, advertising in print and online, accepting payments from customers, paying vendors, and opening business bank accounts. DBAs can be used by all types of businesses, from Tennessee sole proprietors and general partnerships to LLCs, corporations, and more. Tennessee calls DBAs “assumed names,” but they mean the same thing. We’ll show you how to get a DBA in Tennessee.
Your Tennessee DBA Guide:
What is a Tennessee DBA?
Tennessee DBAs are alternate names that businesses can use in place of their legal business name. An assumed name can be used on business cards, company letterhead, marketing materials, social media accounts, and even when opening a business bank account. For sole proprietors who otherwise have to use their own first and last name as their business name, a DBA can give their business a name that sounds professional and is more in line with the types of services or products they sell. An LLC or corporation might use a DBA to expand their services or products or to rebrand the business without having to create a new entity.
Why Register a DBA in Tennessee?
Registering a DBA in Tennessee lets the state know that you are operating a business under a separate name from your legal business name. More importantly, if you plan to use a DBA for your business, Tennessee law requires it to be registered.
Here are a few other reasons why you might want to register a DBA in Tennessee:
You Want a Different Name for Your Business
Without a DBA, sole proprietors are required to include the owner’s full name in their business name. General partnerships have to use the combined last names of the partners. If your name (or the last names of you and your partners) isn’t your first choice for a business name, you might consider getting a DBA. Any type of business can use a DBA to change the publicly facing business name they use. For LLCs and corporations, a DBA can let them use a different business name without having to amend their legal business name or register an entire new business.
You Use Your Domain Name as Your Business Name
You’ll need a DBA for your business if you’re using your domain name as part of your brand. This includes advertising, social media accounts, and even customer interactions. For example, if you’re in business as “Best Tennessee Tacos, LLC,” and your website domain name is “tennesseetacos.com,” and that’s the customer-facing business name you use, you’ll need a DBA.
Your Business is Expanding
Getting a DBA often makes sense if you want to take your business in a new direction or expand a product line. Maybe you’re in business selling cars, but you see a potential market for a car rental business. Instead of registering a whole new business or amending your business name, you can register a DBA for the car rental business. Now your car rental business has its own name and can market itself with that name, while still remaining connected to the original entity.
Can I use a DBA to sign a contract?
No. DBAs are just names, not legal entities. This means that when you sign a business contract, you’ll want to include your legal business name and your DBA name. For example, if Lucy Hart is a sole proprietor who sells web design services, she’d sign a contract “Lucy Hart, DBA Fine Web Services.” Likewise, an LLC that was entering into a contract would have an authorized member or manager sign their name, the LLC’s legal name, and the DBA name.
How to Register a DBA in Tennessee
Obtaining a DBA in Tennessee is pretty straightforward. If you’re a sole proprietor or in a general partnership, you’ll register your DBA with your county clerk’s office, not the state. LLCs, corporations, and other formal entities will need to file with the state. Of course, there’s a bit more to it than that. We go over the steps here:
First thing’s first, you’ll need to make sure the DBA you want is available. To do that, use Tennessee’s Business Information Search. Just type in the DBA name you want, and if it is available, you’re good to go. However, you might also want to check with the US Patent and Trademark Office’s Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) to see if your assumed name has been federally trademarked. It also couldn’t hurt to plug your DBA name into a search engine to make sure no other business in Tennessee is currently using a similar name.
You’ll also need to make sure your DBA name abides by Tennessee’s business naming guidelines. As a general rule, your assumed name can’t:
- use the exact or an overly similar name of a registered entity in Tennessee.
- include identifiers or words like “LLC,” “Inc.,” “Corp.,” “cooperative,” “bank,” “professional association,” or anything that would mislead the public to think your business is something that it is not.
Tennessee has two types of DBA filings. LLCs and corporations file with the state, while sole proprietors and general partnerships file in the county where their business is located. Here’s how that works:
LLC and Corporation DBA Registration
If you’re getting a DBA for your LLC or corporation, you’ll need to complete state-level applications. LLCs will need to fill out an Application for Registration of Assumed Limited Liability Company Name. Corporations will fill out an Application for Registration of Assumed Corporate Name.
The general information you’ll need to include on either application is:
- Legal name of the business
- State or county of incorporation
- Assumed name the business plans to register
- Signature of the LLC or corporation’s representative and “capacity,” which means the title the signer of the application holds within the business
Sole Proprietor and General Partnership DBA Registration
Tennessee sole proprietors and general partnerships register their DBA by completing a business tax application. Some counties have their own application, like Davidson County, but you can also use a general Business Tax Registration Application provided by the state. Either way, you’ll submit the application to your county, not the state.The tax application asks for the legal business name and address, and the name of the business, which is where you’ll list the assumed name you want to use. This application will not only register your DBA, it will allow your business to collect state and county sales taxes. Applications are submitted to the county clerk’s office in the county where your business is located.
You’ll need to have the following information handy:
- EIN or the owner’s social security number (SSN).
- Business start date (month, date, and year).
- Fiscal year end date for federal tax purposes.
- Business type.
- Legal name of the business.
- Physical address of the business (must be a street address no PO boxes).
- Owner information.
- DBA name.
- Type of business activity (products or services being sold).
- Business tax classification.
- Standard or minimal activity business license? Minimal activity licenses are issued to businesses with less than $10,000 in annual gross income.
- Business contact information (mailing address, telephone, fax, email).
- Signature of at least one owner.
State filers can submit the DBA application online, by mail, or in person. The filing fee is $20.
Tennessee Secretary of State
Mail or in person:
312 Rosa L. Parks Ave.
6th Floor, William R. Snodgrass Tower
Nashville, TN 37243
Sole proprietors and general partnerships file their Business Tax Registration with their local clerk’s office. This list of Tennessee County Clerk Offices will connect you with the proper clerk. Some counties accept online filings, but all of them accept in person and mailed filings. County-level filings are $15.
Can I Renew My Tennessee DBA?
Yes. Tennessee DBAs last for five years, at which point LLCs will need to renew them by filing an Application for Renewal of Registration of Assumed Name (Limited Liability Company). Corporations will file an Application for Renewal of Registration of Assumed Corporate Name. Both applications require a $20 fee.
Sole proprietor and general partnership DBAs renew automatically at the county level when the business files a state tax return (Form 428). Once paid, your county clerk will provide a license for the next year, which automatically renews your assumed name.
Can I update or cancel my DBA name in Tennessee?
Yes. Formal entities can update or cancel their DBA name with the state. LLCs will file an Application for Change or Cancellation of Assumed Limited Liability Company Name. Corporations will file an Application for Change of Assumed Corporate Name. Both filings cost $20.
Sole proprietors and general partnerships can only make changes to their DBA names by filing a new Business Tax Registration Application with their respective county. They’ll need to include the new DBA name on the application and pay a $15 fee. DBAs can be canceled by notifying their county clerk’s office, and filing a new Business Tax Registration Application that omits the DBA.
Filing a DBA vs. Starting a Business in Tennessee
Filing a DBA is not the same thing as starting a business in Tennessee. A DBA is a name that a business can use to operate, but getting a DBA is something you do once you have a business. There are two ways to start a business:
1. Register with the state
To form a business entity like an LLC or corporation, you’ll need to file formation documents with the stateand pay a filing fee.
2. Sell a product or service
Being in business is as straightforward as getting paid to provide a service or sell a product. If you’re selling tacos from a truck or getting paid to tutor in math, you’re in business. A single-owner unregistered business is a sole proprietor. Two or more owners? You’re in a general partnership. Both business types are popular because they are easy to start and require no formal state paperwork or filing fees (except for state, local, or professional business licenses when applicable).
Tennessee DBA vs. Tennessee LLC
LLCs are legal entities that create separation between their owners (members) and the business. An Tennessee LLC can prevent your personal assets (like your savings, car, or house) from being seized to satisfy a bankruptcy or lawsuit against the business. A DBA doesn’t do that. It’s just an alternate name for your business. If you’ve already formed an LLC and want to use an alternate name, or your business has plans to launch a new product line, then a DBA makes sense. However, if you’re a sole proprietor and want to protect your personal assets, you need more than just a DBA. You need to form a separate business entity with liability protection, like an LLC. Northwest can get you started.
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Tennessee DBA FAQs
Is a DBA required in Tennessee?
Yes. Any Tennessee business that use a name that that is not its legal business name will need to register a DBA, either with the state (LLCs, corporations, etc…), or in the county (sole proprietors and general partnerships) where they operate.
How much does it cost to get a DBA in Tennessee?
$20 for formal entities (state-level filings) and $15 for sole proprietors and general partnerships (county-level filings).
How long will my Tennessee DBA last?
5 years for LLCs and corporations. Sole proprietor and general partnership DBAs are renewed when the business files its annual state tax return.
How long does it take to get a Tennessee DBA?
DBA filings are processed in about 4-6 business days. If you’re filing by mail you’ll need to account for postal service times.
How many DBAs can I have in Tennessee?
As many as you want or need.
Do I need a separate bank account for my DBA?
No. You’re not required to have a separate bank account for your DBA. 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 a separate EIN for my DBA?
What is the legal name of my business?
The legal name of your business is the name that you put on state and federal documents. If you’re a sole proprietor, you are your business, which means your legal business name is your first and last name (ex: Joe Smith). General partnerships use the last names of the partners (ex: Smith and Johnson). For formal entities like LLCs and corporations, the legal business name is the name that appears on the formal state registration documents.
Will a Tennessee DBA keep my private information off the public record?
Unfortunately, no. DBAs aren’t set up to provide privacy. In fact, the very purpose of a DBA is to allowthe state (and customers) to search and find out who owns a business. Every type of business that registers a DBA in Tennessee will be required to list the name(s) and address of the business owner(s) on their application.
In order to live privately, your best option is to hire a Tennessee registered agent and form an LLC. If you hire Northwest to form your LLC, we’ll use our address (where allowable) in place of yours on all public filings. This will help to keep your name off public records as much as possible.