How to Get a Fictitious Name in Virginia
A Virginia DBA name is any name that a business uses that isn’t its registered name. Virginia refers to DBAs as “fictitious names” and must be registered with the state. Virginia sole proprietors, general partnerships, LLCs, corporations, and all other types of businesses can use a DBA as the public name and face of the business. A DBA can be used to advertise on social media, pay vendors, open a business bank account, and more. To get a DBA in Virginia, you’ll file an application with the state and pay a $10 filing fee. Here’s what you need to know.
Your Virginia DBA Guide:
What is a Virginia DBA?
A Virginia fictitious name (or DBA) is simply a nickname for your business. It isn’t a legal business structure like an LLC or corporation, which means it won’t give you asset protection in the event of a lawsuit against your business. If you’re going to use a fictitious name in place of your legal business name, Virginia Code § 59.1-69 requires that you register the name with the state. In fact if your business uses a DBA but doesn’t register it with the state, you could get slapped with a big fine and even—in rare circumstances—jail time.
The whole point of using a DBA is so that your business can use a name other than its legal name. DBAs are especially popular among sole proprietors, who have to use their first and last name as their legal business name. For example, if Tom Smith sells trucker hats as a sole proprietor, a DBA name like “Trucker Tom’s Trucker Hats” tells the customer more about what he’s selling than “Tom Smith” does. Even if a business has a registered business name it can still register a DBA and use it to sell a different product without having to start a whole new business.
What is my business’s legal name?
With all this talk about DBAs and legal business names, it’s probably a good idea to explain what a legal business name is. For LLCs, corporations, and other state-registered entities, the legal business name is the name that appears on state formation documents (example: Self Worth Tutoring, LLC). If you’re a sole proprietor (an unregistered, one-person business), your legal business name is your first and last name. A general partnership (an unregistered business with two or more people) is required to use the last names of the business partners (example: Jones and Smith). DBAs are especially popular with both sole proprietors and general partnerships because it allows them to use a business name more in line with the products or services they offer.
Why Register a Virginia DBA?
Plenty of businesses operate just fine without getting a DBA. LLCs and corporations, for example, choose their business name when they register with the state. They can also file paperwork to change their business name if they wish. Some sole proprietors and general partnerships may be totally happy using their names as their business name. But if you’re in business and want an easy and affordable way to use another name for your business, you’ll need to register a fictitious name in Virginia.
Here are a some reasons why you might want a Virginia DBA:
You get a better name for your business
Some folks don’t mind selling stuff under their first and last name, but other business owners might want to use a name that better aligns with what they’re selling or the type of service the business provides. A Virginia DBA is an easy and cheap way (just $10) to get a name for your business.
You use your domain name as your business name
Let’s imagine that you sell bags of fancy coffee online. Your legal business name might be “Gourmet Coffee & Sundries, LLC,” but if your website domain name is “coffeeonline.com,” and you use your domain name on marketing materials, social media accounts, or to otherwise engage in general business activity, you’ll need to register coffeeonline.com as a DBA.
Your business is expanding or rebranding
If your business is really crushing it, and you’ve got some new opportunities, a fictitious business name might help you establish a different identity for a new branch of the business. Imagine Lauren Sanchez has a business as a website developer for local businesses, but she sees a need she can fulfill helping with marketing on social media. Instead of forming a new business, Lauren can register a DBA name for her social media business, while retaining the name recognition she’s already built with her web developing business.
You don’t want to get in trouble with the law
Virginia doesn’t play when it comes to business names. Virginia Code § 59.1-75 states that if you’re caught using a fictitious name for your business and didn’t register it with the state, you could face a fine of $2,500 and even jail time.
Will a Virginia DBA keep my personal information off public record?
Anything that you file with Virginia’s State Corporation Commission goes into the public record, DBA filings included. The best way to safeguard your privacy is to hire a Virginia registered agent that will form your Virginia LLC for you. Your registered agent will list their information on your state filings, which keeps you from having to include your name and address on the public record.
How to Get a DBA in Virginia
The process for getting a fictitious name in Virginia involves performing a name search, filing an application with the state, and paying all applicable fees. We dive into the steps here.
The first step to getting your Virginia fictitious name is to check the name availability of your preferred name with the State Corporation Commission Clerk’s Information System’s business name search. Your name must:
- be different from the names of all active, registered business entities in Virginia
- not use words that suggest your business is a different entity type (LLC, Inc., Corp.) than it is
- not use words or titles that suggest that the business does something that it doesn’t (doctor, lawyer, accountant, etc…)
This is the step that officially registers your DBA. In Virginia, there are two certificates, one for sole proprietors (Certificate of Assumed or Fictitious Name – Business Conducted by an Individual), and one for all other business types (Certificate of Assumed or Fictitious Name – Business Conducted by an Entity).
On their application, sole proprietors will need to include:
- the name of the individual that will conduct business under the DBA
- the DBA/fictitious name being registered
- the address of the individual registering
All other applicants will need to include the following information on their application:
- the name of the entity conducting business under the DBA
- the DBA/fictitious name being registered
- the type of entity (LLC, corporation, etc…)
- the jurisdiction under which the entity was formed
- the entity’s SCC ID number (LLCs, corporations, etc…) or address (general partnerships)
Note: Your SCC ID number is the number Virginia’s State Corporation Commission (SCC) issued to your entity when it filed formation documents with the state. General partnerships (unregistered business with two or more owners) will list their business address instead.
Both forms can be filed online (you’ll need an account), by mail, or in person.
State Corporation Commission Clerk’s Information System
Office of the Clerk
P.O. Box 1197
Richmond, Virginia 23218
Office of the Clerk
1300 E. Main St.
Richmond, VA 23219
Both forms carry the same fee, $10. Once approved (2-3 days for online and in-person filings, longer for mail), Virginia will mail you a Fictitious Name receipt that you can keep with your records.
Virginia DBAs do not expire, so unless you cancel your name, it is your DBA forever.
Filing a Virginia DBA vs. Starting a Business
Filing a DBA and starting a business are two separate acts. Starting a business may involve getting a DBA, but it isn’t required. A DBA is a tool businesses can use to market themselves under a different name. You’ll need a business before you can register for a DBA.
There are two ways to start a business in Virginia:
Sell a service or product. Being in business is as easy as mowing a lawn, painting a house, or baking cookies to sell at your local farmer’s market. Sole proprietors (one owner) and general partnerships (two or more owners) are two of the most popular business types because they are easy to start and no formation paperwork or filing fees.
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.
Virginia DBA vs. Virginia LLC
A DBA doesn’t have your back like a Virginia LLC. That’s because a DBA is a name, and nothing more. An LLC is an actual legal business entity. Both are registered with the state, but only one gives business owners liability protection in the event of a lawsuit or bankruptcy. LLCs can use DBAs to do business under another name, but a DBA does not offer any protection when it comes to operating a business. That’s because registering an LLC creates distinct legal separation between the business and the owners (members) of the business. It’s this separation that protects the assets (401k, car, house, savings) of the LLC owners.
If you’re in business as a sole proprietor or general partnership and all you want is a name for your business, a DBA is probably what you’re looking for. But if you want a business that will protect your hard earned assets, a Virginia LLC is the way to go, and Northwest can help you get one.
Protect Your Assets with a Virginia LLCGet Started Today!
Virginia DBA FAQs
Is a DBA required in Virginia?
Yes. Operating a business under an unregistered fictitious name is a misdemeanor in Virginia. You could face a fine of up to $2,500, up to a year of jail time, or both. Your business will also lose the right to begin and maintain court proceedings on its behalf until your fictitious name is registered.
How do I get a DBA in Virginia?
Your first step is to make sure no other entity or business is using your preferred DBA. From there you’ll file state paperwork and pay a registration fee. Once approved, Virginia will mail you a certificate that proves you have registered a DBA in the state.
How much does it cost to get a DBA in Virginia?
Virginia’s DBA filing fee is $10.
How long will my Virginia DBA last?
DBAs in Virginia last forever. You will never have to renew it.
How long does it take to get an Virginia DBA?
Online filings and in-person filings are processed by the state in about 2-3 business days. Mailed filings will take longer.
Can I cancel my DBA in Virginia?
You can. If you no longer want to do business in Virginia under your company’s fictitious name, you can file a Certificate of Release of Assumed or Fictitious Name to release the name. The fee to cancel your DBA is $10.
Can I change or update my DBA name in Virginia?
The only way to update your DBA in Virginia is to cancel your original DBA and file for a new one.
Do I need a separate bank account for my DBA?
A DBA can open up a bank account if it wants to, but it isn’t necessary. Some business owners find that opening separate bank accounts for their DBAs makes accounting easier. Remember, just because a DBA has its own bank account doesn’t mean that it offers any sort of liability protection from lawsuits or bankruptcy. LLCs and corporations protect assets, not DBAs.
Do I need a separate EIN for my DBA?
No. DBAs are just names, not taxable entities. A DBA will operate under the EIN of the business it is connected to.
How many DBAs can I have in Virginia?
You can have as many DBAs in Virginia as you can handle, but each DBA will need to be registered separately and will cost $10.
How can I protect my DBA?
To make sure no one else can use your DBA in Virginia, you can trademark it at the state level. State-level protection won’t prevent someone else from using your business name in another state. To protect your DBA on a national level you can apply for a federal trademark.