DBA vs LLC | Everything You Need To Know

Delina Chantel Yasmeh
Published by Delina Chantel Yasmeh | Author
Last updated: June 19, 2024
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Embarking on a business venture requires choosing the right legal structure, a decision that can significantly impact your operation and growth.

Among the options, DBA ("Doing Business As") and LLC ("Limited Liability Company") stand out for their distinct advantages and suitability for different business needs.

With insights from our seasoned LLC experts, we've come up with this guide that delves into the essence of DBAs and LLCs, offering insights to help you decide which path aligns with your business goals, whether it's the flexibility and simplicity of a DBA or the enhanced protection and credibility of an LLC.

Quick Summary

  • DBA offers privacy and business name flexibility without legal entity formation benefits.
  • LLCs provide asset protection, tax benefits, and management flexibility for business owners.
  • DBAs are cost-effective for name use but lack LLCs' legal protections and tax advantages.
  • I always remind my clients that the choice between a DBA and an LLC hinges on their needs for asset protection, tax treatment, and flexibility.


What is DBA?

Focused person wearing business attire

A DBA is a name that is used when someone goes into business for themselves.

It's not the company's legal entity, but it allows them to do business under this other name instead of their own personal names or businesses.

Some states also use the terms "fictitious name," "fictitious business name," "assumed business name," or "trade name" instead of DBA.

What is LLC?

Two businessperson having a discussion about an LLC

Unlike DBAs, LLCs represent a separate legal entity treated as a separate business entity under the law.

Drawing from our experience, LLCs are taxed just like partnerships, sole proprietorships, or corporations by filing different IRS forms and registering with state agencies for tax purposes.

The owners of an LLC are called "members."

There must be at least one person involved to file for this type of business name - it can't be filed in the name of only a company or corporation without partners/ownership involved.

This structure provides personal liability protection for its members, safeguarding the owner's personal assets since LLCs are not taxed separately from their owners; they are considered pass-through entities [1].

This is in contrast to corporations, which face double taxation on both profits and dividends paid out to shareholders.

Interestingly, a 2018 report from the National Small Business Association found that 35% of small businesses were LLCs in 2017, highlighting the popularity and perceived benefits of this structure.

Based on our experience, LLCs are taxed just like partnerships, sole proprietorships, or corporations by filing the appropriate IRS forms and registering with state agencies for tax purposes.

This shows the versatility and appeal of LLCs as a preferred business structure among entrepreneurs.

Read More: LLC Managing Partners: Who Are They

The Advantages of DBA

DBAs have their benefits which are why small business owners often consider setting up a DBA. The main reason why business owners opt for a DBA is to maintain privacy.

Additionally, companies often turn to a DBA to operate under a different name when they want to expand.

Business owners also choose a DBA when there is more than one owner of the company.

Things get complicated with legal documents, as this prevents any future disputes from arising.

The Disadvantages of DBA

DBAs don't represent a business structure that can protect the business owner or the business assets from being sued.

An owner of the company is held personally liable for all business debt and other liabilities, even if they have a DBA in place.

Using a DBA doesn't imply you are legally creating a separate entity from yourself or your partners.

From our experience, this means that any debts incurred by the business will be taken out on each individual who owns part of it—not just one partner.

Another downside with DBAs is that if you do not pay tax under this structure, the IRS can target you as an individual instead of just going after your business's account information.

So while using a DBA may help avoid some complications when setting up paperwork, there are still ways the government could come after you directly, so tax flexibility isn't one of the perks of DBAs.

The last thing we recommend keeping in mind when choosing a DBA is that this might not be the best way to go about it if your business requires licensing.

The reason is that some states provide licenses only under one entity name—and using a DBA can mean having two separate names for each license instead of just one company name.

It's something to consider before making any final decisions on how to structure your business.

The Advantages of LLCs

Discussion between business topics

Limited liability companies have several advantages over other forms of business, including: 

  • Limited personal asset protection for members of the LLC.
  • Pass-through taxation on profits and losses avoids double taxation like corporations.
  • Flexible management structure to choose who makes decisions in the business (can be one member, several, or all) while an LLC requires at least two managing partners.

An LLC structure provides a lot of flexibility because it can be a sole proprietor, partnership, or corporation.

Based on our experience, the IRS does not recognize limited liability companies as separate tax entities from their members, and therefore, they don't pay taxes directly as a business would.

Instead, all profits and losses of an LLC pass through to its owners, who then report them on his/her personal income tax return.

The Disadvantages of LLCs

Calculating taxes wearing yellow long sleeves

Drawing from our experience, LLCs also have a few downsides. They are more tax-intensive than a business entity that is taxed as a corporation.

The tax treatment of LLCs varies from state to state, and some states have very different tax rates for individuals versus entities.

There can also be personal income tax implications if the owner(s) take money out of their company's account or make distributions of profits to themselves personally.

In this case, it may also incur self-employment taxes on top of the ordinary individual income tax rates.

The Key Differences Between LLC vs. DBA

"In choosing between a DBA and an LLC, entrepreneurs must weigh personal liability protection against operational simplicity. A DBA offers ease but less security, while an LLC provides a shield for personal assets but requires more formalities."

- Jon Morgan, CEO, Co-Founder & Editor-in-Chief of Venture Smarter

Taxes: DBA vs. LLC

DBAs are taxed as sole proprietorships, which means tax returns are filed as part of your personal tax return.

DBAs can be either an LLC, sole proprietorship, partnership, or corporation.

Your DBA name will be used every time you pay personal income taxes. Depending on your legal business entity type, you will have a different tax treatment from the Internal Revenue Service.

LLC tax treatment may differ depending on how they choose to file their taxes. If they decide to have the LLC taxed as a corporation, it will be taxed as a C or S corporation.

Based on our experience owning LLCs, we pay taxes on our tax returns, and as the owner, you have to file tax forms according to your LLC's structure.

This information should be included in an operating agreement if there is more than one owner or member.

Filing Fees: DBA vs. LLC

A business person using a calculator

The terms and conditions for establishing a DBA differ by state and county.

In some states, your DBA must be registered with the State Secretary of State or another government agency, so each county may have its own forms and costs for completing the procedure.

The cost of a DBA application is usually determined by the type and quantity of documents that must be submitted. In some cases, there are initial application costs as well as renewal DBA fees.

Filing fees for LLCs also vary by state. However, the total cost of official registration is typically higher than establishing a DBA because many states don't allow one-time filings that include all future renewal fees in addition to initial filing costs.

Naming Requirements: DBA vs. LLC

A DBA name does not need to contain "LLC" or any other legal term. However, we recommend using the legal business name on all documents that are filed with the state and/or county where it will be registered.

An LLC's legal name is typically more limited than a DBA name, so beginning a DBA with this type of information can help avoid confusion when filing paperwork for each entity at various locations throughout the country.

When you choose your "doing business as" name, be creative as long as it is permitted by your state, county, or city during the fictitious name registration procedure.

If your established business isn't a corporation, you cannot use terms like "incorporation," "Inc.," or "Corp." in your DBA name.

You can also use the same name for your DBA that you use for your LLC. You cannot use names, which are already in use when filing the paperwork or similar to an existing business with a state license where it will be registered.

When purchasing fictitious business name forms online, we advise contacting customer service if needed before completing these registration procedures.

However, for privacy reasons, a lot of business owners choose not to use their personal names for either LLC or DBA.

Who Should Form a DBA?

Holding an important document

If a business owner wants to set up a sole proprietorship but doesn't want to use their personal name for the business, they form a DBA.

From our experience, the DBAs will allow you to use a fictitious name without having to go through the filing process for an LLC.

If you have multiple businesses and want to test new business ventures, DBA is a great option.

However, if you are unsure how to choose a name for your business, we recommend not using multiple DBAs simultaneously.

It creates more work for yourself and may cause additional problems later down the road with trademarking of names or other issues that can arise from having too many businesses under one roof.

Who Should Form an LLC?

Suppose you're considering a business structure that will allow other members to join the management, or you plan to hire employees. In that case, you should form an LLC, as it offers more flexibility than a sole proprietorship or DBA.

If you want to keep your personal assets separate from your business assets, we advise conducting business through a limited liability company.

Personal liability protection is one of the key benefits when you form an LLC, especially if you have partners.

That way, you are protected from company debts or any malpractice that takes place in the business.

FAQs

Does DBA Need a Registered Agent?

No, you don't need a DBA for an existing LLC or other business structures, provided that you already have one.

Can a Business Operate as a DBA and an LLC?

Yes, a business can operate as a DBA and an LLC.

Can You Open a Bank Account Under a DBA?

Yes, a DBA is sufficient to open a business bank account as a sole proprietor.

Does a DBA Need an Employer Identification Number?

No. Employer identification numbers are used by the IRS to collect taxes from business entities. DBAs are simply a filing requirement for a business name.

Does a DBA Offer Legal Protection?

No. A DBA doesn't offer the same legal protection and helps you remove personal assets from the company's debts as an LLC.

How Does Taxation Differ for DBAs and LLCs?

DBAs don't offer distinct tax benefits; the income and expenses are reported directly on the owner's individual tax filings. LLCs, on the other hand, provide certain tax benefits, including pass-through taxation, which may streamline tax filings for the business.

What Is the Cost Difference in Setting up a DBA vs an LLC?

Setting up a DBA is typically cheaper than forming an LLC. While DBAs are popular among sole proprietors due to lower costs, an LLC, as a separate legal entity, requires more formal setup processes and fees, thus increasing its formation costs.

References:

  1. https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/limited-liability-company-llc

About The Author

Author
Delina Chantel Yasmeh, J.D./Tax LL.M, specializes in Mergers and Acquisitions at Deloitte and PwC, managing billion-dollar transactions. Educated in Accountancy at California State University and holding advanced degrees from Loyola Law School, she is highly skilled in tax law. Delina also dedicates time to pro bono work for women and children.
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Growth & Transition Advisor
LJ Viveros has 40 years of experience in founding and scaling businesses, including a significant sale to Logitech. He has led Market Solutions LLC since 1999, focusing on strategic transitions for global brands. A graduate of Saint Mary’s College in Communications, LJ is also a distinguished Matsushita Executive alumnus.
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