DBA vs. LLC: What’s the Difference?

Gabrielle Sinacola | Mar 21, 2024

DBA vs. LLC: What’s the Difference?

Whether you’re running a startup, managing a small business, or spearheading a dynamic enterprise, understanding the differences between a DBA (doing business as) and an LLC (limited liability company) is essential.

This knowledge becomes even more significant when your business footprint spans multiple states, each with its unique regulatory landscape. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at DBAs and LLCs, highlighting how these choices can impact your business’s legal and operational framework. While both a DBA and an LLC allow you to conduct business under your name, an LLC is a type of business structure, while a DBA is a registered “nickname” of sorts that is used for your already-registered business.

What Is a DBA?

A DBA, short for “doing business as,” is like a pseudonym for your business. It’s an official, registered name under which a company operates — it essentially allows businesses to run under a name that differs from their legal name.

Used by all types of legal entities, a DBA allows you to conduct business under a more marketable name without altering your entity’s legal structure.

Let’s look at just a couple common usage scenarios:

  • Sole Proprietorships and Partnerships: If you’re a sole trader or in a partnership, a DBA lets you do business under a name other than your own. It’s an effective way to create a brand identity without the complexities of forming a separate legal entity.

  • Franchises: For franchise owners, a DBA is indispensable. For example, if you own a fast food restaurant, you can legally name your business something like “Tasty Yummy Enterprises” but operate under the well-recognized franchise name using a DBA.

DBAs are also commonly used to register in a new state where your legal name is already taken — the Secretary of State requires you to choose a unique name, and if your legal business name is already being used, using a DBA allows you to work around this limitation. Mosey is able to assist with forced DBAs, where your name isn’t available at foreign qualification.

What Is an LLC?

Comparatively, LLCs, are a flexible business structure that combines elements of corporations, partnerships, and sole proprietorships. Its defining feature is the limited liability it offers.

This means the personal assets of the LLC’s owners, often referred to as members, are protected from business debts and claims.

Let’s explore the legal standing and asset protection in an LLC:

  • Separate Legal Entity: An LLC is recognized as a separate legal entity from its owners. This separation is important for shielding personal assets (like your home, car, or savings) from business liabilities.

  • Credibility and Growth: Beyond asset protection, forming an LLC enhances your business’s credibility, potentially easing access to capital and fostering growth. It signifies a commitment to professionalism and stability, key attributes in today’s competitive market.

Next, let’s examine how these structures differ and what that means for your business decisions. Whether you’re contemplating a DBA for a new venture or considering the leap to an LLC, understanding these foundations is your first step toward informed decision-making.

What Are the Key Differences Between DBA and LLC?

Let’s explore how an LLC and DBA differ when it comes to liability protection, business structure, tax implications, and name registration and branding.

Liability Protection

A DBA is a moniker for your business and does not create a legal barrier between your personal assets and your business liabilities. It’s also important to note that a DBA is only official once it has been registered with the Secretary of State — you don’t have one just because you’re deciding to use one so be sure to formally declare your DBA. A DBA on its own doesn’t offer liability protection. It’s the business entity that does.

Essentially, if your business takes on debt or gets into legal trouble, your own personal assets (like your home or personal bank accounts) could be put at risk.

The LLC structure provides limited liability protection. It creates a distinct separation between you, the owner, and your business. In a legal sense, your company stands on its own. This means your personal assets are typically protected if your business faces financial trouble or legal challenges. You can get a DBA as an LLC and still enjoy liability protection, thanks to the entity type — however, a DBA with a different entity type such as a sole proprietorship would not provide this protection.

A DBA isn’t a business entity, but rather a name under which a company operates. Minimal legal formalities are involved in getting a DBA, making it a straightforward and cost-effective choice for many small businesses.

An LLC is a formal business entity combining corporate and partnership features. It requires more in-depth legal formalities, including filing Articles of Organization with the state, creating an operating agreement, and adhering to ongoing compliance requirements such as annual reports and fees.

Tax Implications

With a DBA, there’s no change in how your business is taxed. Sole proprietorships and partnerships using a DBA will continue to report income and expenses on their personal tax returns. The simplicity of this arrangement can be appealing, but it offers no special tax advantages.

LLCs offer more flexibility in taxation. By default, a single-member LLC is taxed as a sole proprietorship, and a multi-member LLC is taxed as a partnership. However, LLCs can also choose to be taxed as a corporation (either S-corp or C-corp), which can provide tax benefits in certain circumstances, such as lower self-employment taxes or tax deductions.

Name Registration and Branding

Registering a DBA allows your business to operate under a trade name, which can be critical for branding and marketing. However, a DBA does not offer exclusive rights to the name. Another business in your state could potentially use a similar name, but they cannot legally register with the Secretary of State in the same state with the same name — which is why a DBA is important.

When you form an LLC, the business name becomes legally registered and protected in the state of formation. This means no other business in the same state can form an LLC or corporation with the same name. This exclusivity can be a significant advantage in branding and establishing a unique identity in the marketplace.

Understanding these key differences is essential for any business owner making decisions about their company’s legal structure. DBAs and LLCs are entirely separate, as a DBA is a “nickname” for your business while an LLC is a type of business structure. Because of this, their advantages and disadvantages cannot really be effectively compared.

What Are the Advantages of a DBA?

Opting for a DBA can be a strategic move for many entrepreneurs and business owners. Here’s why a DBA might be an attractive option:

  • Ease of Setup: Establishing a DBA is typically straightforward, involving little paperwork and few legal complexities since it just involves choosing a name for your business that differs from the company’s legal name and is available with the Secretary of State.

  • Cost Savings: Generally, choosing a DBA involves a relatively modest fee.

  • Brand Identity: A DBA allows you to create a marketable business name, which can be essential for branding and marketing. This is especially useful if your legal name doesn’t convey the nature of your business or is hard to remember.

  • Multiple Ventures: If you’re operating multiple business ventures, DBAs make it possible to conduct each under a different name without creating separate legal entities.

  • Ideal for Individuals and Small Partnerships: For sole proprietors and small partnerships, a DBA offers the ability to do business under a more professional or relevant name without changing the fundamental structure of the business.

  • Simplifies Banking and Contracts: A DBA enables you to open a business bank account and enter into contracts under your business name, enhancing professionalism and helping to keep personal and business finances separate.

These are just some of the advantages that a DBA can offer. It’s wise to consider your specific needs and goals as a business owner to determine if a DBA is the right choice for you.

What Are the Advantages of an LLC?

Choosing to form an LLC brings its own set of advantages, well-suited for many businesses seeking growth and protection.

  • Asset Protection: An LLC’s most significant advantage is its limited liability protection. This means your personal assets are protected from your business’s debts and legal issues.

  • Separate Legal Entity: An LLC is a separate legal entity that clearly distinguishes between the owners and the business. This separation can be crucial in case of legal disputes or financial troubles.

  • Professional Image: Forming an LLC can enhance the perceived professionalism of your business. It signals to clients, suppliers, and investors that your business is a serious, established entity.

  • Building Trust: Customers and business partners often view LLCs as more stable and reliable, which can help build trust and establish long-term business relationships.

  • Tax Flexibility: LLCs offer various taxation options, allowing owners to choose the most beneficial tax treatment for their circumstances, whether as a sole proprietorship, partnership, or corporation.

  • Growth and Funding Opportunities: An LLC structure can make it easier to raise capital, whether through bank loans or by attracting investors. This structure also supports the long-term growth and scalability of the business.

Both DBAs and LLCs offer some advantages and disadvantages, and because they are entirely separate concepts, their pros and cons can’t be directly compared.

When To Choose a DBA

Because you can have a DBA as an LLC, it isn’t necessary to choose one over the other. That said, choosing a DBA is generally fitting for entrepreneurs seeking a straightforward way to operate under a distinct name without altering their existing business structure.

It’s particularly suited for sole proprietors or partnerships where legal protection for personal assets isn’t a priority. It is also required when registering in a state where your business name is already registered with the Secretary of State.

Book a Demo With Mosey Today

As you consider an LLC versus a DBA, remember that Mosey is here to streamline your journey through state and local business compliance and automation. With Mosey, you’re opting for clarity, ease, and expertise in managing your business’s compliance needs.

We invite you to book a demo today and discover how Mosey can be integral to your business’s growth and success.

Read more from Mosey:

Review your compliance risks, free.

Ready to get started?

Sign up now or schedule a free consultation to see how Mosey transforms business compliance.