Decoding DBA vs. LLC: Understanding the Differences

Written by Paul Donovan – Attorney, updated on

When it comes to registering your business, you'll often come across terms like LLC, sole proprietor, and DBA (doing business as).

But what do these terms really mean for your operations? Let's unravel the mystery together and explore the differences between DBA and LLC.

What is DBA (doing business as)?

DBA, or doing business as, is an alternative name under which you operate your business.

It's also known by other names like trade name, fictitious business name, or assumed business name.

For example, if your name is Joanne Smith but your business operates as “Jo-Jos Baked Goods,” that would be your DBA. It helps establish a link between your business entity and the name you use for conducting business.

Benefits of DBA:

  • It allows you to claim your business name for compliance purposes.
  • It informs customers about the entity behind the business.
  • It provides privacy for business owners.
  • It prevents others from using a similar name.
  • It creates a clear brand image.
  • It facilitates obtaining a business bank account.
  • It offers a simpler alternative to incorporation.

What is a limited liability company (LLC)?

An LLC is a separate legal entity that provides personal liability protection for business owners.

It's a popular business structure for both solo entrepreneurs and multi-owner companies.

Benefits of an LLC:

  • You want to protect personal assets.
  • You plan to raise more capital.
  • You have business partners or multiple owners.
  • You seek personal liability protection for LLC members.
  • You want a separate legal entity from the business owners.
  • You aim for a more professional appearance.
  • You plan to expand your business.

Key differences between DBA and LLC:

The main difference between DBA and LLC is that an LLC is a registered business entity, whereas a DBA is simply an application for claiming an operational name.

Here are the essential differences:

Filing Process:

  • Forming an LLC involves filing documents with the secretary of state and IRS.
  • Applying for a DBA is a simpler process that varies by state and typically requires checking name availability, reserving the name (optional), and paying applicable fees.

Trademark Protection:

  • DBA offers no automatic trademark protection unless a separate trademark is obtained.
  • An LLC's business name can be protected with a trademark from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Liability Protection:

  • DBA does not provide personal liability protection.
  • LLC separates personal and corporate liabilities, offering protection for personal assets.

Maintenance Costs:

  • LLCs have higher annual operating costs compared to sole proprietorship with DBA.
  • LLCs require annual reports, filing fees, and other compliance obligations, while DBA renewal fees vary by state.


  • DBA doesn't affect personal tax returns unless the business structure changes.
  • LLCs allow pass-through taxation, where earnings are reported on members' personal tax returns.


DBA Costs:

Filing Fees: The cost of filing a DBA varies by state and jurisdiction. Typically, the fees range from $10 to $100. Some states may also require additional fees for name reservation or publication.

Publication Fees: In certain states, you may be required to publish a notice of your DBA in a local newspaper. This publication cost can range from $50 to a few hundred dollars, depending on the publication requirements.

Renewal Fees: DBAs typically require periodic renewals, which also incur fees. The renewal frequency and associated costs vary by state, ranging from annual renewals to biennial or longer intervals.

LLC Costs:

Formation Fees: To establish an LLC, you need to file formation documents with the secretary of state or similar state agency. The filing fees can range from $40 to $500, depending on the state.

Registered Agent Fees: An LLC is required to have a registered agent, who acts as a point of contact for legal and official correspondence. Hiring a registered agent service can cost between $100 to $300 per year.

Annual Reports: Many states require LLCs to file annual reports to maintain good standing. These reports usually involve a filing fee, which varies by state and can range from $10 to $300.

Compliance Costs: LLCs have ongoing compliance obligations, such as meeting annual meeting requirements and maintaining proper record-keeping. These obligations may require additional costs, such as legal or accounting services.

It's important to note that the costs mentioned above are approximate and can vary depending on the state and specific circumstances. It's recommended to consult the appropriate government agencies or seek professional advice to determine the exact costs associated with registering a DBA or forming an LLC in your jurisdiction.

Remember, while DBA costs are generally lower, an LLC provides personal liability protection and other benefits that may justify the higher expenses. Consider your business needs, long-term goals, and budget when deciding between a DBA and an LLC structure.

Conclusion: Choosing between DBA and LLC

You can have both a DBA and an LLC. The decision depends on your business structure and the need for a different business name. Consider the following:

If you operate as a sole proprietor or another business entity, a DBA can provide a recognizable brand name.

If you seek personal liability protection and a separate legal entity, forming an LLC is advisable.

Paul Donovan

Article by:

Paul Donovan


Paul Donovan is an attorney, CPA, real estate developer, and broker with 25 years of experience advising real estate clients on the legal, tax, and financial aspects of real estate. Paul spent much of his career working for the “Big 4” advising Fortune 500 companies on complicated tax issues involved in the acquisition and disposition of real estate assets around the world.

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