DBA simply a legal alias

Record-Eagle/Dan Nielsen The Red Ladder shop on Union Street is owned by Susan Gardiner. She can use the business name “The Red Ladder” because she registered it as an assumed name in Grand Traverse County.

TRAVERSE CITY — An assumed name sounds like something a seedy private eye in a film noir might need to sort out during an investigation.

But it’s really just a basic requirement of doing business for most entrepreneurs.

If Humphrey Bogart decided to wear his trench coat in Traverse City, he’d legally need to file at the Grand Traverse County offices for an assumed name before he could hang out a shingle with the business names “Phillip Marlowe: Private Eye” or “Spade and Archer Detective Agency.”

An assumed name, also known as a DBA — AKA “doing business as” — legally allows an individual to open a bank account, rent a post office box or apply for a business tax license under that assumed name. 

Adrienne Perri, of Traverse City, can do business as “A Girl’s Thing Painting Company” because she registered that as an assumed name.

Susan Gardiner, of Traverse City, registered the assumed name “The Red Ladder” so she could start a checking account in the name of her shop.

An assumed name doesn’t cost much. But it holds great value for a business owner.

“Ten thousand? We were talking about a lot more money than this,” Sam Spade said in “The Maltese Falcon.”

“Yes, sir, we were, but this is genuine coin of the realm,” said Kasper Gutman. “With a dollar of this, you can buy $10 of talk.”

A mere $10 buys an assumed name for five years in Grand Traverse County. With that 10-spot, you can buy the right to do business in the realm of Grand Traverse County under most any moniker you choose. Preventing duplicate business names is another function of the DBA system.

Alternatives to registering an assumed name do exist. Most common is establishing a corporation. But creating a corporation is a relatively involved and costly process. Even corporations must register an assumed name if they conduct business under a name other than their legal corporate name.

The U.S. Small Business Administration says a DBA is needed in the following scenarios:

“Sole Proprietors or Partnerships — If you wish to start a business under anything other than your real name, you’ll need to register a DBA so that you can do business as another name.

“Existing Corporations or LLCs — If your business is already set up and you want to do business under a name other than your existing corporation or LLC name, you will need to register a DBA.”

Perri set up her painting business 15 years ago.

<\z186666660308838>”I was working for somebody else and they ended their business,” she said. “I thought I could do it on my own.”

<\z186666660308838>One of the first things she did was register her assumed name.

<\z186666660308838>”If I work for a contractor and I don’t have my own business, they would have to pay workman’s comp,” she said.

<\z186666660308838>As a business owner, Perri carries her own insurance. That makes it easier to get subcontracting jobs.

<\z186666660308838>Perri, 36, each year paints the interiors of about four remodeled houses and three newly constructed homes. She also paints the exteriors of one or two homes each year. If the work demands extra help, she has a couple of self-employed friends she can call. But she handles most of the work herself, just as Spade and Marlowe preferred.

<\z186666660308838>”I’m pretty much on my own,” Perri said.

Because she has a registered DBA, Perri can purchase liability insurance in the name of her business.

“You should really not hire somebody who doesn’t have it,” Perri said.

Possessing an assumed name enables the holder to present an official identity to potential clients. It is the first step toward building both real and perceived stature in the local business community.

<\Iz186666660308838>”You’re not very tall are you?” Carmen Sternwood said in “The Big Sleep.”

<\Iz186666660308838>”Well, I, uh, I try to be,” said Philip Marlowe.

<\z186666660308838>Gardiner said that when she created her store years ago, she was rebuffed at a bank when she first asked to open a business checking account under the name of her fledgling shop.

“You have to have something to prove you’re in business,” she said. “You have to have a DBA to do business.”

Gardiner registered her assumed name. With that piece of paper in her hand, she returned to the bank. That time, things went smoothly. She opened her business account. 

She had to return to the county offices when she moved her shop to a different storefront. Registrants must update their assumed name registration if their business address changes. The county needs to keep a handle on assumed name registrants so it doesn’t need to hire a private eye to track them down.

EDITORS NOTE: The Record-Eagle publishes a list of assumed names recently filed in Grand Traverse County each week on its Friday business page.

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