A Wisconsin DBA (doing business as) is called a trade name. Wisconsin trade name registration allows a business to operate under a name that’s different from its legal name.
Wisconsin DBA registration won’t protect your personal assets. Forming a formal business structure like an LLC or corporation will give you liability protection along with a business name
Forming an LLC is the best choice for most small businesses. Learn more in our DBA vs LLC guide.
Use our step by step guide below to get a DBA for your Wisconsin business. For a look at DBA filing in another state, check out our other How to Get a DBA guides.
Register a DBA in Wisconsin
Registering a Wisconsin trade name, also known as a DBA, is easy!
A DBA is only used for branding. A DBA doesn't offer any protection for your personal assets in the event that your business is sued. For this reason, we strongly recommend that a DBA should only be used by a formal business structure such as an LLC or corporation for the purpose of adding new brands to an existing business.
If you are running an informal business (sole proprietorship or partnership), we strongly suggest forming an LLC to separate your business and personal assets. The name of the LLC can be selected to act as the brand name for the business.
Learn How to File a DBA in Wisconsin yourself in two steps:
Note: A DBA is only used for branding. We recommend forming an LLC to separate your business and personal assets.
Step 1. Start With a Wisconsin Trademark Search
In Wisconsin, trade names fall under the state's trademark category. When you register your Wisconsin trade name, you are essentially letting other business owners know that the name is in use. Your trade name isn’t protected from being used by others.
Visit Wisconsin’s Department of Financial Institutions website and search for your new DBA name with the Trademark Search to make sure it isn’t already in use. You will need to create a free account before searching.
Next, review the Wisconsin naming requirements. In Wisconsin, trade names should NOT include:
- Any business entity suffix, such as LLC, Incorporated, Corp, etc., unless the business is actually an LLC, corporation, etc.
- The word "insurance" unless the name makes clear that the company is not an insurance company.
- Words that imply that the business was organized for any unlawful purpose
- Words that give the impression the company is engaged in the business of architecture, professional engineering, or designing without the proper approval.
- The word "cooperative" unless the entity is an approved cooperative association.
We recommend checking if your name is available as a web domain (URL). You might not plan on starting a business website today, but you may want to prevent others from acquiring your URL.
Find a Domain Now
Once you reserve a domain name for your DBA, consider setting up a business phone system to help strengthen your customer service and boost credibility. We recommend Phone.com because of its affordable pricing and variety of useful features. Start calling with Phone.com.
Need Help Creating a Brand Name and Logo?
Step 2. Register Your Wisconsin DBA
Your Wisconsin trade name can be filed online or in person with the Department of Financial Institutions. You must create a free account before filing online.
Some important sections of the form include:
- Trademark Registration: Select whether this is a new registration or a renewal, and include the original registration ID if a renewal
- Trademark Description: Trade name being registered and the date of first use.
A DBA does not offer any legal protection for your personal assets in the event that your business is sued. For more information on setting up a limited liability company, visit our How to Form an LLC page and select your state.
Manage Your Wisconsin Trade Name
Call the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions: (608) 266-8915
Renew Your Trade Name With the State
Your Wisconsin trade name needs to be renewed every 10 years. You can renew online.
Change Your Trade Name
You will have to file a new registration to change your trade name. This can also be done in person at the office address below:
4822 Madison Yards Way, North Tower
Madison, WI 53705
Withdraw Your Trade Name
You can cancel your trade name online. This can also be done in person at the office address below:
4822 Madison Yards Way, North Tower
Madison WI 53705
If you want to use a professional service to get a DBA for your business we recommend:
Swyft Filings ($99 + state fee)
After Filing Your Wisconsin DBA
If filing a DBA marks the beginning of your business journey, then there are a few more steps that you should take before getting started:
- Create your Business’s Website - Every business needs a website. Luckily, drag-and-drop builders like GoDaddy and Wix make the job quick and easy. Check out our Best Website Builder article to find the tool that’s best for you.
- Get your Business Finances in Order - You’ll need to separate your business finances from your personal ones. This is accomplished by opening a business bank account. If your business has long lead times or other cash flow irregularities, you can also look into a business credit card.
- Protect Your Business - While an LLC will help to protect your personal assets in the case of a lawsuit, your business’s assets also need protection. Having the right business insurance will ensure that you’re covered if the worst happens. Most businesses start with general liability insurance as their base coverage.
DBA Wisconsin FAQ
How many DBAs can I have?
You can have as many DBAs as you can afford to create and are able to keep track of. Each one comes with additional incremental expenses and paperwork, meaning more is not necessarily better.
Can a DBA get an EIN or Tax ID?
DBAs aren’t required to have a separate EIN because DBAs aren’t a business entity. The business entity that the DBA is under would have an EIN if an EIN is required.
To learn more about EINs and when you need one for your business, read our What is an EIN guide.
Can a DBA become an LLC?
No. An LLC is a business entity, while a DBA is just a name for a business.
Sole proprietorships are often confused with DBAs, but they are not the same: a sole proprietorship is a business entity, therefore it can choose to become an LLC.
To learn how to form an LLC, visit our Form an LLC state guides.
Can a DBA have Inc. in the name?
A DBA can only have Inc. in the name if the business entity the DBA is attached to is a corporation.
How do I set up a DBA for a rental property?
Holding a rental property in your name and with a DBA will not afford you any protection. The best option is to form an LLC to protect your personal assets in the event of an issue with the rental property. In any case, it is always best to consult an attorney.
When would it be good to get a DBA versus a legal name change?
Getting a DBA is often a better choice than changing your business’s legal name. If you want to rebrand your company or focus on another line of business, filing for a DBA is a simpler process than filing for a legal name change.
Is my DBA protected from being used in other places?
Some state-level laws prevent DBAs that are too similar to existing ones from being used, but this varies from state to state. It is possible to trademark a DBA, which would offer stronger protection across state lines.