What’s in a name?

by Scott Taylor

Every new business owner dreams of turning their company into a household name. But long before that can happen, it’s important to establish a legal or registered name that will appear on essential documents like Articles of Incorporation, business licences, and of course tax returns and other government paperwork.

Some companies also use a trade name or a DBA, which is an acronym for “doing business as.” A trade name is like a nickname for marketing: for instance, “Ford Motor Company of Canada Ltd.” is long and cumbersome, while “Ford” is quick, easy, and memorable.

It’s not a requirement, but there are advantages to registering a trade name when you set up your business.

For example, having a legal name (“Scott Taylor Trucking Inc.”) and a trade name (“Scott’s Trucking”) means you can list both on your business bank account. Clients can use whatever name they’re familiar with when they make out a check.

It’s different if you’re a sole proprietor. You and your business are the same entity for tax and legal purposes. Whether or not I have “Scott’s Trucking” registered as a trade name does not change the fact that my legal business name is “Scott Taylor.”

Sometimes I run into people who think that simply registering a trade name will accomplish the same thing as incorporation. Not true. Legally, you and your company are one and the same if you’re a sole proprietor.

That said, when you incorporate you can put a Ltd., Inc., or Corp. on the end and they all mean the same thing. Which one you choose is a matter of personal choice.

Why do I bring this up? A case of mistaken identity is time-consuming and confusing to sort out.

For example, in our business we help clients get their Canadian and U.S. operating authorities. I have a sole-proprietor client who goes by his middle name. He put that name down as his given name when he applied for his operating authorities. An honest mistake, but one that’s taken hours to correct.

You know that shop you’ve been dealing with for years, where everybody knows your name? When you incorporated, did you give them a copy of your Corporate Certificate so they can update their records and make sure your business’s legal name is on the invoices and statements? They didn’t? The GST/HST input tax credits for the engine job and new steer tires you bought this year are going to be denied.

What about the new trailer you’re about to lease or buy? Will the folks at the dealer’s finance department put your legal name on the documentation? Check it twice, because Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) is going to ask questions if your personal name or a DBA is on the paperwork and the payments are coming out of a corporate bank account.

No matter how your operation is structured, make it a habit to put your legal business name on everything you provide to clients, vendors, or a government office.

1234567 Ontario Inc./DBA Frank’s Haulage isn’t catchy. But when you’re named personally in a lawsuit because the plaintiff did not know (or claims not to know) that you do business as a corporate entity, or you rush to the bank to cash a check but get turned away because it doesn’t have your legal business name on it, you’ll wish you’d put it on every invoice, contract, business card, letterhead, website, and registration form you’ve ever filled out.

Scott Taylor is vice-president of TFS Group, providing accounting, bookkeeping, tax return preparation and other business services for owner-operators. Learn more at www.tfsgroup.com or call 800-461-5970

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