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How to File a DBA in Massachusetts: Complete 3 Step Process

How to File a DBA in Massachusetts: Complete 3 Step Process

Filing a DBA ("doing business as") in Massachusetts is a simple, straight-forward process that you can likely complete on your own. If you don't want to file on your own or would like some assistance, you can use a professional DBA service. A DBA service can take your information and submit the necessary forms on your behalf.

Before you get started on the process of DBA registration, however, you should consider your business goals and how getting a DBA would help you reach them. Is there another option, such as forming a business entity or changing the legal name of your business, that would better suit your business needs? If you decide that getting a trade name is the right move, you can get your Massachusetts trade name filed in three simple steps.

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Do I Need a Massachusetts DBA?

In Massachusetts, you need to have a DBA to conduct business under a name other than the legal name for your business. Owners of the following business types may seek a DBA to conduct business under a different name in Massachusetts:

For sole proprietorships and partnerships, the legal business name is the owner's personal name. For LLCs and corporations, the legal business name is the entity name that was submitted to the appropriate agency when the entity was formed.

Why would a business owner want to use a different name for conducting business activities? A sole proprietor, for example, might want to maintain their privacy and appear more professional by using a name other than their own personal name for their business. With a DBA, a sole proprietor can open a business bank account and receive checks made out to the business name rather than their own personal name.

When owners of LLCs or corporations contemplate registering a DBA, it's often because they plan on launching a new line of services or products. For example, Anne owns a luxury shoe store that's known for carrying only the finest Italian goods. However, Anne wants to try something different with her next venture. She'd like to open up a sneaker store with low prices for the whole family, but she doesn't want customers to be confused between the two very different brands. Getting a DBA name for her new store can help to avoid confusion and differentiate the brands for marketing purposes.

It's important to note, however, what a trade name won't do for your business. It won't provide personal asset protection. Personal asset protection is a feature of certain business entities, such as LLCs and corporations. Owners of LLCs and corporations have limited liability, which means that their personal assets are protected if someone sues their business.

Sole proprietors, on the other hand, don't enjoy personal asset protection. Business owners who operate their business as a sole proprietorship run the risk of losing their personal assets, such as their house or car, as the result of a judgment against their business. Because a trade name is only a name, and not a legal entity, it doesn't provide personal asset protection. If you're a sole proprietor looking for a way to get personal asset protection, you should look into forming a legal entity such as an LLC or corporation rather than getting a trade name in Massachusetts.

Complete Process for Getting a Massachusetts DBA

In Massachusetts, a DBA is also commonly referred to as a "business certificate." To get a business certificate, you'll need to follow 3 simple steps.

Step 1: Conduct a Name Search

You may already have a list of names you'd like to use for your business activities. If you don't already have a list of names, compile one and keep in mind that you want your name to be unique and distinctive.

Once you have your list of names, you'll be ready to conduct your name search. Simply visit the Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth website to search state records. You'll also need to check if the city in which you conduct business or intend to conduct business has a database of its own. If so, conduct a search in the city or town records, as well.

Finally, conduct a search for the name you'd like to use through TESS (Trademark Electronic Search System). Checking the trademark database will help you to avoid settling on a business name that someone has already trademarked.

There are name restrictions to look out for before you submit your trade name. Be sure to avoid using entity designators, such as "Inc." or "Corp." if your business is unincorporated. Also, you can't use the phrase "Massachusetts State Fair" unless you have express permission. Don't use any words or phrases that suggest you're operating a government agency.

Step 2: Register Your Business Certificate

Since DBA registration takes place at the city level in Massachusetts, you need to contact the city clerk in the city or town in which you conduct business in order to get specific instructions about the registration process. Although the process and fees may vary from city to city, there are some similarities.

If you're filing your DBA in Boston, for example, you'll need to visit the City of Boston website and find the registration form. Although the form for your city may be different if you're not filing in Boston, you'll likely need to provide the following type of information:

  • Business type
  • Business address
  • Business owner's name and email address

The filing fee for a Boston business certificate is $65, and there's an additional fee of $35 for non-residents conducting business in Massachusetts. You can't submit your paperwork online at this time. Instead, you'll need to submit your form and filing fee in person or by mail to the Office of the City Clerk in Boston. Don't forget to get your form notarized.

Step 3: Manage Your Massachusetts DBA

There are several actions that you may wish to take regarding your DBA after you've filed. Perhaps you've realized that you want to make a change to your business certificate or you'd like to withdraw it and stop using your assumed name altogether. You'll need to contact the city clerk in the city or cities in which you registered your DBA for information on how to renew, change, or withdraw your DBA.

In Boston, your DBA is good for four years. You may renew your DBA, if you wish, for a fee of $65 (and an additional $35 for non-residents doing business in Massachusetts). You also have the option to make a change or amendment to your DBA. To change the business location or take a business owner's name off of the business certificate, you can fill out the appropriate form and submit your filing fee of $50. You may also withdraw your business certificate if you no longer want it at all. You may simply complete the appropriate form and submit your filing fee of $50 to withdraw your DBA.

What Steps Should I Take After Filing a DBA?

If you're just getting started with your business, there are many steps that you can take after filing your DBA. It's important to have a website, and you can build one yourself. If you're not comfortable with building your own website, though, you can hire someone to build it for you. Getting an account on a popular social media website can also make your business more visible to potential customers. Be sure to get a logo, signage, brochures, and other promotional materials for your business. Also, if you haven't already obtained business insurance, you should look into getting a general liability insurance policy for your business. An insurance policy can protect your assets in case someone suffers a loss or injury at your business. Finally, don't forget to get a business bank account and a business credit card or debit card. Keeping your personal funds and business funds separate makes accounting much easier, and it's essential to maintain the separation between the business and the individual if you have an LLC or corporation.

Frequently Asked Questions About Massachusetts Business Name Certificates

1. Do I need to get an EIN or Tax ID number for my DBA?

Many businesses are required to get an EIN (Employer Identification Number) from the Internal Revenue Service(IRS) in order to conduct business. However, a DBA is not a legal entity. Because a DBA is not a legal entity, there is no requirement for you to get a separate EIN for your DBA.

2. Can someone else use my registered trade name?

DBA registration doesn't give you exclusive rights. There are some state laws that might prevent another person from using the same name, but the best way to protect your trade name is to get a trademark.

3. How many DBAs can I have for my business?

You can have as many DBAs as you can afford to register and manage. There is no limit. Although there's no limit to the number of DBAs that you can have, you might want to make sure that there's a good business reason for each one.

4. Can I renew, change, or withdraw my business name certificate?

You'll need to check with the city clerk's office in the city or town in which you filed your business certificate in order to get specific instructions on how to renew, change, or withdraw your DBA.

5. Is a DBA the same as an assumed name or fictitious business name?

A "doing business as" or trade name can also be referred to as an assumed name or a fictitious business name. In Massachusetts, it's common to refer to a DBA as a business certificate, as well.

6. Can my DBA become an LLC?

A DBA can't be converted into a limited liability company because a DBA isn't a legal entity. A DBA is only a name that can be used for doing business. However, if you're a sole proprietor who's interested in the benefits of forming a legal entity, you have the option of forming an LLC or corporation.

7. Is publication required for my DBA in Massachusetts?

You'll need to check with the city clerk in the city or cities in which you filed your business certificate in order to determine if you're required to publish your trade name in the newspaper. Many cities do not have this requirement.

8. How much does it cost to get a Massachusetts DBA, and how long will it take to process my registration?

The cost for DBA registration in Massachusetts can vary from city to city since registration is handled at the local level. Typically, a business certificate in a town or city of Massachusetts ranges from $35-$65.

Processing times may vary, from city to city. If processing time is a great concern for you, check with the city clerk in the city or town in which you're filing your business certificate to find out if expedited processing is an option.

9. Can you file for a DBA in Massachusetts online?

You'll need to check with the city clerk in the city or town in which you're filing your business certificate to find out how you can register your DBA. Online registration is not an option for all cities in Massachusetts.

Interested in Filing a DBA in Massachusetts? 

In Massachusetts, you can be fined for doing business under a name other than the legal name for your business if you don't have the name you're using registered. The fine could be up to $300 for each month that the violation of the law continues. Do it right the first time. Use our trusted, simple-to-use online business formation tool. We'll walk you through the steps of creating your business and help you meet all the legal requirements.

If you're unsure about whether or not you need a Massachusetts DBA, you should reach out to a professional who can help you determine your business needs. Contact an attorney in your area, today, if you have any questions concerning DBAs in Massachusetts.

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