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

Filing a DBA ("doing business as") in Massachusetts is a simple, straightforward process you can likely do on your own following this FindLaw three-step process. There are also easy-to-use professional DBA services that can walk you through the steps.

Before you start the DBA registration process, consider your business goals. Would another option, such as forming a new business entity or changing the legal name of your business, better suit your small business needs?

If you decide that getting a trade name, known as a DBA, is right for your small business, you can get your Massachusetts trade name filed in three simple steps.

Register your DBA with confidence through our trusted partner LegalZoom.

Do I Need a Massachusetts DBA?

In Massachusetts, business owners need a DBA to conduct business under a name other than the business entity's legal name.

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

Why Would a Business Owner Use a Different Name for Business Activities?

A sole proprietor may want to maintain their privacy and appear more professional by using a name other than their name for their business. With a DBA, a sole proprietor can open a business bank account and receive checks made to the business name rather than their name.

When owners of LLCs or corporations consider registering a DBA, it's often because they plan to launch a new line of services or products.

For example, Anne owns a luxury shoe store with only the finest Italian goods. But Anne wants to try something different in her next venture. She'd like to open a sneaker store with low prices for the whole family, but she doesn't want to confuse customers. Getting a DBA name for her new store can help avoid confusion and differentiate the brands for marketing purposes.

DBA Limitations

It's important to note 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. Their assets don't get seized in a lawsuit. Sole proprietors don't enjoy personal asset protection. They could lose their house or car due to 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. Suppose you're a sole proprietor looking for a way to get personal asset protection. In that case, you should look into forming a legal entity such as an LLC or corporation rather than getting a trade name in Massachusetts.

Massachusetts Business DBA FAQs

In Massachusetts, you can get fined for doing business under a name other than your business legal name if you didn't register the name you're using. The fine could be up to $300 each month the violation continues.

Before registering your assumed name with the Massachusetts Secretary of State, here are some quick facts that you need to know:

Do I need a Tax ID or EIN for my DBA?

A DBA doesn't need a tax ID or employer identification number (EIN) from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). It uses the underlying business entity or sole proprietor's Social Security number.

How many DBAs can I have for my business?

A business can have unlimited DBAs in Massachusetts.

How can I renew, change, or withdraw my business name certificate?

The city clerk's office, where you file your business certificate, has information on renewing, changing, or withdrawing your assumed name.

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

A "doing business as" or trade name is also known as an assumed name or a fictitious business name. In Massachusetts, it's common to refer to a DBA as a business certificate, too.

Can my DBA become an LLC?

You can't convert a DBA into a limited liability company. But, if you're a sole proprietor interested in the benefits of forming a legal entity, you can create an LLC or corporation.

How much is DBA registration in Massachusetts?

Massachusetts DBA registration for a business certificate is generally $35 to $65.

How long will it take to process my DBA?

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

Complete the Process for Getting a Massachusetts DBA

In Massachusetts, a DBA is also commonly called a "business certificate." To get a business certificate, follow three 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. 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. Visit the Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth website to search state records. You'll also need to check if the city where you conduct business or intend to conduct business has its own database. If so, search the city or town records, as well.

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

There are name restrictions to look out for before you submit your trade name. 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 words or phrases suggesting 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 or town clerk where you conduct business to get specific instructions about the registration process. Although the process and fees may vary from city to city, some similarities exist.

Suppose you're filing your DBA in Boston, for example. In that case, you must 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 give the following information:

  • Business type
  • Business address
  • Business owner's name and email address
  • Proposed DBA name
  • Original entity name

The filing fee for a Boston business certificate is $65. There is an extra fee of $35 for non-residents conducting business in Massachusetts. You can't submit your paperwork online now. Instead, you must 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, but the clerk can notarize it for you in person if you forget. Boston requires a renewal every four years.

Step 3: Manage Your Massachusetts DBA

After you file your DBA, you may wish to take several actions. You may have realized that you want to change your business certificate, withdraw the assumed name, or renew it. You'll need to contact the city clerk in the city or cities where 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 for a fee of $65. 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 the business certificate, you can fill out the appropriate form and submit your filing fee of $50. You may withdraw your business certificate if you no longer want to use that trade name. You 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 still need business insurance, consider getting a general liability insurance policy. An insurance policy can protect a small business owner's assets in case someone suffers a loss or injury at the business.

Don't forget to get a business bank account and a business credit or debit card. Keeping your personal and business funds separate makes accounting much easier. Maintain the separation between the business and yourself if you have an LLC or corporation.

Interested in Filing a DBA in Massachusetts?

When you've decided to pursue DBA registration, consider using a trusted, simple-to-use online DBA registration tool that will walk you through the process. 

Suppose you need to determine whether you need a Massachusetts DBA. In that case, you should contact a Massachusetts business lawyer.

Disclaimer: The information presented here does not constitute legal advice or representation. It is general and educational in nature, may not reflect all recent legal developments, and may not apply to your unique facts and circumstances. Consider consulting with a qualified business attorney if you have legal questions.

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  • Starts at $99 + filing fees
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