How to Set Up a DBA in Massachusetts

Last updated: March 18th, 2024
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A DBA (Doing Business As) allows individuals and businesses to operate under a different name or expand their brand presence while maintaining legal compliance. In this guide, we’ll walk you through the step-by-step process of setting up your DBA in Massachusetts.

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While Massachusetts is known for its rich history, sports teams, and many of Boston’s landmarks, it is also known as a state full of colleges. Schools like Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology are some of the more prestigious institutions. With such an educated workforce, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is a great place to start a brick-and-mortar or online business. For those starting a small business in Massachusetts, part of that process may include choosing a name to operate the business under. One option is to create the company as a DBA.

What is a DBA?

The acronym “DBA” means “doing business as” and refers to a business operating under a different name from its legally registered name. Other states use a variety of terms to refer to this concept, like “fictitious name,” “assumed name,” or “trade name,” but they all amount to the same idea. 

A DBA is a name that will be used for your business operations. It’s what you may see on signage and business cards, what customers will know you by, and what you will use on most documents. But with a DBA in place, your business’s true legal name remains something else, usually the owner’s legal name. 

How to search DBA names in Massachusetts

Before committing to a DBA name, you will want to be sure that no one else is using the same name for their DBA. Here’s how to run a name search:

1
Explore your city or county’s website

Massachusetts does not allow multiple businesses to use the same name, so this is critical. It’s best to determine this early on to avoid becoming attached to a name you ultimately can’t use. 

Unlike registered names for businesses, DBA names are not tracked at the state level in Massachusetts. Instead, each city within the state is responsible for DBA registration.

Most cities or counties have a database that can be used to perform this search. For instance, Boston’s search engine is here. You can also contact the individual city or county clerk’s office to ask about fictitious business name availability and related rules. 

2
Be aware of state naming rules

While each city may have specific rules about what names you can use, they will typically adhere to state guidelines. That means the name of the business must be appropriate and accurate and not imply your business has licensed it does not. Massachusetts also does not allow the words on business name certificates to include suffixes (like “LLC” or “Incorporation) even when applicable. 

3
Fill out and submit the paperwork

You will need to complete a DBA registration in each city where your business operates. 

How to register a Massachusetts DBA

In Massachusetts, each city is individually responsible for managing DBA registration and all related processes, including DBA costs. This is not done through the Secretary of the Commonwealth. Since you will need a DBA in each city where your business operates, you first need to determine the towns. You can then follow that city’s instructions and procedures. 

In three of the state’s most populous cities, these are the requirements: 

Getting a DBA in Boston

To register a DBA in Boston, you need to:

1
Fill out the proper form

In Boston, there is a business certificate form that must be completed. This registration form includes the business’s name and business address, not a P.O. box, as well as every individual or corporation associated with the new company. 

2
Pay a filing fee

There is a $65 DBA fee for Massachusetts residents and a $100 fee for non-residents who do business in Massachusetts.

3
Have the form notarized during an appointment

The form must be notarized, which can be done at the clerk’s office if you bring your picture ID to the appointment.

4
Submit the document

Filing can be done by mail or in person at the Boston City Clerk’s office.

Getting a DBA in Worcester

If you plan to get a DBA in Worcester, follow these steps:

1
Fill out the proper form based on the type of business you run

Worcester has two separate forms based on the business structure you are seeking a DBA for. Sole proprietors and partnerships use one form, while LLCs and corporations use another.

2
Pay the filing fee

The fee for this is $50, and an additional fee of $14 (by mail) or $12 (in person) for a certified copy of your DBA. Worcester also charges a $20 fee if an application is withdrawn. 

Getting a DBA in Springfield

To register a DBA in Springfield, you should:

1
Have a business with a physical address

Businesses must have a Springfield street address (not a P.O. box) to apply for a DBA in the city.

2
Fill out the proper form and pay the filing fee

The business certificate will incur a $50 fee and a $40 fee for discontinuation. Springfield requires that forms are completed with black ink, or they are rejected. 

3
Reach out to officials, if you have questions

A complete list of city contact information can be found in the Massachusetts City and Town Directory.

What comes next

Knowing your locality’s specific rules for DBA upkeep is essential, including any renewals and requirements you must meet. But in general, you should be set to move forward with your business once a DBA is issued. For the DBA to be successful, you must ensure you run your industry properly and comply with the law. 

1
Consider getting an EIN

While a DBA doesn’t have any tax implications, taxes are likely a significant consideration for entrepreneurs. When your business is a separate legal entity, even if you’re forming an LLC taxed through your taxes, it should be recognized by the IRS as such. This is done through the issuing of Employer Identification Numbers, or EINs. These are nine-digit tax IDs, unique to each business – like your Social Security Number is unique to you. 

Not every business is required to have an EIN – if you have no employees and do not pay excise taxes, you are usually exempt. But any company can obtain an EIN for free through the IRS, and it can be beneficial to have one. Many potential lenders will want to see an EIN before offering credit, and opening a business bank account may be required. An EIN will also prevent you from needing to use your personal Social Security Number for forms and offer more privacy. 

If you plan to get an EIN, you can do so on the IRS website.

2
Obtain licenses and permits

Most businesses will need some kind of license to operate in Massachusetts. The exact requirements may vary based on location, type of business, and industry, so knowing which ones apply to your business is essential.

3
Seller’s permit in Massachusetts

Most businesses in Massachusetts will need to obtain the state-level Sales and Use Tax Registration Certificate, sometimes called a seller’s permit. Any company that operates in Massachusetts and intends to sell or lease a good or service subject to the sales tax must have this in place before they begin operations. You can apply for a Massachusetts Sales and Use Tax Registration Certificate online through MassTaxConnect, and there is no fee. 

4
Research other Massachusetts business licenses

Certain professions and industries will need to be licensed to operate. The Professional Licenses and Permits website for Massachusetts covers which businesses this will apply to and the steps to obtain the proper ones. 

Each city and county in Massachusetts can also require licenses and permits for a business to operate. For example, the City of Boston requires any company that works with flammable chemicals to have an annual license issued to them through the city’s fire department. You should always contact your local government office to understand which requirements apply. 

5
Renew your DBA

Each city has its rules for the expiration of DBAs, so it is essential to check with your relevant clerk’s office. However, most towns in Massachusetts require renewal every four years. This typically involves re-submitting the business certificate form you used to create the DBA and paying the filing fee again. Any other rules, like needing the document notarized, will also apply. 

If you fail to renew the name of your business in the appropriate time frame, then the name will become available for other companies to use. 

Who is a DBA best for? 

Not all businesses will need to use a DBA. Along with state-specific requirements, the legal structure of your business and the owners’ personal preferences will be significant factors in whether this is necessary. 

Regarding business structures, the legal process for registering your business may indicate whether a DBA is applicable. The most common uses of a DBA are:

  • Sole proprietorships and partnerships will be registered by default under their owner’s name. Since there is no formal paperwork to name the business, there is no other name that it could be listed as. In this case, a DBA would allow the business to have a publicly-facing company name other than your own.
  • Franchises often use a DBA to establish their business on a local level. For example, you may own a local McDonald’s and need to register it as an LLC or corporation. The business may then be called ABC Burgers, but a DBA would allow you to operate as “McDonald’s” to tie you to the parent company.

Other business structures, like a limited liability company or corporation, do not usually need to use a DBA. This is because part of registering these businesses includes choosing a name, which can be anything. Some localities may require this, but it is rare. These businesses can always choose to register a DBA if they choose.

Why would you set up a DBA in Massachusetts?

There are many reasons that small business owners and other entrepreneurs opt to use a DBA for the name of a business. The most common is that the business structure, usually a sole proprietorship or general partnership, automatically registers the industry in an owner’s personal name. If these businesses use another name for marketing and public relations, a DBA is the best way to do this. 

But a DBA can also be used in other business structures and for other reasons. For example, a DBA may allow you to maintain one business entity but operate various branches of your business under different names. It could also be a way to open a franchise as your LLC while still advertising the name of a well-known company. A DBA allows you to tailor marketing and branding to the right audience while keeping your registered name and legal structure intact. 

While forming a new DBA requires paperwork and a small state fee, it is often easier than registering a new business as a separate legal entity, making it a simple choice in most cases.

FAQs

How long does a DBA last in Massachusetts?

In Massachusetts, each city is responsible for DBA maintenance, including setting renewal periods. Most cities have a four-year expiration window for DBAs, but this will vary. Always check with your local clerk’s office to ensure you renew your DBA at the proper time. All DBAs are a matter of public record.

Can I use the same DBA as another business?

Massachusetts requires business names, including DBA names, to be unique. Before committing to a word, you will want to check with the town clerk where your business is registered to be sure the DBA is not taken. You may have the same name as a business elsewhere in the state or country but not a duplicate DBA record.

Can my Massachusetts LLC have a DBA?

Any business can have a DBA in Massachusetts, including your LLC. This is less common as the business can have a registered name of its choosing. But if you need to operate under another name, you can follow the typical process within your city to obtain a DBA for the business. 

Do sole proprietors have to have a DBA?

A sole proprietorship will always be registered under the owner’s name. If you are comfortable using your name as the business’s public-facing name and for all purposes, there is no requirement to have a DBA. But a DBA will be necessary if you want to operate under another name.

Find out how to set up your DBA

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