If you own a business and would like to use a different name than your legal business name, you will need to register a DBA name. Otherwise, you could face penalties.
This is a comprehensive guide for Massachusetts new businesses that want to register a DBA name. This guide will cover the basics of a DBA name, the rules for choosing a DBA name, and registering a DBA name in Massachusetts.
What is a Massachusetts “doing business as” (DBA) name?
A DBA name enables your business to operate under a different name than its formal business name or your personal name. However, it is not considered a separate business entity. For this reason, there are no additional taxes after you’ve registered the DBA name.
By registering a DBA name, as it’s referred to in Massachusetts, you ensure that your business is compliant with state laws. In Massachusetts, any person conducting business using anything other than their legal name must register a DBA name in the city clerk’s office or the town clerk that their business operates.
If a business operates under another name that isn’t registered, they could face repercussions. In fact, any violations are punishable by a fine of no more than $300 for every month that the violation continues.
There are two categories of businesses that typically seek DBA names:
- Sole proprietorships and partnerships: By registering a DBA name, these business types can have a legal business name that isn’t the owner’s legal name. Without a DBA name, businesses with these structures must go by the owner’s legal name.
- Corporations and limited liability company (LLC): By registering a DBA name, these business types can operate under a name that drops entity designators, such as “LLC” or “Corp.” In addition, a DBA name allows these businesses to have more flexible branding when releasing new product lines.
Aside from the legal compliance standpoint, registering a DBA name in Massachusetts offers small businesses additional benefits:
- Business bank accounts: After registering a DBA name, you will be able to use the DBA name to set up a business bank account.
- Credibility: A registered DBA name adds credibility to your business for several reasons. By having a business name that is different from your personal name, you add credibility to the name because it will be public record. Additionally, you will be able to show customers what your business offers by using the DBA name to clearly identify the services or goods that your business provides.
- Simple registration: Registering for a DBA name is one of the least expensive and easiest ways to claim your business name.
- Branding: Launch brands and products to different customer groups with unique names by registering DBA names. Since you can register multiple DBA names with your business, you can have as many product lines as needed.
- No additional taxes: DBA names act as alternative names and do not require additional tax filings.
- Ability to operate multiple businesses: DBA names allow businesses to operate multiple related businesses without forming distinct business entities.
How do I choose a Massachusetts DBA name?
A DBA name should inform customers about what you do and clearly communicate the purpose of your business. In short, a good DBA name should help your business define its brand and form a public image that matches your values and business identity. Once you’ve picked a DBA name that helps curate your brand identity, you should register a domain name.
Luckily, it’s easy to find any businesses operating under your preferred DBA name. Massachusetts provides businesses with a lookup tool to check if anyone is using your preferred business name. It’s important to perform a name search to check if your DBA name is unique to your business before you go through the process of registering your DBA name.
Additionally, it should be noted that DBA names do not protect your business against trademark infringement. At the federal level, trademarks protect the name, goods, and services of your business across the nation. You can use the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) website to determine if your preferred DBA name infringes on any federal trademarks. You should also use the Massachusetts trademark search tool to ensure that your DBA name does not infringe on any trademarks at the state level.
To register a DBA name in Massachusetts, you will need to file with the office of the clerk in every city or town in which your business operates. Massachusetts does not require businesses to register DBA names with the Secretary of State.
When choosing your DBA name, you cannot use specific wording that could mislead others about the nature of your business:
- No business can use government-related words or phrases, which include “Army,” “Navy,” “Marine Corps,” “Marines,” “Coast Guard,” “Government,” “Post Exchange,” “P-X,” or “G.I.”
- Individuals, unincorporated associations, or partnerships cannot use business-related words or phrases that could confuse the public about their business structures. These words include “Corporation,” “Incorporated,” or any abbreviation of any word that could confuse the public.
- No business other than the commonwealth can use the words “Massachusetts State Fair” unless they have the written consent of the commissioner of agriculture.
How do I register a Massachusetts DBA name?
In Massachusetts, you must register your DBA name at the local level. For this reason, the exact guidelines for registering your business’s DBA name can vary. The steps below are a general guideline for registering a Massachusetts DBA name.
- Obtain a DBA certificate from the office of the clerk for the city or town in which you operate your business.
- Enter the full name and residence of every owner of the business on the registration form.
- The certificate must include the street and number, where, and the title of the business.
- Pay a fee of $1 to file the certificate.
- All business owners must sign the certificate in the presence of someone authorized to take oaths in your city or town. In some cases, you will have to provide proof of your identity.
Remember, you are required to register a DBA name in every town or city in which you conduct business in Massachusetts. This means that if you conduct business in multiple towns, you will need to complete and file your DBA name certificate in each of the cities or towns you operate. Additionally, you must pay the filing fee and renew your DBA name in each city or town every four years.
How do I manage ongoing DBA name compliance in Massachusetts?
As with many business requirements, ensuring that you maintain ongoing compliance is an important task. Below are the compliance requirements for Massachusetts DBA names:
- After you register your DBA name in Massachusetts, copies of the certificate should be available at the business address. Anyone who has purchased goods or services from your business must receive a copy if they request one.
- Once you have the certificate registering the DBA name, you officially have the name for four years. Unless the certificate is renewed, it will become void after the four years.
- When a business member passes away, a statement by the administrator of their estate must be filed.
- A business owner must file from the office of the clerk in which they received the certificate a statement that they have discontinued, retired, or withdrawn from the business.
Massachusetts DBA FAQs
How much does it cost to register a Massachusetts DBA name?
Filing the certificate to register a DBA name in Massachusetts costs $1. However, that cost only includes the cost to register within one town or city. If you conduct business in other towns, you will have to register your DBA name there and pay additional fees. It’s important to note that fees can vary, depending on the town you are filing the DBA name.
Additionally, you will have to renew your DBA name every four years to make sure that it remains active in your local office. Violations to this can cost up to $300 for every month that the violation continues.
What is the processing time to register a DBA in Massachusetts?
Since filing for a DBA name must be completed at the local level, there isn’t a standard time for the filing process. The processing time to register a DBA name will vary from town to town.
Do I need a DBA name for my Massachusetts business?
As long as the name of your business is different when operating, you will need a DBA name. Even if your business just wants to drop distinguishers (e.g., “LLC” or “Corp.”), you will need to register a DBA name. Registering a DBA name in Massachusetts is necessary for businesses that want to go by a name other than their official business name. Luckily, registration is quite simple, especially with the help of ZenBusiness.
Having a unique DBA name can help your business establish a brand that fits your target audience and informs customers of your business. Since it acts as an alternative name for your business, registering a DBA name will not require you to pay any additional taxes.
If I register a DBA name in Massachusetts, can another business use the same name?
DBA names are generally not exclusive. This means that a DBA name does not give you exclusive power to use that name, and other businesses could use it. Furthermore, a DBA name does not do anything in regard to trademarks. Both state and federal trademarks override the validity of a DBA name. Starting with a DBA name and then registering for a trademark is the most effective way to protect your business moving forward.
Can a business in Massachusetts have multiple DBA names?
Yes. Many businesses use multiple DBA names to differentiate between different products and areas of their operation. For instance, a fitness company that wants to create two different brands for dance classes and yoga classes can use two DBA names.
Is a DBA name the same thing as a fictitious business name in Massachusetts?
Yes. Although it is referred to as a “DBA name” in Massachusetts, it is the same as a “fictitious business name,” “assumed name,” “trade name,” and “operating name.”
Do I need a DBA name in Massachusetts if I use my own name for a sole proprietorship?
If your business is a sole proprietorship, you cannot conduct business under any name other than your legal name unless you have a DBA name. Registering a DBA name is a quick and easy process to ensure that you are compliant.
Will using a DBA name affect how my business is taxed in Massachusetts?
A DBA name is an alternative name for your business. Because it acts as an alternative name, it does not establish your business as a new entity. It will not require any changes to how your business is taxed at the local, state, or federal level.