How to Get a Massachusetts Business Certificate
A Massachusetts DBA is any name your business operates under that’s different from your legal business name. Any type of business—Massachusetts sole proprietorship, general partnership, LLC, or corporation—can use a DBA to establish or rebrand their business’s image, boost brand awareness, and increase credibility. To use a DBA, you need to obtain a Massachusetts Business Certificate in the city (or cities) where you do business. We’ll go over the process.
Your Massachusetts DBA Guide:
What is a Massachusetts DBA?
In Massachusetts, DBA (“doing business as”) name filings are also referred to as Business Certificates. So, if you’re searching for information on DBAs in your city, try looking for information on Business Certificates instead. DBAs are also called assumed, fictitious, or trade names in other states.
Massachusetts General Laws (MGL) Chapter 110, Section 5 states that any business that adopts a name that isn’t its legal business name must register that DBA in every city or town where the business operates.
What’s unique about DBA registration in Massachusetts?
- City-level registration: Unlike many states, where DBAs are filed with the state, Massachusetts DBAs are filed with city governments.
- Filing exceptions: Any name used by a partnership that includes the surnames of its owners does not need to be filed as a DBA (MGL Chapter 110, Section 6).
Why Register a DBA in Massachusetts?
Businesses can register a DBA for any reason, but the following are some of the most common:
You’re a Massachusetts sole proprietor
Sole proprietorships are businesses that are owned by one person and aren’t registered as business entities with the state. As a sole proprietor, there’s no legal separation between you and your business, so the legal name of your business is your own name. However, with a DBA, you can do business under a more professional or descriptive name, like “Infinity Mindfulness Coaching” instead of Rob Smith.
To rebrand or expand your business
If you’re branching into a new industry or thinking of giving your business an image makeover, you might think you need to start a whole new business. You don’t! Instead, you can get a DBA and run your business under a new name.
Here are some common ways DBA can be used to craft and maintain your business’s brand or professional image:
- On websites and social media accounts
- On signs, business cards, and other marketing materials
- In commercials and advertisements
- On merchandise
- To open a business bank account (Note: some banks will require proof of DBA registration)
- To make and receive payments
To do business under your domain name
If you do business under a domain name that’s different from your legal business name, you’ll need to register that name as DBA. For instance, if you purchase the domain “infinitymind.com” and, instead of advertising under “Infinity Mindfulness Coaching,” you start using “infinitymind.com” or even “Infinity Mind” as your business name, your domain name is functioning as a DBA, and you need to register it as such.
Note: Registering a Massachusetts DBA doesn’t prevent another business from using the same name. For stronger legal rights to your name, you can apply to trademark your DBA at the federal level.
How to Register a Massachusetts DBA
While the process for registering a DBA in Massachusetts varies from municipality to municipality, we can provide a general overview. For exact details regarding your city or town, you’ll need to contact your city or town clerk.
First, you’ll need to know if the name you want to use is available. You can’t use a name that already belongs to a registered business like an LLC or a corporation or a name that is trademarked in Massachusetts or at the federal level.
You can search the following databases to confirm name availability:
- Massachusetts Business Entity Search
- Massachusetts Reserved Business Names Search
- Massachusetts Trademarks Search
- US Patent and Trademark Office’s Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS)
Lastly, while there is no rule against one business registering a DBA that is already registered to another within the same city or town, you may want to avoid using the same name as someone else in your municipality. If that’s the case, you’ll need to check the Business Certificate records in your city or town. You may need to do this in person or over the phone, but some cities have online search tools as well, like Boston’s DBA Database Search.
You’ll also need to follow Massachusetts business naming rules. Mainly, you cannot use a name designed to deceive the public about the nature of your business. The following are not permitted:
- Using an entity identifier like “Corp” or “LLC” unless that identifier matches your entity type
- Using words that falsely imply your business is affiliated with the military or other government organization
- Using a name that can be easily confused with a name that belongs to a registered business (for example, “Dog House” and “Dawg House.”)
Different municipalities have different DBA registration requirements. In some cities, all you’ll need to do is file a notarized form. Other cities will ask you to submit additional materials along with your application.
For example, in Boston, you must include a copy of your lease agreement or a notarized letter from your landlord stating that your business is a tenant of the building (virtual addresses and PO boxes aren’t permitted).
Certain types of businesses may also need to include other documents, such as a copy of a Certificate of Inspection for restaurants or a daycare provider license. Again, you’ll have to consult your city or town clerk’s office to find out what documents you’ll need.
Most municipalities provide a Business Certificate form that you can fill out and submit to the city or town clerk’s office. Some municipalities, such as Worcester, have one form for informal business structures like sole proprietors and general partnerships and another for formal business entities like LLCs and corporations.
If you must draft your own Business Certificate, here’s the information you’ll need to include according to MGL Chapter 110, Section 5:
- Your DBA name
- Your business’s legal name
- Your business’s street address
Some city or town forms may ask for more information. All Business Certificates must be signed by an owner of the business and notarized.
Depending on where you file, you may have to submit your form by mail, in person, or online.
Filing fees vary, but you can expect to pay around or a little more than $50—for example, in Boston, registration costs $65. In Springfield, Cambridge, and Worcester, the fee is $50.
Massachusetts DBAs must be renewed every 4 years. The renewal process is the same as the registration process—same form, same fee.
Filing a DBA vs Starting a Business
Filing a DBA is sometimes confused with starting a business. However, filing a DBA doesn’t create a legal business entity or change the structure of your existing business. For example, if you get a DBA as a sole proprietor, you’ll still be a sole proprietor.
Because a DBA isn’t a legal business entity, you can’t use your DBA on government or legal documents (like your taxes). Contracts signed only with your DBA might not hold up in court, but you’ll need to list your DBA alongside legal name on contracts for transparency.
There are two ways to start a business in Massachusetts:
- Sell a product or service. To start an informal business like a sole proprietor or general partnership, the only thing you need to do is sell something. Once you’ve done that, you’re in business. However, be aware that depending on the type of work you do, you may need to obtain a business license to operate legally.
- Register your business with the state. To form a legal business entity like an LLC or a corporation, you must file formation documents with the secretary of the commonwealth and pay a filing fee.
DBA vs LLC in Massachusetts
A DBA and a Massachusetts LLC are two different animals. While a DBA is the equivalent of a nickname for a business, an LLC is a legal business entity. As such, an LLC provides its owners with liability protection, meaning that if the business is sued or owes debts, only the business’s assets are put at risk. Owner’s personal assets, like property, cars, and savings, are all off-limits. This is a huge advantage for business owners.
By contrast, DBAs don’t offer liability protection. So, if you are a sole proprietor, you don’t have liability protection whether or not you have a DBA. For those currently without liability protection, starting an LLC is an easy way to safeguard your personal assets.
Does a Massachusetts DBA keep my personal information off the public record?
No. DBA filings are designed to allow consumers to figure out who they’re doing business with, and Massachusetts Business Certificate forms require applicants to provide their names and addresses.
The best way to increase your privacy as a business owner is to form an LLC and hire a Massachusetts registered agent like Northwest. That way, your registered agent can list their information in place of yours wherever it’s allowed, reducing the amount of personal information you put on the public record.
Protect Your Assets with a Massachusetts LLCGet Started Today!
Massachusetts DBA FAQs
How much does it cost to register a DBA in Massachusetts?
In most cities and towns, the cost to register a DBA is $50. However, this can vary—in Boston, the fee is $65
Is registering a DBA required in Massachusetts?
Yes. Massachusetts law states that a business must register a DBA before using it.
Do I need to register a DBA in every city where I do business?
Yes. Massachusetts state law requires any business operating under a DBA to register that DBA in each city or town where the business maintains an office.
Can I amend or cancel a DBA name?
Yes, you can amend or cancel a Massachusetts Business Certificate by filing paperwork with your city or town clerk. Contact your clerk for details on how to file.
Do I need a separate bank account for my DBA?
No. A DBA isn’t a business entity, so a separate bank account isn’t required. However, you may find that bookkeeping is easier if you have a separate bank account for business done under your DBA.
Do I need a separate EIN for my DBA?
No. A DBA isn’t a business on its own and doesn’t change your business structure, so you don’t need to get a new or separate EIN from the IRS. Multi-member LLCs, corporations, and all businesses with employees are among the types of businesses that need to get an EIN.
How long does DBA registration last in Massachusetts?
DBA registration in Massachusetts lasts for 4 years. After that time, you’ll need to renew.
How many DBAs can I register in Massachusetts?
You are free to register as many DBAs as you want to use, but you’ll have to file and pay the fee for each DBA separately.
Can I sign contracts with my DBA?
No. Because a DBA isn’t a legal business entity, you can’t use it to sign contracts—you must sign with your business’s legal name if you want the contract to hold up in court. However, you should include your DBA so that your business is clearly identified in the contract.
Can I buy a domain name under my DBA?
It depends on the domain registrar. Some registrars require businesses to buy domains under their legal business names, while others allow domain purchases under a DBA.
What is my legal business name?
Your business’s legal business name is the name you use on your business’s government documents—for example, on state and tax filings.
For formal business entities like LLCs, corporations, and non-profits, a business’s legal name is the name listed on its formation documents, including the company’s entity identifier (“Company Name, LLC,” “Company Name, Inc.,” etc.).
For sole proprietors, a business’s legal name is its owner’s legal name.
For general partnerships, a business’s legal name is either the partners’ last names or a name the partnership has given itself in a written partnership agreement.