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How to Get a DBA in Massachusetts

Q: Is it possible to file a DBA under my business name?

Thank you to a customer from Massachusetts for that great question! Massachusetts DBA (doing business as) names are a quite a bit different from how other states handle them—for starters, in the Commonwealth, the equivalent of filing a DBA is getting a “Business Certificate,” which is required for any person conducting business with anything other than a full legal name. In addition, Business Certificate Name registrations are not centralized through the Commonwealth itself, but are instead issued by the city clerk of the town where the business is located. There are a few other quirks associated with a Business Certificate, so read on for the full scoop.

What is a Business Certificate?

Under Chapter 110, Section 5 of Massachusetts General Laws, any Massachusetts business operating under anything other than the complete legal name of the operator or the legal business name must file a certificate with the city clerk that has jurisdiction over the location where that business will be conducted. The certificate lists contact information about the people who run the business, so that authorities know which businesses are associated with which individuals.

What information needs to be included?

The owners of a business need to provide their full legal names, the physical address of their residence, and a signature witnessed by the City Clerk. The address, phone number, email (or website) of the business must also be included on the certificate’s form, along with the type of business.

Do I need to include any other paperwork with my certificate?

Some cities require more documentation, depending on the business. For example, Boston requires food truck vendors to have health and fire permits, contractors to provide home improvement contractor registration, and real estate brokers a copy of their license; to name just three such examples.

What companies must get a Business Certificate?

Companies have different criteria for a Business Certificate depending on the nature of the entity:

  • Sole Proprietorship: The operating name is not the real name of the proprietor
  • Partnership: The operating name does not contain the legal surname of a partner
  • LLC or Corporation: Varies, see below

Does my LLC or corporation also need a Business Certificate?

It might, depending on if you can operate under its full name or not. Per Chapter 110, Section 6; LLCs, and corporations operating under a true name (unmodified and untruncated) are not required to get a Business Certificate.

However, LLCs and corporations must register with the Commonwealth, meaning they must have official names that are distinguishable from those of other registered companies. As a result, the official name of such a company is often quite lengthy for the sake of being unique—leaving it impractical for day-to-day use. In that case, the members of an LLC or directors of a corporation may decide to operate under an abbreviated name or a different name altogether, requiring a Business Certificate listing the company’s official name.

How do I get a Business Certificate for my company?

You can get the certificate application from your local City Clerk’s office or their website. Because the signatures of the authorized operators must be witnessed in person (and in some cases, identification must be provided), the application must be delivered in person.

How long is a Business Certificate good for?

In any municipality, a Business Certificate is valid for 4 years, then must be renewed.

How much does it cost?

Towns and cities are able to set their own fees for a Business Certificate. A certificate in Boston will cost $65, while getting one in Amherst only costs $25.

Is there anything else I should know about Business Certificates?

The most important thing to do with a Business Certificate is to always keep a copy on site at your business address, so that it can be provided in the event of inspection or emergency.

What if I don’t get a Business Certificate or keep it at my business?

Massachusetts allows non-compliant businesses to be fined up to $300 for every month that the business fails to display certification.

Can I get a Business Certificate for a business operating from a PO Box?

As a company must be able to display its Business Certificate, a business operating from a PO Box cannot legally get certification in Massachusetts.

Does getting a Business Certificate mean other businesses can’t use that name?

A Business Certificate Name does not bestow any legal protection for that name, and multiple businesses can operate under the same name in Massachusetts. However, trademark infringement is still actionable, so exercise caution when using a Business Certificate Name that matches or closely approximates a preexisting business name.

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