How to Register a DBA in Massachusetts (Step-by-Step Guide)
If you’re starting a new business in Massachusetts, it’s essential to understand the various legal requirements and terminology. One element to consider is obtaining a DBA if you plan to operate under a name that differs from your legal name. This article will provide a broad overview of what a DBA is when necessary and the steps to obtain one in Massachusetts, helping to simplify the process for new business owners.
What is a DBA?
DBA is an acronym for “doing business as,” which describes companies or individuals who operate under a name different from their legal name. A DBA name is often called an “assumed name,” “fictitious business name,” or “trade name.”
For example, if Susan Lee owns a sole proprietorship providing pet grooming services, she can register a new DBA name, such as “Paws and Claws Pet Grooming,” to market her products and services instead of using her name.
Sole proprietors, partnerships, and corporations often register if they want to use a fictitious name that better describes their services or products or if they simply want to use a different name.
The process of registering varies from state to state. Usually, it involves:
- Choosing a unique business name.
- Verifying its availability.
- Filing the proper forms with the relevant government agency, such as the Secretary of State or the county clerk’s office.
- Paying the filing fees.
Massachusetts DBA name registration
Choose your name
Before you search to see if your proposed name is available, you need to think of it. It’s important to keeping mind the naming guidelines in Massachusetts.
- The name must be distinguishable: Massachusetts general law states that your new name must be unique from any other business on record with your city clerk.
- No prohibited words: The name must not include any words prohibited by the Secretary of the Commonwealth, such as those that imply government affiliation or those that are obscene or offensive. This includes government-related words like “Army,” “Coast Guard,” or “Attorney.”
- The use of the term “Massachusetts State Fair” is restricted to the Commonwealth, and written consent from the commissioner of agriculture is required for any other business or entity to use this term.
- No false or misleading statements: The name mustn’t contain any false or misleading statements that could deceive the public or be organized for any unlawful purposes.
- Appropriate suffix: The name must include an appropriate suffix such as “Corporation,” “Company,” “LLC,” or “Inc.” depending on the type of business operating.
Check name availability
As all Massachusetts business names need to be unique, one of the first steps is to search for names already in use.
- Visit the Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth’s Corporations Division website to search the corporate database.
- Having checked that your name is available on the business entity search, the next step is to corroborate this information and check in your town or city. Use this link to find your city. Once you have found your city’s website, check to see if your proposed name is in use. Some cities have online directories, whereas others will require a phone call.
Register your name
To register a Massachusetts business certificate, you must file it at the local level with the town clerk of the city where your business operates instead of at the state level.
The process is similar across cities and requires the proposed name, the business address, and contact information.
How to file in Boston
- Obtain the correct form: You can download the registration form from the Boston City Clerk’s website or pick up a hard copy from the City Clerk’s office.
- Fill out the form: Provide the required information, including your full name and address, the name you want to use, and the type of business you’re conducting.
- Sign and notarize the form: You’ll need to sign the form in front of a public notary, who will then notarize your signature.
- File the form: You can file the DBA form in person at the Boston City Clerk’s office, or you can mail it along with the filing fee to the following address:
Office of the City Clerk
1 City Hall Square Room 601
Boston, MA 02201
Pay your filing fees
Filing your business certificate in Massachusetts costs $65.
If you are a non-resident, an additional fee of $35 is levied.
Payment options include checks, money orders, cash, or credit card. It’s important to note that you must pay your fees at the city clerk’s office.
Additionally, the city clerks in Massachusetts require notarizing the business certificate name form. To obtain this, you can visit the City Clerk’s office, which has notary publics available. As long as you have a valid ID, they can notarize your paperwork.
Renew, amend, or withdraw your DBA
After successfully receiving the certificate, the name will be officially registered for four years.
After this period, the certificate will become void unless renewed. You must file for a renewal before the certificate expires to continue using the name.
If you decide to discontinue, retire, or withdraw from your business, you must file a statement with the clerk’s office in which you received the certificate. This statement informs the city that you will no longer be using the registered DBA name and helps avoid confusion or legal issues down the line.
Obtain an EIN
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) assigns a unique nine-digit identification number called an Employer Identification Number (EIN) to identify business entities for tax purposes.
A DBA does not create a separate legal entity.
If you’re a sole proprietor without employees, you can use your Social Security number as your tax ID instead of obtaining an EIN.
However, if a DBA hires employees or wants to establish a separate business bank account, they must obtain an EIN.
Open a business bank account
After acquiring a DBA and EIN, opening a business bank account is highly recommended.
This will help separate your assets from your business costs and enable you to easily take checks and credit card payments.
Advantages and disadvantages of a DBA
There are many advantages to registering a DBA:
- Versatility: A trade name can be changed or updated more easily than a legal business name, allowing business owners to adjust to market conditions or changes in their products or services. Additionally, a company can use various names to target different markets or goods.
- Separation of personal and business finances: A separate business bank account is possible by applying for a DBA, allowing you to conduct bank transactions under your company name instead of your account. This allows you to receive and issue checks using your business name, making it easier to separate personal assets and business finances.
- Enhanced marketing opportunities: A well-chosen name can be more descriptive and memorable than a legal name. This alternative name can improve brand recognition and increase marketing and advertising opportunities.
- Cost-effective solution: Compared to other business entities, such as Limited Liability Companies (LLCs), registering an assumed name is normally less expensive and easier, making it an affordable and timely option for small businesses.
There are some drawbacks to consider, such as:
- Limited legal protection: They do not provide personal liability or legal protection, meaning that the business owner is personally responsible for all debts, obligations, and lawsuits related to the business.
- Additional legal and administrative obligations: Registering a new name requires complying with all legal requirements and registering the name with the relevant government agency, which can be time-consuming and add to the business owner’s administrative burden. This additional work can be particularly challenging for small businesses that lack dedicated legal or administrative staff.
Who needs a DBA?
- Sole proprietors: Individuals who run a business independently without creating a separate legal entity can benefit from a DBA. It allows them to use a different name for marketing their products or services and adapt to market changes more easily.
- Partnerships: Joint ventures between two or more individuals who want to operate under a different name than the partners’ names can use a trade name to represent their partnership and increase brand recognition.
- Corporations: For example, if a business specializes in web design and development, they may decide to file an assumed name such as “Web Design Solutions” to differentiate their services from other web design businesses. Additionally, suppose a company has a subsidiary that offers recruitment services under “Casting Solutions LLC” but also wants to provide printing services. In that case, they can form a DBA named “Printing Services” to distinguish the two activities.
Why or why wouldn’t you need a DBA?
You would need a DBA:
- If you plan to run your business using a name that isn’t your own or your company’s legal name.
- If you want to create a more marketable, memorable, or descriptive name for your products or services.
- If you are a sole proprietor, partnership, corporation, or LLC and want to conduct business under different names.
- If you want to test new products or markets without changing your legal name.
You may not need a DBA if:
- If you operate your business using your personal or company’s legal name.
- If you are a single-owner LLC, that does not need to do business under a different name than your personal name or the name of your LLC.
How long does it take to process my DBA?
It can take between one and four weeks to process a DBA. As DBAs are handled by each city clerk and not the Secretary of State, pursuing an expedited service is impossible.
Is the process the same for all counties?
Different cities may have different processes as the process is managed from city to city. For example, the forms in the city of Boston and Worcester are different. Worcester’s process differs for sole proprietors and general partners compared to LLCs and corporations.
Can LLC have a DBA in Massachusetts?
Yes, an LLC (Limited Liability Company) can have a DBA in Massachusetts.
What’s the difference between a DBA and an LLC?
A DBA is a registration that allows a business to operate under a different name, while an LLC is a legal structure that provides limited liability protection to its owners.
Can I file online?
It is necessary to contact the city clerk in the city or town where you want to file your business certificate to inquire about the registration process for your DBA, as not all cities in Massachusetts offer online registration.
Do I need to publish my DBA in a newspaper?
It is not necessary to publish your DBA in a newspaper in Massachusetts.
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