If you run a business under an assumed name in Massachusetts, you may want to set up a DBA. Short for “Doing Business As,” a DBA serves as an alternate title for your business. Often, a DBA is the name customers will use to refer to your company. In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about DBAs: who needs one, who doesn’t, and two easy steps to filing with the state.
NOTE: Keep in mind that filing a trade name will not give your business protection through the corporate veil like an LLC will. If this is something you want or need, don’t fret, there are many good LLC services that can help you take care of the paperwork.
Do You Need a Massachusetts DBA?
Not all business entities in Massachusetts need a DBA. Ordinarily, a business needs a DBA when the name of their business differs from the name registered with the state.
So let’s say that Lauren operates a sole proprietorship; her legal business formation documents list her full name as the legal owner of the business. But if she wants to run her shop under the name Sew Sweet Creations, she’d need to file a DBA in order to use that name. A DBA is also useful for corporations which want to establish additional businesses or locations with a name that’s different from the Corporation name.
Limited liability companies, nonprofit corporations, and corporations operating exclusively under the name on file with the state usually do not need a DBA. They may choose to use one if they want to establish a new product line or chain of businesses under their original parent company.
A Massachusetts DBA does present a few advantages. While it doesn’t offer any specific legal protections or tax incentives, a DBA allows you to get a business bank account. You can also give your customers peace of mind—most people are more comfortable writing a check to a business than an individual.
Massachusetts requires filings for DBAs; however, where you file the DBA depends on certain factors. We’ll cover that in step one.
1) File Your DBA with Your City or County Clerk
In Massachusetts, most entities will file their DBA on the local level; the registration is not accepted on the state level. However, there are a few entities which need to have their registrations approved by other divisions in addition to this registration. Insurance entities, for example, will need to have their names approved by the Division of Insurance.
Before you file with your local clerk, you’ll want to ensure that your DBA is available to use in the first place. You can do so in several ways. First, run a Search for a Business Entity. By typing in your desired DBA, you can check if there are any incorporated entities already using that name. If so, you’ll need to make changes to your DBA before you file.
Your county may also offer a similar search to use on the local level; the state does not track all DBAs filed with the local clerks, so these will not appear in the statewide search. Boston, for example, offers a “Doing Business As” Database Search. Bostonian business owners can use this search to check what DBAs are already being used in their city. Your local clerk may have a similar resource for you to use.
Another option is to consult your local yellow pages or simply run a Google search. These searches won’t be comprehensive, but they are easy to use.
Thanks to these searches, you’ll be able to determine whether or not your DBA is available. If your DBA is free to use, you can proceed to file it with your local county or city clerk. Fees for this registration will vary based on your county. Some offer online filing options; if you’re close to your local office, it may be easier to file in person.
We recommend that you contact your local county clerk’s office for the appropriate forms, fees, and registration requirements.
2) Maintaining your Massachusetts DBA
Much like the registration requirements for DBAs vary based on your county, renewal and DBA maintenance requirements vary. Some counties may require you to renew your DBA every five years. Other locations do not require any upkeep, but they may require you to file a notice if you ever dissolve your business or stop using your DBA.
We recommend that you consult with your local clerk while completing your initial registration. Then you won’t encounter any surprises, and you’ll be able to use your DBA compliantly.
Need Help Filing your DBA?
If this process sounds like a hassle, you can get help with setting up your business’s name with a service like Legalzoom. They make the process simple: you simply provide them with the necessary information about your company, and they’ll fill out the paperwork so you don’t have to. The process is both easy and affordable, letting you focus on running your business.
Your name is an important part of your business, but keeping compliant with state requirements can be tricky! We hope this guide made it quick and easy to set up your Massachusetts DBA.