A business can apply for a federal Employer Identification Number (EIN) in various ways through the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which offers it as a free service. The IRS will send a confirmation of the number after a business applies for it and the numbers will also appear on that business' tax returns.
What Is an EIN Number?
An EIN is a tax ID number that separates a business owner's identity from the business itself; it is the equivalent of a Social Security number for businesses. The IRS uses the number to identify a company when it files taxes. An EIN is also sometimes referred to as a Federal Tax Identification Number. Any business can acquire one free of charge through the IRS.
Much like a Social Security number, an EIN has nine digits, but those numbers are in a different format. The EIN has two digits with a hyphen followed by seven digits (XX-XXXXXXX). In addition to using an EIN for tax purposes, companies can use it when applying for licenses or loans. Nonprofit organizations can share their EIN with their donors, allowing them to write off charitable gifts when filing taxes.
Who Needs an EIN?
Businesses with no employees, such as sole proprietorships and single-member LLCs, typically don't need an EIN. Independent contractors don't need one either. However, small businesses that have at least one employee do need an EIN.
Although businesses without employees aren't required to have an EIN, they may want to get one anyway, as it can benefit them. For example, an EIN can protect an independent contractor's identity. It may also make them appear more professional, and some find having an EIN helps them gain clients.
How to Locate an EIN
A person or business can look up their EIN in a variety of ways. The IRS will send the business a confirmation letter after they apply, which shows the number. Business licenses and tax account registration documents also list an entity's EIN. For example, a company's tax return shows the number on the top right corner of the document, but these are sometimes replaced with asterisks for security reasons. If that's the case, the business can contact its CPA and get the number.
A business filing its own taxes using tax software can find its EIN through that software, which should save the number after first use. If a company applies for a business bank account or loan, the bank will also have that company's EIN on file. If all else fails, the business can contact the IRS on its Business and Tax Specialty line at 800-829-4933, Monday through Friday 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. EST. The agency will ask the person calling to provide identifying information to show they have the authorization to receive the number.
EIN Lookup for Another Business
Depending on the circumstances, a company can look up another business's EIN, but there may be some challenges when doing so. A person seeking another's EIN should first ask someone who works at the business if they already have a relationship or ask the company's accountant, who will typically provide it if they have a legitimate purpose for needing it.
If a business applies for a liquor license or a building permit, its EIN may be found on a Chamber of Commerce website or the secretary of state's database. Public companies list their EIN on the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) website, and nonprofits list their EINs on an IRS database, as they are public information. If none of these ideas work, someone seeking an EIN that is not theirs may have to pay to obtain that business' credit report.
Applying for an EIN Online
The easiest way to apply for an EIN is through the IRS website, however the business must be located in the U.S or a U.S. territory and have a valid taxpayer identification number, such as a Social Security number. The IRS limits entities to one EIN per "responsible party" a day, which would be someone who controls or owns the business. Unless they are a government entity, this party must be an actual person.
Filling out an application should occur in one session, as there is no way to save it and return to it later. The session expires after 15 minutes if the applicant is inactive. After the responsible party fills out the application and the IRS validates their information, they will immediately get an EIN and can print out the confirmation notice.
Other Options for Applying for a New EIN
Applicants who have no legal residence or principal place of business in the U.S. or its territories cannot apply online, but non-residents can apply in other ways. Applying for an EIN by phone is not available to domestic businesses, but this service is open to international applicants who call 267-941-1099 from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. EST, Monday through Friday. The person calling must have the authorization to receive an EIN and complete the IRS Form SS-4 on the phone with an agent.
Applicants can also apply for an EIN by sending a completed Form SS-4 to the IRS, which can take up to five weeks to process. If they live, or have their principal business, in the U.S. or its territories, they can mail the application to the Internal Revenue Service, Attention: EIN Operation, Cincinnati, OH 45999. If they do not have a legal residence or principal business in the U.S. or its territories, they can mail it to the Internal Revenue Service, Attention: EIN International Operation, Cincinnati, OH 45999.
- The Blueprint: EIN vs. SSN: What’s the Difference?
- SEC: Company and Person Lookup
- IRS: ax Exempt Organization Search
- IRS: Apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) Online
- IRS: Instructions for Form SS-4 (12/2019)
- IRS: Application for Employer Identification Number
- The Fool: How to Find Your Business’s EIN
- Check more than one source for EIN information. Databases are updated at different times, so one source could be more current than another.
- Enter the complete EIN number when checking the status of your business tax ID. Wrong entries could result in faulty data or rejected requests.
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.