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An employer identification number (EIN) is like a Social Security number (SSN) for a business. The IRS assigns an EIN to any business, including a sole proprietorship, that is eligible to obtain one. EINs aren't always necessary, but we'll walk you through why having one can benefit your business and how to do an EIN lookup when you can’t find yours.
What is an EIN and how can I get one?
An EIN serves as a unique identifier for your company and is largely used for tax purposes. The IRS requires any registered business that has employees or is a corporation or partnership to have one. Your EIN serves as the primary ID of a business to the government. It's also commonly referred to as a "tax identification number (TIN)," "95 number" or "federal tax ID." It is often used for the following reasons:
- Business taxes
- Obtaining small-business financing
- Obtaining a business license
- Various business legal documents
Applying for an EIN is easy; it can be done online within minutes on the IRS website through form SS-4.
We recommend that businesses apply for an EIN as soon as possible because it’s crucial for basic business functions. You don't need an EIN if you are the only employee, but if you're looking to quickly scale your business, having an EIN early on is only beneficial.
Completing on online SS-4 is fastest, but you also have these options if you’re based in a U.S. state or D.C.:
- Fax: (855) 641-6935
- Mail: Internal Revenue Service, Attn: EIN Operation, Cincinnati, OH 45999
If you're an international applicant and don't have a legal residence in the U.S., you can apply for an EIN via one of these methods:
- Telephone: (267) 941-1099
- Fax: (855) 215-1627 if within the U.S., or (304) 707-9471 if outside the U.S.
- Mail: Send your SS-4 form to: Internal Revenue Service, Attn: EIN International Operation, Cincinnati, OH 45999
If you call to request an EIN, fill out an SS-4 form ahead of time to have your answers prepared for the questions the agent will ask. If you're filing via fax or mail, the SS-4 form will be the form you send in. These methods take much longer than applying online — while faxing can result in an EIN within three days, mailed applications can take four weeks to process.
Once you receive your EIN, make sure to keep it somewhere safe. It's unlikely that you’ll use an EIN as frequently as something like an SSN, so it's easy to forget. However, since your EIN is your business's tax ID, you’ll need it handy anytime you’re dealing with tax documents, and applying for certain financial accounts or business licenses.
Does my business need an EIN?
Businesses of all types are allowed to apply for an EIN. However, the IRS requires certain businesses to have one. If you answer yes to any of the following, you'll need an EIN:
- Does your business have employees?
- Does your business file employment or excise taxes?
- Is your business taxed as a partnership or corporation?
- Does your business withhold taxes on non-wage income paid to a nonresident alien?
- Do you have a Keogh plan?
Even if your business is a sole proprietorship or LLC with no employees, it’s still beneficial to get an EIN. It makes it easier to keep your personal and business taxes separate, and it may be required to open a business bank account or apply for business licenses. If you don't have an EIN, you'll need to use your personal SSN for various tax documents.
Keep in mind that those with an SSN, an individual tax identification number (ITIN), or an existing EIN may apply for an EIN.
Does my business need to reapply for a new EIN?
Sometimes, your business may need to reapply for a new EIN. Rather than amending your business's existing EIN, the IRS requires you to re-apply for one. According to the IRS, here are the most common reasons:
- You change the structure of your business, like incorporating your sole proprietorship or turning your sole proprietorship into a partnership.
- You purchase or inherit an existing business.
- You created a trust with funds from an estate.
- You are subject to a bankruptcy proceeding.
If your circumstances require you to reapply for an EIN, the application process is the same as if you’re applying for one for the first time.
Looking for your EIN?
If you’ve forgotten your EIN, there are a few ways to do an EIN number lookup:
Contact the IRS to find your EIN
If you can't find your EIN on any of your documents, you can contact the IRS, but you'll need to call them Monday through Friday between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. local time.
If your EIN has changed recently, and your EIN is probably different on older documents, this should be your first option. Be sure that the person contacting the IRS is authorized to do so, such as a sole proprietor, partner in a partnership or corporate officer.
Check anywhere your EIN could be recorded
Doing a tax ID or EIN lookup should be simple since it should be stamped all over your documents. First, check to see if you received an email or physical letter from the IRS confirming your EIN when you first applied.
Second, check your prior tax returns, loan applications, permits or any documents that your EIN would've been printed on. Assuming this isn't the first time that you've had to use your EIN, it should be on most official government forms you’ve filled out. If you have a hard time finding your documents, it could be time to organize them.
If you used your EIN to open a business bank account or apply for state or local licenses, the IRS suggests contacting your bank or government agency to find EIN on your account. Performing a tax ID or EIN lookup isn’t difficult; you don’t need to hire a service to find your EIN on your behalf.
Need to look up someone else's EIN?
The nature of your business may require that you regularly look up EINs of other businesses, or you may want to look up another business's EIN to validate their information.
If the company is publicly traded and registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), you can use the SEC's EDGAR system to look up such a company's EIN for free. For nonprofit organizations, you can do an EIN lookup for them on Guidestar.
If a company is not registered with the SEC and is privately held, it will be more difficult since there’s no central EIN database for these companies. Here are a few strategies you can use:
- Contact the company's accountant or financing office and ask for the EIN, though they don’t have to provide it.
- Try to find the company’s W2, or any local or federal filings that may be online.
- Hire a service or use a paid database to do the EIN search.