If you own your own business, you’ll likely need to apply for an Employer Identification Number, or EIN, at some point.
An EIN is a nine-digit number assigned to your business by the Internal Revenue Service and may be used by your business when filing and paying taxes.
The good news is that application process is easy and free, and you can apply for an Employer Identification Number online, by mail, or fax.
Before we tackle how to apply for an Employer Identification Number, let’s take a moment to discuss why you might need one and how to know if you’re eligible to get one.
Why Do I Need to Apply for an Employer Identification Number?
Any business that has employees is required to have an EIN to pay and file employment taxes for their employees. In addition, businesses who are legally formed partnerships or corporations are also required to have an Employer Identification Number.
Unless you’re a sole proprietor, you’ll need an EIN to open a bank account, apply for a business loan, and file and pay your business taxes.
If your organization is defined as any of the following types, you’ll need to apply for an EIN regardless of whether you have employees:
- Trusts, except certain grantor-owned revocable trusts, IRAs, Exempt Organization Business Income Tax Returns
- Real estate mortgage investment conduits
- Nonprofit organizations
- Farmers’ cooperatives
- Plan administrators
If you’re still not sure if you need an EIN, check out this guide from the IRS to help you determine whether you should apply.
Certain events that happen in regards to your business could require that you apply for a new EIN even if you already have one. Common reasons you might need to apply for an Employer Identification Number again are:
- Your business structure has changed. For example, if you are a sole proprietor and decide to take on a partner in your business or you incorporate.
- You are subject to a bankruptcy proceeding.
- You purchase or legally acquire an existing business that you operate as a sole proprietorship.
If you are merely changing the name of your business or opening a new location for your existing business, you generally won’t need to reapply for an Employer Identification Number
Who Can Get an EIN?
The two main requirements that must be met to apply for an Employer Identification Number are:
- Your principal business must be located in the United States or its territories.
- The person applying must have a valid Taxpayer Identification Number such as a Social Security number, Individual Tax Identification Number, or existing Employer Identification Number.
If you’re not sure which one you have, check out the IRS website to learn more. Your principal business is determined by identifying the main income-generating activity that you do (examples: consultant, engineer, doctor, auto repair shop) and your main physical location.
Just because you provide services outside of the U.S. doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t meet the eligibility requirements.
Before You Apply for an Employer Identification Number
Before you begin the application process, you should review the PDF version of Form SS-4 to make sure have all the required information ready, such as names, addresses, and tax identification numbers (SSN, ITIN, or EIN).
You’ll also need to know what type of entity your business is, and if your business is a corporation then you’ll have to put down the state or country where you incorporated.
Other information you’ll need to complete the application include:
- Reason for applying
- Date your business started
- Highest number and type of employees you expect to employ during the next 12 months
- Closing month of your accounting year (typically December if you are a calendar-year taxpayer)
- First date wages were or will be paid in your business
Although you can file online, by filling out the PDF before you file, you can make sure you have all the information you need before you begin the online application process.
Completing the Application
Once you’ve gathered your information, you can choose how you want to apply for an Employer Identification Number. If you used the fillable PDF of the SS-4 to gather your information, you can simply fax or mail the completed and signed form to the IRS.
Just keep in mind that if you file by mail or fax you will receive your EIN through the mail, and that could take some time. If you need your EIN immediately, you can apply for it online Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. EST.
To start the online application, click “Apply Online Now,” and you’ll see a privacy warning before landing on the EIN Assistant page. When you’re ready, click “Begin Application.”
The EIN Assistant walks you through the application process and provides links to help resources and other information. Once you’ve completed the wizard, you’ll receive a notification screen where you can print out your EIN Notification letter so that you can put it in a safe place.
Keep in mind that you’ll automatically be logged out of the system after 15 minutes for security reasons, and each responsible party is only able to apply for one EIN per business day.
What If I Lose My EIN?
If you lose or misplace your EIN number, there are a number of ways to find it.
- Find the computer-generated notice you received when you applied for your EIN.
- Contact the IRS Business & Specialty Tax line at (800) 829-4933 during business hours.
- If you opened a bank account using the EIN, contact your bank to retrieve it.
- Find a previously filed tax return.
- Many business service providers require your EIN when you sign up for services, such as insurance agencies, merchant service providers, or your tax professional. You could reach out to one of these to see if they can provide it.
Applying for an EIN is always free on the IRS website. Beware of online companies that offer to apply for an Employer Identification Number on your behalf—for a fee. These providers usually come up first in the search engine and merely have you complete the same information you would have completed on the IRS website.
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