This article was reviewed and updated on August 17, 2020
How do you apply for an EIN?
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) requires a completed Form SS-4 to receive an EIN. We can help you get your employer identification number, right here, right now. Just answer a few questions required by the IRS—the whole process takes a few minutes. Once you’ve completed the application, you can file the application online, in the mail, or fax it in yourself.
If you’re a small business owner, or are otherwise self-employed, chances are you’ve heard of an EIN or Employer Identification Number. You may not be clear, however, on exactly what an EIN is, whether you need one or how to go about getting a free EIN if you do.
That’s what we’re here for. Let’s walk through the basics, starting with what an EIN is.
How to Get a Free EIN Number
It’s a pretty simple process. To start, you’ll want to visit the IRS website and not a third-party website that claims to help you apply for an employer identification number. You really won’t need help with this process and you definitely don’t want to pay someone to help you do it.
The online application process is the IRS’s preferred method. When you get to the IRS’s EIN application site, you’ll be prompted to fill in the necessary information, which will be verified as you go through the process. Once successfully completed, your employer identification number will be issued immediately.
While the online application is the IRS’s preferred application method (and is definitely the quickest), you don’t have to apply online. You can also apply via fax, mail, or, if you are an international applicant, over the phone. Details for each of these methods are available on the IRS website. You’ll need Form SS-4 for each of these methods.
The IRS will then review your application and assign a new EIN to your business. If your entity has tax-exempt status, such as a nonprofit organization, you’ll still need an EIN, but just be sure to select ‘church or church-controlled organization’ or ‘other nonprofit organization’ as the type of entity on your application.
Regardless of which application method you choose, you’ll receive a Form SS-4 Notice verifying that your business has been assigned an EIN. Be sure to hang onto that notice so you can use it to verify your EIN whenever necessary. And here’s what to do if you ever lose your SS-4 Form Notice.
What is an Employer Identification Number (EIN)?
An EIN is a lot like a Social Security number, but it’s for business entities like a limited liability company (including single member LLCs), a corporation, and even sole proprietorships in some situations. A sole proprietor will need an EIN number if they have employees (though you don’t necessarily have to have employees to need a federal EIN. More on that in a minute).
An EIN has the same nine digits as a Social Security number and is assigned by the IRS for the purpose of your business filing and reporting taxes.
Now, you may be asking “why can’t I just use my Social Security number, then?”
Do I Need an EIN?
If you’re self-employed and don’t have any employees, you may not have any need for an EIN. However, you probably already know the importance of keeping your personal and business finances separated, and an employer identification number is just another way to help you do that.
For example, some banks require an employer identification number to open a business checking account or apply for a business loan. Even if you’re a sole proprietor with no employees, if you want to separate your business banking account or apply for a business loan now or in the near future, getting an EIN squared away can be a good move.
Related: What is a DUNS Number?
In general, if you are operating as a corporation, partnership or LLC, you’ll need an EIN. It’s a good idea to talk to your accountant to determine what exactly is required of your business.
The Difference Between EIN and Tax ID
Although your EIN does function as your federal tax ID number, it goes beyond that and is used to identify your business in a number of other ways. Although an EIN is not required if you are a sole proprietor, if you have employees, among other things, that will require you to get an EIN number.
As a sole proprietor, you’ll need an EIN if you:
- have employees
- offer them a pension, retirement or profit-sharing plan,
- inherit or purchase a business that you operate as a sole proprietorship
- incorporate, form a partnership or an LLC
- have clients for which you must submit a Form W-9, or
- file for bankruptcy as a business
The IRS goes into even more detail on the IRS.gov website, noting that a business entity needs an EIN if it has:
- started a new business
- hired or will hire employees, including household employees
- opened a bank account that requires an EIN for banking purposes
- changed the legal character or ownership of your organization (for example, you incorporate a sole proprietorship or form a partnership)
- purchased a going business
- created a trust
- created a pension plan as a plan administrator
- are a foreign person and need an EIN to comply with IRS withholding regulations
- are a withholding agent for taxes on non-wage income paid to an alien (such as an individual, a corporation, or a partnership)
- are a state or local agency
- are a federal government unit or agency
- formed a corporation
- formed a partnership
- administer an estate formed as a result of a person’s death
- represent an estate that operates a business after the owner’s death.
Who Qualifies for an EIN?
Anyone whose business is located in the United States or a U.S. territory and has an existing valid taxpayer ID, such as a Social Security number, Individual Taxpayer Identification Number or previous EIN, can apply for a new EIN.
How Long Does it Take to Get an Employer Identification Number?
Filling out the paperwork for your EIN can take less than five minutes. How long it takes to get the number back, however, will depend on how you submit your information. If you submit the information online, you can get your number back immediately. Filling out the SS-4 and mailing it in can take at least 4-5 weeks.
Depending on the needs of your business, it could be in your best interest to file online. This could eliminate the wait between filing and submitting a loan application or anything else for which you need your EIN.
How Long is an EIN Good For?
EINs are, in some senses, like a social security number. Just like your SSN, an EIN will never expire once it’s issued.
How Do I Find My Employer Identification Number?
If you’ve already received your EIN and have misplaced it, there are a number of ways to retrieve it.
- Look back at your records to see if you have the printed notice from when you applied. The IRS doesn’t mail these notices, so you will have printed it if you have it in hard copy.
- Call the IRS Business & Specialty Tax Line at 800-829-4933.
- Contact your bank if you opened a bank account under the business name. Banks are required to obtain your EIN before opening the account, so they likely have it on hand.
- Your EIN is important for filing taxes. Your EIN number will make it easier to review an old tax return for your business, this should have the EIN printed on it.