If you want to buy a car or house, open a bank account, or get a job, you need a Social Security number. An Employer Identification Number (EIN) is like that—but for your business. Many businesses need an EIN to operate. And if your business is one of them, you must know how to apply for EIN. Luckily, the EIN application isn’t terribly complicated. In fact, it’s a pretty quick process, especially if you apply online. And if you want to make it even easier, read on to learn how to do it before you get to the application.
What is an EIN?
An Employer Identification Number is a federal taxpayer identification number that identifies a business.
Also called a Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN), EINs are unique nine-digit numbers the IRS assigns to businesses. The format for an EIN is: 12-3456789.
If you must apply for EIN, keep the number handy for business or tax documents. The IRS and Social Security Administration identify businesses by their EINs. Businesses with EINs use them on documents such as Forms:
- W-2, Wage and Tax Statement
- 941, Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return
- 944, Employer’s Annual Federal Tax Return
- 940, Employer’s Annual Federal Unemployment (FUTA) Tax Return
- 1120, U.S. Corporation Income Tax Return
One thing to keep in mind is that you should not use your Employer Identification Number in place of your SSN. EINs are for business purposes only.
Do you need an EIN?
Not all businesses need an EIN number to operate. You might be wondering, “Do I need an EIN?” Well, wonder no more. The IRS determines which businesses need an EIN.
Complete the IRS EIN application if you:
- Have employees
- Structure your business as a corporation or partnership
- File employment; excise; or alcohol, tobacco, and firearms tax returns
- Have a Keogh plan
- Are involved with qualifying trusts, estates, nonprofits, farmers’ cooperatives, or plan administrators
Did you answer yes to any of the above? If so, you need to create an EIN.
How to apply for EIN
So you need to get an EIN, do you? If so, you’ve come to the right place.
Applying for an EIN does not cost anything. And when it comes to how to get an EIN, you have options—three options to be exact. You can apply online, via fax, or through the mail. If you are an international applicant, you can apply over the phone.
Keep in mind that you cannot apply for more than one EIN number per day if you own multiple businesses.
Regardless of the method you choose, the information you provide the IRS is the same. You’ll need to disclose things like:
- Legal name
- Business structure (e.g., sole proprietorship)
- Reason for applying
So, how do you get an EIN using each method? Read on to find out.
The IRS prefers that businesses get their EIN online. The application is on the IRS’s website. It is available from 7:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m. EST, Monday – Friday.
To apply online, your principal business must be in the United States or U.S. Territories. And, you need a valid taxpayer identification number (e.g., SSN) to apply.
The EIN online application consists of five parts:
- EIN Confirmation
There is no way to save your application and return to it. Online EIN application sessions expire after 15 minutes of inactivity, so plan your time well or risk losing your progress.
|Alert: If you previously obtained an EIN online, you cannot apply online again. Instead, you must apply via fax or mail.
If you can’t or don’t want to apply online, you might opt for applying via fax. To apply by fax, you must complete Form SS-4, Application for Employer Identification Number. You can fax the completed form whenever you’d like, since it is available 24 hours a day.
Read over your completed Form SS-4 carefully to ensure you answer everything. Otherwise, you could prolong the process.
The fax number you use depends on where your business is located. Use one of the following numbers to fax Form SS-4 to the IRS:
- (855) 641-6935: If your principal business, office or agency, or legal residence is located in one of the 50 states or D.C.
- (855) 215-1627: If you have no legal residence, principal place of business, or principal office or agency in any state
If you’re not in a big hurry, you can apply by mail. To apply via mail, you also need to complete Form SS-4.
Mail Form SS-4 to the following address if your principal business is located in the United States:
Internal Revenue Service
Attn: EIN Operation
Cincinnati, OH 45999
If your business is not located in the United States, use the same address. However, the Attn: line should read “EIN International Operation.”
Only international applicants can apply for an EIN by phone.
Call 267-941-1099 from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. EST, Monday – Friday, to obtain an EIN. Do not call this number if you are not an international applicant.
When you call the IRS, you need to answer questions found on Form SS-4. You can also authorize someone else to receive your business’s EIN and answer Form SS-4 questions on the phone. But to do this, you must fill out the Third Party Designee section on Form SS-4 and sign and date it.
How long does it take to get an EIN?
Your EIN processing time depends on how you apply for it. According to the IRS, this is how long it could take to get your number:
- Online: Immediately. Download, save, or print your EIN confirmation notice for your records.
- Fax: Four business days if you provide a return fax number; about two weeks if you do not.
- Mail: Four or five weeks. Be prepared to wait, as mailing your application has the lengthiest processing times.
If you don’t receive your Employer Identification Number in time to file your tax return, write “Applied For” in the EIN space.
How to get an EIN if you lose yours
If you lose or misplace your EIN, don’t panic. You can get it back. Often, you can do an EIN lookup without contacting the IRS.
First, look through your physical and digital business documents. Try to find the computer-generated notice the IRS sent you when you originally applied for your Employer Identification Number.
If you can’t find the original confirmation, keep looking. Some documents that should list your EIN include:
- Bank account information
- Employee payroll records
- State account applications
- Small business tax returns
If you absolutely cannot find your EIN, call the IRS Business and Specialty Tax Line at 800-829-4933. You can call Monday through Friday from 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. local time.
After you provide identifying information, the IRS will do an EIN lookup and provide your number over the telephone. However, the caller must be an authorized person (e.g., sole proprietor) to receive the number.
Do you ever need a new EIN?
Sometimes, businesses need to apply for new EINs from the IRS. If you change business structure or ownership, apply for a new EIN.
You do not need to obtain a new EIN if you change your business’s name or location. If you add new business locations, you also do not need to apply for new EIN.
For more information on applying for a new EIN, check out the IRS’s website.
If you’re looking to hire employees, you need an EIN. And, you know what else you need? To run payroll for said employees. That’s where we come in. Patriot’s payroll lets you run payroll in three easy steps. Start your free trial today!
This article has been updated from its original publication date of 10/10/2014.This is not intended as legal advice; for more information, please click here.