Many businesses must obtain Employer Identification Numbers (EINs) to operate. An EIN is a federal number that identifies your business, similarly to how a Social Security number identifies an individual. Do you need an Employer Identification Number? If so, learn how to apply for EIN.
About Employer Identification Numbers
So, what is a Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN)? An EIN, or FEIN, is a unique nine-digit number that the IRS assigns to a business. EINs are formatted like this: 12-3456789.
If you must apply for EIN, be sure to keep your number handy for business or tax documents. Your federal Employer Identification Number is how the IRS and Social Security Administration identify your business.
Don’t use your Employer Identification Number in place of your Social Security number. EINs are for business purposes only.
Do you need to apply for an EIN?
Not all businesses need an Employer Identification Number to operate. The IRS determines which businesses need an EIN.
Complete the 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 an EIN, do you? If so, you’ve come to the right place. How do you apply for an EIN?
You must apply for EIN through the IRS. Obtaining an EIN does not cost anything. When applying for an EIN, you can choose one of three options: online, fax, or mail.
If you own multiple businesses, keep in mind that you can only apply for one EIN per day. This rule applies regardless of which application method you use.
Applying online is the IRS preferred method. You receive your EIN immediately when you file online.
If you do not apply online, you must file Form SS-4, Application for Employer Identification Number. If you don’t receive your Employer Identification Number in time to file your tax return, write “Applied For” in the EIN space.
International applicants can apply for an EIN by phone. Call 267-941-1099 from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. (Eastern Time) during weekdays to obtain an EIN. Do not call this number if you are not an international applicant.
Learn more about how to request an EIN using each of the three options below.
Again, online is the IRS’s preferred EIN request method. The online application for EIN is on the IRS’s website.
To apply online, your principal business must be located in the United States or U.S. Territories. You must have a valid Taxpayer Identification Number, like an SSN, to apply.
There is no way to save your application and return to it. You must complete the online application in one session. Online EIN application sessions expire after 15 minutes of inactivity, so plan your time well.
After completing your online application, you will immediately receive your EIN from the IRS. Download, save, or print your EIN confirmation notice for your records.
Apply by fax
If you don’t want to apply online, you might opt for applying via fax. You must fill out Form SS-4 and fax it to the IRS.
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
How long does it take to get an EIN number by fax? If you provide a return fax number, the IRS will send your Employer Identification Number within four business days.
Apply by mail
If you’re not in a big hurry, you can apply by mail. You must mail a completed Form SS-4 to the IRS.
If your principal business is located in the United States, mail Form SS-4 to:
Internal Revenue Service
Attn: EIN Operation
Cincinnati, OH 45999
How long does it take to get an EIN by mail? Be prepared to wait approximately one month for your EIN. Processing can take up to four weeks for Employer Identification Number applications sent via mail.
What if you lose your EIN?
If you lose or misplace your EIN, don’t panic. You can get it back. Often, you can find your Employer Identification Number 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 providing identifying information, the IRS will provide your number over the telephone. However, the caller must be an authorized person (e.g., sole proprietor) to receive the number.
When you need to apply for 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.
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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.