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What is an EIN (Employer Identification Number) and how to get one

What is an EIN?

An EIN is a nine-digit number the IRS uses to identify your company for tax purposes. 

Definition 

Think of an EIN as a social security number for businesses: It’s a nine-digit number the IRS uses to identify your company for tax purposes. An EIN is the number you’ll use when you file taxes for your business. There are other uses as well, like opening bank accounts and acquiring permits.

A sample EIN: 12-3456789

EIN Number (Employer Identification Number)
An example where the EIN number is required is when completing the U.S. Corporation Income Tax Return.

EIN Cheat Sheet: What you should know

  • If you run a business, you need one (probably). Almost every single business with ties to the United States will need to apply for an EIN. Scroll down and we’ll show you how.
  • You can get one quickly. If you’re in the U.S. or US. territories, you’ll just have to go through a simple online application process. If your business isn’t located in the United States, you can apply with a phone call.
  • If you haven’t applied for an EIN, you don’t have one. The IRS won’t automatically assign you an EIN––so if you haven’t thought about it before, you’ll need to get one.

How to know if you need an EIN

The simplified version: If you hire employees or operate almost any kind of business in the United States, you need an EIN. But there are exceptions––so to be sure, here’s a list of things that will qualify you for an EIN. If you…

  • Have employees
  • Operate as a corporation or partnership
  • File employment, excise, or alcohol, tobacco, and firearms tax returns
  • Withhold taxes on non-wage income to nonresident aliens
  • Have a Keogh Plan

Are involved with:

  • Most trusts
  • Estates
  • Real estate mortgage investment conduits
  • Non-profits
  • Farmers’ co-ops
  • Plan administrators 

…then you’ll need an EIN. That’s the list from the IRS as of right now, but you can always check out the official website if you want to double-check.

Here’s how you get an EIN

The easiest way to get an EIN is by applying online. You can do this as long as you’re located in the United States or a United States territory, like Puerto Rico. You’ll get your EIN immediately after applying: The process is automated.

How to apply online: Head to the IRS site here and follow the directions. 

If you don’t want to apply online (or can’t), here’s how to get an EIN.

Apply by fax. Fax is fading faster than a lit match, but you can still get your EIN this way. You’ll fax a completed form SS-4 to the IRS and they’ll get back to you within 4 business days. 

Apply by mail. You’ll follow the same process as the fax. Fill out the form SS-4. The IRS will get back to you within 4 weeks.

If you’re international, apply by telephone. This is how you get your EIN if your principal business (or residence, if you’re an individual) isn’t in the United States. Call 267-941-1099 between 6:00 and 21:00, Monday through Friday, to get your EIN. 

When you call, make sure you’re authorized to receive the EIN (so, you’re not delegating it to a new intern), and that you’re ready to answer questions about form SS-4.

Sometimes, you might have to change your EIN 

If you already have an EIN, you’re probably good––but if you change your organizational structure, you’ll have to get a new one. For example, if you’re a sole proprietor and you incorporate your business, you’ll need to get a new one.

At RemotePad, Lech draws on his professional experience to write about employment taxes and payroll (both remote, and in-office). Lech holds a Bachelors’ degree from the University of Kent, a Master of Arts (MA) from Kings College London, and professional payroll and tax qualifications. He has 20 years experience advising on all manner of tax and business planning matters.

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