Just as your Social Security number is specific to you, a business also needs an identifier to separate it from every other company out there. This is especially important when it comes to taxes, as employers (and certain other business owners who have no employees) are required to file various business tax returns that require a unique business identifier. This identifier is known as an EIN — or Employer Identification Number.
If you’re new to owning a business or are looking at how to start a business, you may be wondering what exactly an EIN is for and if you need one. We’ll walk you through the answers to these questions so you can determine if your business requires one. We’ll also show you how to do an EIN look-up if you can’t locate yours or you need to find the EIN for another company.
What is an EIN?
An Employee Identification Number (EIN) is a nine-digit number assigned by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to identify businesses. It’s used for tax filing and reporting purposes, and it’s essentially the business version of a Social Security number.
As a business owner, you may need an EIN to open a business bank account, apply for business licenses, file your tax returns, or open a corporate or business credit card. Business owners may also want to consider something like the Brex for Startup Card as an alternative to a traditional business credit card. With Brex, you use your EIN (not your SSN) to apply, there’s no credit check, and it doesn’t require you to personally guarantee your business debt. Overall, it's helpful to apply for an EIN as soon as you start planning your business so you have it well before you need financing or specific licenses or start to make money.
An EIN can also make things simpler even if you aren’t required to get one. For instance, having an EIN can come in handy when you file your business taxes. If you choose to seek tax benefits for owning a business, such as deducting a room in your house as an office, having this number could minimize complications. Freelancers and independent contractors can also add credibility to their business endeavors as having an EIN might show you have a serious business, as opposed to something you’re just doing on the side.
What businesses must have an EIN?
Every organization that has employees must have an EIN; however, non-employers that operate as a corporation or partnership are also required to have an EIN.
According to the IRS, you’re required to obtain an EIN if you answer “yes” to any of the following:
- Do you have employees?
- Do you operate your business as a corporation or a partnership?
- Do you file any of these tax returns: employment, excise, or alcohol, tobacco and firearms?
- Do you withhold taxes on income, other than wages, paid to a non-resident alien?
- Do you have a Keogh plan?
- Are you involved with any of the following types of organizations?
- Trusts, except certain grantor-owned revocable trusts, IRAs, Exempt Organization Business Income Tax Returns
- Real estate mortgage investment conduits
- Non-profit organizations
- Farmers' cooperatives
- Plan administrators
How do you get an EIN?
The easiest way to apply for an EIN is online, though you can also submit the IRS Form SS-4 by mail or by fax. Applying online is the fastest way to obtain your EIN — you’ll receive immediately upon finishing your application. In order to apply online, you must have legal residence in or your business must be located in the U.S. or U.S. Territories.
To be eligible for an EIN, you must have a valid Taxpayer Identification Number. This can be your Social Security number (SSN), Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), or another EIN. For non-US residents who do not have an SSN or ITIN, you cannot apply for an EIN online. You will have to call the IRS directly at 267-941-1099 and apply by phone.
You should apply for an EIN as soon as possible so you have your number when you need to file your tax return, open a business bank account, or apply for business licenses that may require it.
When you might need to change or cancel your EIN
Once you obtain an EIN, it becomes the permanent Federal taxpayer identification number for your business. Therefore, the IRS cannot cancel your EIN. However, if you receive an EIN but end up not needing the number (your new business never started up, for example), the IRS can close your business account. In other words, your EIN will still exist, but it won’t be active with an open business attached to it.
If you want to close your business account, you’ll need to send the IRS a letter that includes the complete legal name of your business, the EIN, the business address, and the reason you wish to close your account. Letters can be mailed to the following address:
Internal Revenue Service
Cincinnati, Ohio 45999
While you cannot cancel an EIN, your business may need to change to a new EIN if ownership or the structure of the business changes. Refer to the following table to determine if you’re required to obtain a new EIN. This information is sourced directly from the IRS website:
|Business entity||When you will be required to obtain a new EIN||When you will not be required to obtain a new EIN|
|Limited Liability Company (LLC)||
How do you look up an EIN?
If you were issued an EIN, but have since lost or misplaced it, don’t sweat it. It happens all the time. If you need help locating your EIN, try these options to locate the number:
How to look up your own EIN
- Look for your original confirmation paperwork that was issued by the IRS when you applied for you EIN
- Check any other old and/or existing paperwork associated with your business as it should include your EIN
- If you used your EIN to open a business bank account, or apply for any type of state or local license, contact your bank or the agency as they may have your EIN
- If you’ve filed a tax return for your business for which you have your lost or misplaced EIN, your previously filed return should include your EIN
- Call the Business & Specialty Tax Line at 800-829-4933 between 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m and ask the IRS to locate your EIN
How to look up the EIN of another company
There may be instances where you need to look up another company’s EIN, like if the nature of your business requires it or to validate the company’s information. If you need to locate another company’s EIN, try these options to locate the number:
- If the company is publicly traded and registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), you can use the SEC’s EDGAR system to locate the company’s EIN for free
- If the company is not publicly traded, contact the company's accountant, financing office, or CFO to ask for their EIN
- Look up local or federal registration filings
- Search for EINs of tax exempt organizations through the IRS website
- Pay for a service to look up the EIN for you
- Try purchasing the company’s business credit report
The bottom line on EINs
If you’ve recently started a business or are thinking about starting one, there’s a chance you’ll need to acquire an EIN. An EIN may be required if you want to open a business bank account, business credit card, and to apply for various business licenses. Applying online is the easiest and fastest way to get your number.
If you’ve misplaced your EIN, go through any paperwork you have associated with your business to locate your number or call the IRS directly. If you’re looking for another company’s EIN, there are several options at your exposal, whether it’s calling the company directly or paying for a service to locate the company’s EIN for you.