An Employment Identification Number ("EIN"), also referred to as a Taxpayer Identification Number, is a unique nine-digit number assigned by the Internal Revenue Service ("IRS") for the purposes of tax reporting. It's kind of like a Social Security Number, except that it is for businesses.
Corporations and partnerships are required to have an EIN. However, if you are a sole proprietor, the IRS does not require one. Instead, you can use your Social Security Number and report your income and expenses on a Schedule C tax form (http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f1040sc.pdf). However, many sole proprietors still elect to use an EIN because it reduces the chances of identity theft and banks often require one to open a business account.
Even if you are a sole proprietor, you will need an EIN if you have one or more employees (not if you only use independent contractors), use a Keogh retirement plan, or file pension or excise tax returns. An EIN is also required if you change the structure of your business (for example, you change from a partnership or corporation to a sole proprietorship).
In addition, an EIN is required for certain organizations, such as trusts, estates, IRA's, real estate mortgage investment conduits, farmer's cooperatives, plan administrators, and non-profit organizations.
The IRS provides a free service to apply for an EIN. The service allows you to submit an IRS Form SS-4 by mail, phone, fax, or online. You can obtain a copy of the IRS form and information on filing at the IRS website at www.irs.gov.
Online. This is the easiest and quickest way to get an EIN. You can apply at www.irs.gov/businesses/small/article/0,,id=102767,00.html.
Phone. You can receive an EIN almost immediately by calling the Business & Specialty Tax line at (800) 829-4933. International applicants should call (267) 941-1099.
Fax. You may also fax your SS-4 form to (859) 669-5760. International applicants should fax their form to (267) 941-1040.
Mail. This is the slowest way to receive your EIN. The process by mail usually takes four weeks.
If your principal business, office or agency, or legal residence is located in the District of Columbia or any of the fifty states, you must mail a SS-4 Form to:
Internal Revenue Service
Attn: Internal Revenue Service
Cincinnati, OH 45999
If you have no legal residence, principal place of business, or principal office or agency in the District of Columbia or any state, you must mail a SS-4 Form to:
Internal Revenue Service
Attn: EIN International Operation
Philadelphia, PA 19255