An employer identification number (EIN) is a nine-digit number used by the IRS to identify a business and track the wages paid to employees and business owners. A responsible party, such as an owner or general manager, applies for an EIN on behalf of the business, using their own name as well as the business name. You'll use an EIN, also called a federal tax identification number (FTIN), when you file taxes and prepare other official reports that might be required for your business.
A business needs an EIN when it:
Certain types of business entities such as corporations and partnerships, need to have an EIN regardless of whether they meet any of the criteria listed above. For a complete list of the types of business entities and conditions that require an EIN, read our article on when to apply for an EIN.
Even when the IRS rules don't require a business to have an EIN, you might need or want one in one or both of these situations: A bank might require one before it'll let you open a business account. And, using an EIN in your business dealings instead of your personal Social Security number will help to reduce the chance of identity theft.
Getting an EIN is free, and you need no special knowledge to apply. The IRS allows you to apply online, by U.S. mail, or by fax. Applying online is the fastest method and you can usually get your EIN immediately upon submitting the application. Some third parties will apply for an EIN on your behalf, and charge you for the service. To avoid paying a fee, apply directly with the IRS.
Visit the IRS website to apply and submit an application online. You'll receive a confirmation letter and your EIN immediately upon submitting your application.
To submit your application by mail or fax, you'll first need to obtain a copy of Form SS-4 on the IRS website. Fax your completed form to (855) 641-6935 or mail it to:
Internal Revenue Service
Attn: EIN Operation
Cincinnati, OH 45999
If you apply for your EIN by fax and provide a fax number on your application, you will receive your EIN in about four days. If you mail your application, you'll typically receive your EIN in four to six weeks.
You'll need to provide the following information when you apply for an EIN:
If you've previously had an EIN, you'll also need to provide it. You can also designate someone else (like a lawyer or accountant) to receive the confirmation letter and EIN from the IRS.
If you can't locate the letter you received from the IRS confirming your application and providing your EIN, you can try the following steps to find your number:
Look up a previous tax return. If you've had your EIN during a prior tax year, you can find it on your tax return.
Contact your bank or local licensing agency. If you used your EIN to open a bank account or apply for a business license, you can ask the bank or agency that issued the license to look up your EIN.
Contact the IRS. Call the Business & Specialty Tax Line at the IRS at 800-829-4933. The IRS will give you the number over the phone, as long as you are the person authorized to receive it and you are able to answer the questions they ask to verify your identify.
Changing the name or address of your business usually doesn't require you to get a new EIN. But changes in your business structure or its ownership usually will require a new EIN. For example, if you applied for an EIN as a sole proprietor and you later take on partners and change your business entity to a partnership, you'll have to get a new EIN.
You can find a complete description of the events that trigger the need for a new EIN on the IRS website, "Do You Need a New EIN?"
The application is the same whether you are applying for the first time or you need a new EIN.