How to Get an EIN

Learn how to get an EIN online, by mail, or by fax.

By , Journalist
Updated by Amanda Hayes, Attorney · University of North Carolina School of Law

When starting a new business, you must take steps to legally set up your company. One such step is to apply for an employer identification number (EIN) from the IRS. Most businesses need an EIN and all businesses can benefit from having one. Let's look at how you can get an EIN for your small business.

What Is an Employer Identification Number (EIN)?

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.

When Do You Need an EIN?

A business needs an EIN when it:

  • has employees or plans to hire employees within 12 months of filing an EIN application
  • has a Keogh Plan (a tax-deferred pension plan usually used by self-employed individuals)
  • operates in certain industries (such as trucking) that are required to pay federal excise taxes, or
  • is required to have a license to operate.

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 (SSN) will help to reduce the chance of identity theft.

How to Apply for an EIN

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. (International applicants can apply for an EIN by phone.)

Applying online is the fastest method, and you can usually get your EIN immediately upon applying. 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.

Apply for an EIN Online

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.

Apply for an EIN by U.S. Mail or Fax

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'll receive your EIN in about four days. If you mail your application, you'll typically receive your EIN in about four weeks.

The Information You'll Need to Provide to Get an EIN

You'll need to provide the following information when you apply for an EIN:

  • the name of the person responsible for the business (usually the business owner)
  • SSN, individual taxpayer identification number, or EIN of the responsible party
  • the name of the business
  • the mailing address of the business
  • the type of business entity—for example, whether it's a corporation, an LLC, a partnership, and so on (Additional details are required for certain business entity structures.)
  • the reason for applying for an EIN
  • the date the business was started or acquired
  • the number of employees on payroll or expected in the next 12 months
  • the date you'll start to pay wages, and
  • the type of business (such as construction, manufacturing, retail) and the activity of the business (such as computer sales, home repair services, and so on).

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've Lost or Misplaced Your EIN

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. Your EIN might be located in your bank records.

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're the person authorized to receive it on behalf of your business and you're able to answer the questions they ask to verify your identity.

When Do You Need a New EIN?

You'll likely use the same EIN throughout the existence of your company. However, if the business changes so substantially it essentially becomes a new business, the IRS will require you to apply for a new EIN.

Circumstances when your business doesn't need a new EIN. Changing the name, location, or tax status of your business usually doesn't require you to get a new EIN. Changing your tax status includes electing S Corporation status, and applying for 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status.

Changes in business structure and ownership require a new EIN. For example, if you applied for an EIN as a sole proprietor and later took on partners and changed your business entity to a partnership, you'll have to get a new EIN.

Filing for bankruptcy sometimes requires a new EIN. If a business goes into bankruptcy, it'll need a new EIN if the business is a sole proprietorship, but not if the business is a corporation or a partnership.

When corporations need a new EIN. The rules for corporations are more complex. If a corporation becomes a subsidiary of another company, it needs a new EIN. However, it doesn't need a new EIN if it becomes a division of another corporation or following a corporate merger. You should talk to a business lawyer for more help with better understanding the differences between the corporate changes and when to apply for an EIN.

You can find a complete description of the events that trigger the need for a new EIN on the IRS's Do you need a new EIN? webpage.

The application is the same whether you're applying for the first time or you need a new EIN.

Getting Help With Applying for Your EIN

Most people can apply for an EIN on their own. The process is free, accessible, and fairly simple. However, you might have questions or prefer a legal representative to get an EIN for your business on your behalf. If you need legal assistance, consult with a local business attorney.

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