An Employer ID Number (EIN) is an identifier used by the IRS for businesses and other entities. Most businesses need an EIN even if they don't have employees. For example, many banks require an EIN before you can apply for a business checking account. Consider the EIN to be like a Social Security number for a business. Although it is primarily used for employment tax identification purposes, an EIN can also be used as a general tax number.
Before You Apply
If you begin the process of applying and you don't know answers to some of the sections, you may have to begin over again. It's best to print out a copy of the application, on IRS Form SS-4, and answer all the questions on this form.
If you decide you need help completing the EIN, you can get an attorney to help, or find other help to complete the EIN, including the trickiest part, designating your business legal type.
Filing as a Responsible Party
You will be filing for the EIN as the "responsible party" so you will need to be sure you have the authority to make this filing. The IRS has set up the designation of "responsible party" to make sure someone with authority to do business for a company is completing the form. A responsible party should be "the individual or entity that controls, manages, or directs the entity and the disposition of the entity’s funds and assets."
For a small business, a responsible party is a general partner, owner, or principal officer of the company.
4 Ways to Apply
You can apply for an EIN in one of four ways:
Online: Many people use the online EIN application form, called the EIN Assistant, between the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., Eastern time, Monday through Friday. It's best to have the application completed and all the questions answered before you go online, because you will have to begin over if you have to stop to figure out the responses. The IRS says:
- You must complete this application in one session, as you will not be able to save and return at a later time.
- For security purposes, your session will expire after 15 minutes of inactivity, and you will need to start over.
To file online, you must meet some qualifications: You must have a valid U.S. ID number (like a social security number),
When you have completed the form, the information is validated, and you can receive your EIN immediately. The online method is available for businesses located in the U.S. or its territories. You must have a valid taxpayer identification number before applying online.
Phone: Call the Business & Specialty Tax Line at (800) 829-4933. The hours of operation are 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. local time, Monday through Friday. Someone will take your information over the phone and assign you an EIN at the end of the conversation. Note: International applicants must call (215) 516-6999 (not a toll-free number).
FAX: Fax the completed SS-4 application form to your state fax number. If you include your fax number, you will receive your EIN by fax within four business days.
Mail: Mail your completed SS-4 Form to the appropriate IRS office. You will receive your EIN by mail within four weeks.
if you are comfortable applying online or by phone, you can receive your EIN immediately instead of waiting for days or weeks.
Beware of Fake EIN Application Web Sites
If you search online for "apply for EIN" you will find lots of sites that look like they are the IRS, but may in fact be fake EIN application sites. They will start you on the application process, but only when you get ready to file will they ask for money. Don't waste your time or money. The EIN application process is free, relatively painless, and quick.