What Is Form SS-4?

Form SS-4 Explained

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Form SS-4 is used by small businesses to apply for a Tax ID/Employer ID Number (EIN) from the IRS. The form is used for identification of employers, but the number is required for other legal purposes as well. You'll most likely be required to provide an EIN to open a business bank account, as well as for loan applications and for accepting debit and credit cards.

There's no fee to apply for an Employer ID Number from the IRS.

What Is Form SS-4?

Form SS-4 is a request made to the IRS to assign an EIN to your business. The EIN is nine digits, similar to a Social Security number for individuals but assigned to businesses. Submitting Form SS-4 establishes a tax account for your business tax with the IRS.

IRS Form SS-4

Who Uses Form SS-4?

Corporations, partnerships, estates, and trusts can use Form SS-4 to request a business tax account and EIN. Sole proprietors don't typically need EINs because they file their tax returns under their Social Security numbers, but they can apply for one if they want to.

You might also have to resubmit a Form SS-4 if you already had an EIN, but the organization structure or ownership of your business has changed.

Where to Get Form SS-4

The IRS provides Form SS-4 online. You can download it, print it out to complete by hand, or fill it in online then print it out. The IRS also provides an online application, but it times out if you take a break and don't keep entering data for a while.

It can be a good idea to print out and work on a draft copy first before you actually apply because Form SS-4 is relatively complicated.

How to Fill Out Form SS-4

You'll need some information at your fingertips to get started:

  • Your business's legal name, its DBA/fictitious name, and address
  • The legal business entity you'll be forming, such as a corporation, partnership, sole proprietorship, or LLC
  • Whether your LLC is one-member or multiple-member, if this is the entity you've chosen
  • Information about your responsible party
  • An estimate of how many employees you'll have and how much you anticipate paying them each year

Now you can move on to the various lines on the form.

Line 1: Legal name of entity

This is the business name that every transaction and record will be linked to, so be sure it's absolutely correct. Enter your own name, not the business name, if you're a sole proprietor and applying for an EIN. Enter the business name exactly as it appears on your business registration with your state if you're a corporation, partnership, or LLC.

Line 2: Trade name of the business

Use the "DBA" or fictitious name under which you'll be operating the business. For example, its legal name might be Smith and Smith, LLC, but the operating name might be "Smith Accounting Services." Your operating name is what appears on your signs and other items that customers and clients will see.

Be sure you use the same name (either the legal name or the trade name) on all filings with the IRS to avoid confusion.

Line 3: Executor, administrator, trustee, "care of" name

Use the full first name, middle name, and last name of the person who will be in charge of all legal matters for your business. It should be your “principal officer, general partner, grantor, owner, or trustor," according to the IRS.

This is usually the same person listed on line 7a and the registered agent for an LLC or corporation. Include the Social Security number, ITIN, or EIN of this person or entity.

Lines 4a, 4b, 5a, 5b, and 6

These lines are for your business mailing address, street address, and the county and state where your principal business is located. Leave lines 5a and 5b blank if your street address and mailing address are the same. Line 6 is for the physical location of your business.

Line 7a: Responsible party

This is the individual who will control, manage, or direct the business and its income and assets. According to the IRS, it's the "principal officer, general partner, grantor, owner, or trustor."

Lines 8a, 8b, and 8c

These items are important if you're setting up an LLC. You must provide information in line 8b, "Number of members," and in 8c, "Organized in the United States" if you answer "yes" on line 8a.

Line 9a

Designate your type of business entity here. This is relatively simple unless you have a limited liability company. You'll have to make some distinctions if you have an LLC:

  • You're considered by the IRS to be a "disregarded entity" if you're a single-member LLC.
  • You would typically be taxed as a partnership if your business is a multiple-member LLC. Check "Partnership" at line 9a if you want your multiple-member LLC to be taxed this way.
  • Select the "corporation" option if you want your limited liability company to be taxed as a corporation.

Check with your tax professional if you aren't sure what type of entity to select, or if you don't see your business type listed. The IRS emphasizes that what you check isn't an official election of a tax type. Actually electing a way to be taxed must be done with a different form.

Line 9b

This is for corporations. It asks you to name the state or country where you're incorporated.

Line 10

Check the reason you're applying for an EIN. For example, you would check "Started a new business" if this is the case and provide a very brief description of your business. You don't have to go into a lot of detail.

Line 11: Date business started

You can choose any reasonable date, such as the day you actually opened your doors and began serving customers. Enter the date you first owned the business or the date you owned it as the business type you cited on line 9a if the business already exists.

The start date is important if you're starting around the end of your fiscal year.

Check with your accountant or tax attorney about the tax implications of startup dates and closing months.

Line 12: Closing month of accounting year

Select your fiscal (financial) year by designating the closing month. This would be December 31 for businesses operating as sole proprietorships, but there may be other reasons for choosing a different date.

Line 13

This line asks you to select the highest number of employees you expect to hire in the first 12 months. Put the number under "Other" unless you're running a farm or you're hiring household help.

Line 14

Consider whether you're likely to owe less than $1,000 in employment tax liability for Social Security, Medicare, employee income tax withholding, and unemployment taxes. Mark "no" if you'll have no employees, or if you'll be paying less than $4,000 in wages to all employees over the course of the year. Talk to your tax advisor if you aren't sure.

Line 15

Complete this item if you'll have employees. Enter the estimated date of your first payroll.

Line 16

Enter the business classification that best fits your type of business, or enter "Other" and specify what it is. Form SS-4 instructions include detailed definitions of these categories to help you along.

Line 17

Provide more information on the types of products or services you'll be selling or providing. For example, you might add "dental office" if you checked "health care," or add "coffee shop" if you checked "retail."

Line 18

Indicate whether your business has ever applied for or received an EIN previously under the legal name you gave on line 1. You can include the name and address of a "third-party designee" to receive your EIN and represent you. You might want your attorney to perform this function.

Finally, sign the form, noting that you declare the application to be "true, correct, and complete." You'll immediately receive your EIN if you've completed Form SS-4 online or by phone.

Print out the page or write down your EIN. You'll need it for a lot of documents and other applications during startup. You'll also receive a confirmation by mail, which you should keep in a safe place.

Can Form SS-4 Be E-Filed?

You can apply online, by phone, by mail, or by fax, but you can't e-file Form SS-4.

Where to Mail Form SS-4

Mailing Form SS-4 to the correct IRS address depends on whether you have a principal office, principal agency, or legal residence in the United States. The IRS provides the applicable addresses on its website.

A Word of Warning About Form SS-4

This article is intended to provide general guidelines for new business owners. Form SS-4 is complicated, and this isn't intended to provide legal or tax advice or give you specifics on how to complete the form.

Each business situation is different and your tax professional may have specific directions for you. Please consult with your attorney or CPA to make sure you're in compliance with the tax laws and that you receive the best tax advantage for your specific situation.

Key Takeaways

  • IRS Form SS-4 is a business application for an employer identification number (EIN).
  • The form and the number establish a business tax account with the IRS.
  • The form is for corporations, partnerships, estates, and trusts. Sole proprietors can do business under their own Social Security numbers, but they can apply for an EIN if they elect to do so.
  • Form SS-4 can be filed online or mailed to the IRS, but it can’t be e-filed. You can also apply by telephone.

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