EIN: How to Get an Employee Identification Number

Jackie ZimmermannAugust 29, 2017
On a similar note...
On a similar note...
How to Apply for an EIN for Business Tax Purposes

Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This may influence which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.

Becoming your own boss means having greater control and the freedom to be flexible. But it also means taking on more responsibilities, including handling taxes. One task that commands a new business owner's attention right away is applying for an EIN with the IRS. The good news: The process is straightforward, quick and free.

What is an EIN?

EIN stands for employer identification number. It is a unique, nine-digit number that the IRS assigns to businesses for tax purposes.

Who needs one?

When you form a business entity, including a corporation, limited liability company or partnership, you're required to apply for an EIN. If you’re a sole proprietor, it’s only required under certain circumstances. The IRS has an EIN questionnaire that can help you determine whether you’ll have to obtain one.

Even if it’s not required, you may want to consider getting an EIN, especially if you’re a freelancer or contractor. “It stops you from having to hand out your Social Security number to everyone,” says Russell Garofalo, founder of accounting firm Brass Taxes. Having an EIN and DBA (doing business as) name can help boost your credibility when you’re starting out. Plus, it's free.

How do I get an EIN?

The fastest and easiest way to apply for an EIN is to fill out an application using the EIN Assistant on the IRS website. Your information can be processed and validated online and you'll receive your EIN immediately. There are only two requirements for filing online: Your business must be based in the United States or U.S. territories, and you need a valid taxpayer identification number.

The EIN application, Form SS-4, can also be downloaded and faxed or mailed to the IRS. To make your life a little easier, the IRS created a detailed PDF pamphlet for each business structure that includes a line-by-line guide to filling out the form. It can take about four days to process a faxed application, and four weeks for a mailed one. If you fax or mail your application, receiving the EIN online isn't an option.

If you’re an international applicant, you’ll need to apply for an EIN over the phone. Operators can be reached at 267-941-1099 and are available weekdays from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Eastern time.

I have an EIN. Do I need a new one?

If you’re a sole proprietor with an EIN and you have plans to incorporate your business, you must apply for a new EIN when you change your business structure. However, each structure has different circumstances that affect whether you'll need a new EIN. Check out this list of requirements from the IRS to determine whether you need to update your EIN.

Want to know more about how to start your business?

NerdWallet has rounded up some of its best information on starting a business, including structuring and naming your company, creating a solid plan and much more. We’ll help you do your homework and get started on the right foot.

We want to hear from you and encourage a lively discussion among our users. Please help us keep our site clean and safe by following our posting guidelines, and avoid disclosing personal or sensitive information such as bank account or phone numbers. Any comments posted under NerdWallet’s official account are not reviewed or endorsed by representatives of financial institutions affiliated with the reviewed products, unless explicitly stated otherwise.