Employer Identification Number (EIN)
What Is an Employer Identification Number (EIN)?
An Employer Identification Number (EIN) is a nine-digit ID assigned by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). One of five Tax ID Numbers (TINs), it’s used to identify business entities and administer tax laws. The two-digit EIN prefix indicates where the number was assigned and the subsequent seven digits identify the entity itself (e.g. XX-XXXXXXX).
Using this unique number reduces the likelihood of your business being misidentified as another. Much like a fingerprint, a business’s EIN is entirely unique—it never expires or gets recycled for another company.
What Is the Difference between a TIN and an EIN?
Tax Identification Number (TIN) and EIN are often used interchangeably, but TIN is a more general term. It may refer to an EIN, as well as several other ID numbers, such as:
- Social Security Number (SSN): This is a taxpayer ID for an individual. The Social Security Administration (SSA) uses it to keep track of your covered wages and earnings.
- Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN): This ID is for people who are required to have taxpayer identification but are ineligible to receive an SSN.
- Adoption Taxpayer Identification Number (ATIN): This serves as a temporary tax ID for a child who is being adopted. In this case, their adoptive parents don’t have or are unable to obtain the child’s original SSN.
- Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN): This ID is assigned to those compensated for preparing a US federal tax return or other tax forms (exceptions are listed on the IRS website).
What Is the Difference between an EIN and a FEIN?
Your business tax ID number may also be referred to as a Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN). There is no difference between EIN and FEIN—these terms are both used to describe the same nine-digit ID from the federal government.
What Is a State EIN?
Even if your business has an EIN at the federal level, you may also be required to get another at the state level. Many companies must have a State Employer Identification Number, or a State EIN, for each state in which they pay taxes. It may also be used by some entities to guard against identity theft (e.g. sole proprietors).
Tax ID laws vary from state to state. Business owners should review local requirements to find out if they need a State EIN and how to get one.
Do I Need an EIN for My Business?
You will most likely need an EIN for your business to fulfill tax reporting requirements. For instance, you need one if you have employees.
You’ll also need an EIN if any of the following apply:
- Your business is classified as a C-corp, LLC, or partnership.
- Your business files excise or employment taxes.
- Your business files for alcohol, tobacco, or firearm tax returns.
- Your business has an H.R. 10 plan (or Keogh plan).
- Your business withholds taxes on income paid to a non-resident alien (other than wages).
- You deal with estates, trusts, real estate investments, non-profit organizations, employee plans, or farmers’ cooperatives.
Even if your entity doesn’t fall under any of the categories outlined above, you might still need an EIN to open a checking account or apply for a business loan.
Can I Get an EIN without a Business?
If you do not have a business, you cannot get an EIN. Instead, your SSN serves as your tax ID number. Keep in mind, if you're running your business as a sole proprietorship and don’t have any employees, you may not need or want an EIN since you’ll file a business tax return with your personal taxes using your SSN.
However, you may have to register for an EIN if any of the following changes occur:
- You hire employees.
- You establish a Keogh or Solo 401(k) retirement plan.
- You purchase or inherit an existing business.
- You set up an LLC.
- You file for bankruptcy.
How to Apply for an EIN
If you need a business tax ID from the IRS, simply apply for an EIN online. The processing time depends on how you apply, so it’s important to plan accordingly.
You can submit Form SS-4 in the following ways:
- Online: Applicants must complete their SS-4 in one online session. You will receive an EIN immediately upon submission.
- Fax: Applicants generally receive an EIN via fax within four business days after submission (be sure to include your fax number in the SS-4).
- Mail: The IRS also accepts SS-4 applications by mail, and these take approximately four or five weeks to process.
- Phone: International applicants may call 267-941-1099 during IRS business hours to apply for an EIN. It helps to complete your SS-4 before calling, jot down your EIN on the form, and keep it for your records.
To receive a State EIN, contact a local agency that handles employment taxes.
Where Do I Find My EIN If It’s Lost?
If you once had an employer ID but can’t find it, you don’t have to apply for it again. Instead, try these methods:
- Find the notice you received from the IRS when you applied for your EIN. This is the confirmation that you applied for and received a business ID number.
- Contact the financial institutions where you’ve used it. If you used it to open an account or apply for a loan, they should still have the number on file.
- Reach out to any state or local agencies where you applied for licensing. They should also be able to retrieve your lost EIN.
- Locate the tax returns you’ve filed under your EIN. Your business tax ID number should be noted on your returns.
- Call the IRS Business and Specialty Tax Line at 800-829-4933. During business hours, you can ask them to search for your EIN. Be ready to provide identifying information, so they can prove your authorization and provide your ID over the phone.
How to Report Business Identity Theft
If you suspect your misplaced EIN is being used fraudulently, report this information to the IRS. Businesses, estates, trusts, and other entities may use Form 14039-B if they think someone else is submitting tax returns or W-2 forms under their number.
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