An employer identification number — also called an EIN or federal tax ID number — is a unique numerical identifier that is assigned to businesses by the IRS principally for tax purposes. Your company’s EIN is like a Social Security number for your business and thus very important.
For many businesses, having an EIN is a legal requirement, though there are some exceptions. If you’re just starting your business, you might have some questions about how to apply for an EIN or where to find your tax ID number if you’ve already been assigned one. Furthermore, as a small business owner, you might find yourself in a position where you may want to look up another business’s EIN. Read on to learn about how to apply for an EIN, how to find your tax ID number and how you can do an EIN lookup.
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What Is an EIN and What Is it Used For?
As mentioned, your EIN is a unique numerical identifier that is assigned to you by the IRS. The primary purpose of an EIN is for the IRS to identify taxpayers who are required to file various business tax returns. Not every business is required to have an EIN, but there are several criteria that you must pass in order to be sure you won’t need an EIN.
According to the IRS, if you answer “yes” to any of these questions about your business, then you need an EIN:
- Do you have employees?
- Do you operate your business as a corporation or a partnership?
- Do you file any of these tax returns: Employment, Excise, or Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF)?
- Do you withhold taxes on income, other than wages, paid to a non-resident alien?
- Do you have a Keogh plan?
Another piece of criteria concerns the types of organizations your business is involved with. If your small business is involved with trusts, estates, real estate mortgage investment conduits, non-profit organizations, farmers’ cooperatives or plan administrators, then you are required to have an EIN for your company.
One type of business entity that often doesn’t have an EIN is a sole proprietorship. This is because this type of business organization isn’t required to register as a business nor has employees. However, just because you’re not required to have an EIN doesn’t mean it isn’t a good idea to get one. Obtaining an EIN is a smart accounting more because it enables you to separate your personal and business taxes. Also, it’ll help you keep personal and business finances separate in general. If you’re a sole proprietor without an EIN, banks will use your Social Security if you try to open a business credit card. It’s good bookkeeping to keep your personal and business finances from intertwining, so having an EIN as a sole proprietor is a good move.
EIN Lookup: How to Find Your Tax ID Number
A forgotten or lost EIN is a common issue that small business owners can run into, just as individuals lose their W-2s. Unfortunately, there isn’t a convenient, searchable database of EINs or companies you can search for their federal tax ID number. Fortunately, there are some ways you can track down your EIN.
Check Your Documents
The first place to check is your previous tax returns. If you can’t find those, see if you can locate any legal or financial papers related to your business, such as loan applications, permits, certifications or any documents that your EIN would likely be printed on. Look for tax and tax-related documents from the IRS, both in your email and physical mail. The IRS generally sends out a confirmation of your EIN after you applied for one.
Call the IRS
If all else fails and you really cannot find your EIN on existing documents, you can reach out to the IRS by calling the Business & Specialty Tax Line at 800-829-4933. Make sure to call between the hours 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. local time. If your EIN has changed recently, which could render any old documents useless, you should definitely call the IRS.
Do you have business tax questions? Check out our comprehensive guide to small business taxes for answers.
Can You Look Up an EIN Number of Another Business?
It is not a common situation, but sometimes small business owners may want to find out the EIN of another company, sometimes called a reverse EIN lookup. For example, some vendors require an EIN from companies they’re doing business with. In certain industries, like insurance and law, you may need another company’s EIN as a part of your day-to-day business. Another possibility is that you want to look up another business’s EIN to make sure their information is valid.
The bad news is that there’s no convenient, searchable database in which you can just type in the name of the company and get its EIN — if it’s a private company. If the company is publicly traded and registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), then the business is required to have its EIN on all documents. You can use the SEC’s EDGAR system to conduct an EIN lookup of a publicly-traded company for free.
When finding the EIN of a private company, things get a bit more difficult. Here are some basic steps you can take to track down another business’s EIN:
- Contact the company’s payroll or accounting department and ask for the EIN.
- Get the company’s business credit report through a credit bureau like Experian, Equifax or Dun & Bradstreet. You can purchase or view another company’s credit report, which contains their EIN.
- Hire a service to look up the EIN for you.
- Check to see if the company filed any local or federal registration forms, which can sometimes be found online.
How to Apply for an EIN
Applying for an EIN is very straightforward and easy, and you should do it as early as possible when starting your business. Many early steps when starting a company, like opening business bank accounts or hiring an employee, will require that you have or get an EIN. Here are the ways you can apply for an EIN:
- Apply for EIN Online: Naturally, this is the preferred and most common way to apply for a federal tax ID these days. You can apply for an EIN right at the IRS website on their EIN online application.
- Apply for EIN by Fax: Businesses can fax in their application to the appropriate IRS fax number. You’ll use a physical application, Form SS-4, which can be found on the IRS website.
- Apply for EIN by Mail: This is the old-fashion method and takes four weeks to process as a result. You will fill out a physical application, Form SS-4, and mail it to the appropriate address.
There are a few key stipulations about your eligibility to apply for an EIN. Applicants must either have a Social Security number, an Individual Tax Identification (ITIN) or an existing EIN to be eligible for one. Also, the applicant must be an individual, not a business entity, and the true principal officer, owner, general partner, grantor or trustor of the business.
The Bottom Line
There simply just isn’t an easy way to search a database online for yours or another company’s EIN. However, this makes a bit more sense when you consider that an EIN is like a Social Security number in a way, and you never would want to let that out into the open for someone to abuse. Fortunately, you do have some options when it comes to finding your EIN or another business’s employer ID number — if you know where to look.
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