Just as the federal government issues a unique Social Security number to individuals, it also provides a unique identifier for businesses, known as an Employer Identification Number or, more simply, an EIN. You must use your business EIN for numerous financial reports and transactions.
What Is an EIN?
An Employer Identification Number, or EIN, is issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as a unique identifier for businesses that hire employees. A small one-person business can use the owner's Social Security number as its EIN. Most other businesses, though, will have a separate EIN assigned to the business. Nonprofit organizations with employees will also have an EIN.
An EIN is similar to a Social Security number in that both are nine-digit identifiers. However, the numbers are formatted differently:
- Social Security: XXX-XX-XXXX
- Employer Identification Number: XX-XXXXXXX
Your EIN is used on various tax filings. Some other financial transactions, such as bank loans, may also ask for your business EIN. Local governments may also ask for your EIN when you apply for permits and licenses.
An employer identification number, generally known as an EIN, may also be referred to as an FEIN, where the "F" indicates "federal."
Finding Your EIN
If you're asked to supply your business' EIN, you may suddenly realize you're not sure what it is or where you might find it. There are several places you can look for a company's EIN:
- Tax Records: Your tax filings from prior years will include your EIN. If the forms are unavailable for any reason, you can request a copy of your prior filings from the IRS.
- Bank Records: Your bank most likely asked for your EIN before opening accounts for your business. Your banker can assist you in recovering a misplaced EIN.
- SEC Reports: Companies that report to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) include their EIN on several types of documents, most notably, the 10-K annual report. These reports are available online at the SEC website.
- W-2 Forms: EINs are included as a business identifier on W-2 forms provided to employees. Check your most recent W-2 for the presence of the company EIN.
If all else fails, you can ask the IRS for assistance by calling their taxpayer helpline at (800) 829-4933.
Applying for an EIN
Of course, you can only find your EIN if one has been issued in the past. For a new business, you must apply for your EIN with the IRS. Businesses that change substantially, for example, by switching from a partnership to an incorporated business, also generally need to apply for a new EIN.
Alphabet Soup: EIN, TIN, DNB, DUNS
Most sizable businesses are likely to have more than one identifier number, and it's important to keep them straight. In addition to your EIN issued by the IRS, your business may also have one or more of the following:
TIN: A taxpayer identification number is a term used more generically, and with less specificity than, an EIN. It can refer to any of a number of identifiers, including an EIN, Social Security number or a state-issued sales tax identification number. If you receive a request for a TIN, be careful to identify the actual number being asked for.
DNB and DUNS: Dun & Bradstreet, or DNB as they are commonly known, is a commercial firm that issues business identifier numbers that are widely used. Your business needs a DNB number, for example, to work on government contracts. Identification numbers issued by DNB are known as DUNS numbers, which stands for data universal numbering system. You can request a DUNS for your business directly from DNB.
David Sarokin is a well-known Internet specialist with publications in a wide variety of business topics, from the best uses of information technology to the steps for incorporating your business. He is the author of The Corporation, Its History and Future (Cambridge Scholars, 2020) on the role of big business in the modern world, and Missed Information (MIT Press, 2016), detailing how our social systems like health care, finance and government can be improved with better quality information.