How to Obtain Your Business EIN and Find It If You Lose It

Roy Rasmussen
Roy Rasmussen

You need a business employer identification number (EIN) to open a bank account, apply for loans or file taxes. 

Learn how to get yours and find it when you need it. We’ll cover what a business EIN is, when you need one, how to obtain one and where to find yours or that of another company.

What Is an EIN?

An EIN is a 9-digit number assigned by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as a business tax identification number. It is used to identify the tax accounts of employers and of certain other taxpaying entities with no employees, such as trusts and estates which report income.

An EIN employer ID number is 1 of 5 main types of taxpayer identification numbers (TINs) used by the IRS, the others being:

  • Social Security number (SSN), assigned to U.S. citizens and lawful aliens
  • Individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN), assigned to certain nonresident and resident aliens, their spouses and their dependents who cannot get an SSN
  • Taxpayer identification number for pending U.S. adoptions (ATIN), assigned to individuals who are in the process of legally adopting a U.S. citizen or resident child but cannot get an SSN for that child in time to file their tax return
  • Preparer taxpayer identification number (PTIN), assigned to tax professionals who assist others with tax returns

EIN numbers are used by the IRS and other parties for various purposes, including:

  • Reporting federal income tax
  • Reporting and paying federal payroll taxes
  • Applying for business licenses
  • Applying for business bank accounts
  • Applying for business loans

EINs are assigned to:

  • Employers
  • Employee benefit plan administrators
  • Some sole proprietors, such as those who use file pension plan or excise tax returns
  • Partnerships
  • Corporations
  • Anyone who files a federal Employment tax return, Excise tax return, or Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms tax return
  • Anyone who uses a Keogh retirement plan
  • Farmers’ cooperatives
  • Real-estate mortgage investment conduits
  • Trusts, except certain grantor-owned revocable trusts, individual retirement accounts (IRAs) or those filing Exempt Organization Business Income Tax Returns
  • Estates of decedents
  • Nonprofit organizations
  • Government agencies

An EIN number uses a 9-digit format with the first pair of numbers set off by a hyphen:

XX-XXXXXXX

EIN numbers for employee plans may have a suffix with additional letters and numbers.

An EIN is a federal tax identification number. Your state also may require you to have a state tax identification number. For more information, check with your state’s department of revenue or other relevant state agency.

A “Hello my EIN is __-______” tag.

When Do You Need an EIN?

In general, you need a business EIN number if your answer to any of the following questions is “Yes”:

  • Do you have employees?
  • Are you involved with an employee benefit plan administrator?
  • Do you withhold taxes on income, other than wages, paid to a non-resident alien?
  • Is your business a corporation or partnership?
  • Do you file employment tax returns, excise tax returns or alcohol, tobacco and firearms tax returns?
  • Do you have a Keogh retirement plan?
  • Are you involved with a farmers’ cooperative?
  • Do you use a real-estate mortgage investment conduit?
  • Are you involved with a trust, other than certain grantor-owned revocable trusts, IRAs or Exempt Organization Business Income Tax Returns
  • Are you involved with an estate?
  • Are you involved with a nonprofit organization?

Special rules apply to EINs for different types of entities. For instance, a subsidiary of a corporation needs its own EIN separate from that of its parent organization.

If your business ownership or structure changes, you generally need a new EIN. The IRS provides detailed guidelines to help you determine when and if your business entity needs a new EIN.

You should only have and use a single EIN per business entity. If you have more than 1, you should contact the IRS for help determining which to use. For assistance, call the IRS Business and Specialty Tax Line at 1-800-829-4933 (or 1-800-829-4059 for TTY/TDD users).

When Can You Do Business Without an EIN?

Because EINs are geared towards businesses with employees, sole proprietorships and limited liability companies (LLCs) without employees may not need an EIN under certain conditions.

If you’re a sole proprietor with no employees and you don’t file any pension plan or excise tax returns, you don’t need an EIN. You can elect to use your SSN or ITIN instead. However, you can opt to get an EIN if you want to.

Similarly, if you form a one-member LLC and you don’t hire employees, use a Keogh plan or file excise tax returns, you can use your SSN or ITIN instead of an EIN.

However, if your single-member LLC hires employees, if you want your LLC taxed as a corporation or if you form a multimember LLC, you need an EIN. Likewise, if you have an EIN as a sole proprietor and you become the sole owner of an LLC that has employees or needs to file a pension plan or excise tax return, you need to get a separate EIN to file employment taxes for the LLC.

Who Can Get an EIN?

To qualify for an IRS EIN as a business, you must meet a couple of general conditions:

  • You must be doing business in the United States, although you can be incorporated elsewhere
  • Your principal officer, general partner, grantor, owner or trustor must have a valid SSN, ITIN or EIN

When applying, you are limited to 1 EIN per day per individual who ultimately owns or controls your business (known as the “responsible entity”). This helps prevent scams involving misuse of EIN numbers.

How to Get an EIN Number

There are 4 ways you can apply for an EIN number:

  • Online
  • By fax
  • By mail
  • By phone

You can use any of these methods to apply if your principal business, office or agency or your legal residence (if applying as an individual) is located in the U.S. or U.S. territories. Otherwise, you are classified as an international applicant, and you can only apply for an EIN by fax, mail or phone.

Applying Online

Applying online is the preferred way to obtain an EIN. To apply for an EIN online, your principal business, office or agency or your legal residence (if applying as an individual) must be located in the U.S. or U.S. territories. You can apply online by using an application form available on the IRS website from Monday through Friday between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. Eastern Time. The applicant will need a valid TIN in the form of an SSN, ITIN or EIN. Your application will be validated during your online session. Normally, your application will be approved immediately. This is the fastest way to get an EIN.

Some scam websites charge a fee to process EIN applications. If you apply online, make sure you are using the official IRS website (https://www.irs.gov/), which uses a .gov URL rather than another extension such as .com or .org and doesn’t charge a fee.

Applying by Fax

You can apply by fax by filling out a Form SS-4, Application for Employer Identification Number (EIN). You can apply by fax any day at any time. When applying by fax, you will generally receive your EIN within 4 business days.

Applying by Mail

You can apply by mail by filling out a Form SS-4 and mailing it to the IRS service center indicated on the accompanying instructions. If approved, you will receive your EIN in the mail within 4 weeks. The IRS recommends that if you apply for your EIN by mail, you should mail your application at least 4 or 5 weeks before you need to file a tax return or make a business bank deposit.

Applying by Phone

If you’re based within the U.S. or U.S. Territories, you can apply by telephone by calling the IRS Business and Specialty Tax Line at 1-800-829-4933 (or 1-800-829-4059 for TTY/TDD users). If you’re an international applicant, you can call 267-941-1099 (not a toll-free number) Monday through Friday from  6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Eastern Time.

A tax form wears a “Hello my EIN is __-______” tag.

What Information Do I Need to Apply for an EIN?

When applying for an EIN, you should have the following information available:

  • The legal name of your business
  • The legal name of the person filling out the application
  • Your trade name, if applicable
  • Your business address
  • The name and SSN, ITIN or EIN of the responsible entity
  • Your type of business entity
  • The number of members, if you are applying as an LLC
  • Where you are incorporated, if you are applying as a corporation
  • The date your business was started or acquired
  • The maximum number of employees you expect to have in the next 12 months and the first date when wages were paid or will be paid
  • The primary activity of your business

Having this information handy will save you time filling out your application.

Can I Get an EIN Before I Incorporate My Business?

Yes, you can apply for an EIN before you incorporate your business with your state, as long as you have the information you need to fill out your EIN application, such as a valid SSN.

Can I File a Tax Return Without an EIN?

If you’ve applied for an EIN but you don’t have it yet but your tax return is due, you can put “Applied For” in the space for your EIN on your tax form, along with the date you applied for it.

How to Find a Business EIN Number

To find an EIN number for a business you own or represent, you can use a number of methods:

  • Save and file a copy of the digital or physical document you receive from the IRS when you apply for your EIN
  • Find a copy of a tax return, business license application, bank account application or loan application where you used your EIN
  • If your business is registered with your state, do a business EIN lookup by searching for your business on the website for your state’s department of revenue
  • Call (800) 829-4933 and select EIN from the list of options, and an IRS employee will assist you with an EIN lookup

Saving your EIN application documentation is the quickest and surest way to ensure that you have your EIN information available when you need it. If you call for an IRS EIN lookup, you will need to be able to verify your identity as a representative of your company authorized to receive information.

Can I Look Up a Business EIN Number for Another Company?

Sometimes you may want to do a business EIN search on another company. For instance, if you’re thinking of investing in a company, you might want to learn more about their finances.

When searching for the EIN of another company, you can use a number of methods:

  • Look on the company’s website
  • Call the company’s accounting or financing department and ask for their EIN
  • Search state or local public documents the company has filed to see if they mention their EIN
  • Buy a business credit report on the company
  • For publicly held companies, use the Security and Exchange Commission’s Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis and Retrieval (EDGAR) system
  • For nonprofits, use the website for GuideStar, a service that connects nonprofits with donors and grant makers
  • Use a fee-based database such as LexisNexis

If you have a company’s EIN and want to confirm it with the IRS, you can ask the company to fill out a Form 2848, Power of Attorney and Declaration of Representative, authorizing IRS disclosure of tax information to you.

How to Protect Your EIN from Business Identity Theft

Cybercriminals may attempt to misuse company EINs for various reasons, such as applying for business loans in your company’s name. To prevent this, it’s important to stay vigilant in monitoring potential misuse of your EIN.

Be on the lookout for signs of business identity theft, such as:

  • Receiving notifications about tax returns you haven’t filed
  • Receiving tax notifications about employees you don’t have
  • Receiving bills for business loans or credit lines you haven’t applied for

Checking your business credit report periodically will help you spot suspicious activity.

Keep Your Business EIN Handy for When You Need It

Your business EIN is essential when opening a bank account, applying for a loan or filing taxes. You can get yours from the IRS by applying online, by fax, through the mail or over the phone. 

The best way to keep it handy for when you need it is to save your EIN application documentation in a physical or digital folder. You also can find it on documents such as tax statements or business bank account paperwork, by looking it up online or by calling the IRS. Keep yours on hand so you can find it quickly when you need it.

One time you might need your EIN is when you’re applying for a loan or other form of small business financing. If you require financing, we’re here to help. Fill out our short, user-friendly online application and we’ll let you know in a few minutes what type of financing you may qualify for.

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Roy Rasmussen Contributing Writer at Fast Capital 360
Roy is a respected, published author on topics including business coaching, small business management and business automation as well as an expert business plan writer and strategist.