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What Is an Employer Identification Number?

employer identification number

Also known as a Federal Tax Identification Number, an Employer Identification Number (EIN), is a unique, nine-digit number assigned to your business by the IRS. An EIN allows the IRS and other federal agencies to identify a business entity that is legally separate from yourself, whether it’s a corporation, retirement plan, partnership, or otherwise. Think of it as the equivalent of a Social Security Number—after all, it’s what you will use to report and pay taxes on your business.

Getting an EIN Number

Acquiring an Employer Identification Number has never been easier thanks to the IRS’s Internet-accessible application. Helpfully designed in the style of interview questions, all you have to do is log online, go to the IRS’s EIN application site, and answer a series of questions about your business.

You’ll want to have basic information about your business at hand, such as its legal name, address, telephone number, officers, and so on. After completing the application, you will be immediately provided with an Employer Identification Number and confirmation form, which you will want to save and print for your records.

If the online application isn’t accessible or suitable for your needs, you can also apply through an IRS Taxpayer Assistance Office. Locations nationwide are listed on their website. If you’d rather submit your application for an EIN the traditional way, you’ll need to fill out and mail in Form SS-4.

Do You Need an EIN Number for Your Business?

Of course, this all begs the question: do you even need an EIN number for your business? The rules are highly variable and dependent on different legal structures and tax obligations.

For example, a sole proprietorship with no employees is generally exempt from requiring an Employer Identification Number; but if that same sole proprietorship has to pay federal excise or payroll taxes, then it will need to acquire an EIN. Regardless of your business’s particular circumstances, it’s always a safe move to get one—whether or not you are legally required to.



After graduating with a B.A. from Occidental College, Ben Wills worked for several political non-profits on economic policy, government transparency, and public accountability issues.