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What Is an EIN Number?

By Amanda Smith on February 27, 2019

Getting an Employment Identification Number should be one of your first steps when opening a business. It’s free, simple, and you’ll have one less thing to do come tax time. Below we explain why you need one, and how to get it.

What is an EIN?

An EIN is a unique nine-digit number that identifies your business to the IRS. When you file any kind of federal tax return, this is how you’ll identify your business.

You can think of an EIN as a social security number for your business. Don’t worry about keeping it secure though, because unlike a social security number, an EIN is not considered sensitive information.

Do you need an EIN?

Most entrepreneurs or business owners will need an EIN at some point, but you’re legally required to get an EIN if you answer yes to any of the following questions:

  • Does your business have any employees?
  • Does your business operate as a corporation or partnership?
  • Do you file employment or excise tax returns?
  • Do you withhold taxes on income, other than wages, paid to a non-resident?

Even if you’re not legally required to have an EIN, we recommend getting one since EINs are also required to open business bank accounts, apply for business licenses, and secure some types of financing.

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Get organized and skip the stress. This tax checklist tells you everything you need to file on time—customized for your business.

Applying for an EIN

Applying for an EIN is fairly straightforward, but there are some nuances depending on where your business is based.

To reduce any stress associated with the application process, be prepared and give yourself plenty of time since you’ll need to complete the application in one sitting.

U.S.-based businesses

Before you apply, make sure you have a social security number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number and know what type of business you’re applying on behalf of.

Probably the simplest way (and definitely the fastest) is to apply online. You can also fax or mail your application if you prefer.

International businesses

If you don’t have legal residence or a principal place of business in the U.S., but you do need to file taxes there, you’ll be considered an international applicant.

Getting an EIN for an international applicant involves a little more paperwork, so you’ll want to follow these instructions from the IRS.

When you get your EIN

Be sure to note your EIN down somewhere handy and memorable so you can find it when you need it. If you do misplace it, try these tactics to recover it. It is possible to get a replacement number—worst-case scenario.

How to Do an EIN Lookup

There may come a time when you need to search for another business’s EIN, for your own tax purposes or to validate some information.

Here’s how:

  • If you’re an employee and need your employer’s EIN, it’s on the back of your W-2 form
  • If the company is publicly traded, use the Security and Exchange Commission’s EDGAR tool to look it up for free
  • If the company is privately held, you may need to track down its accountant to ask or use a lookup service (first-timers can start with a free trial)

The Difference Between EIN and Tax ID

There are a few different numbers used to identify a business depending on the context.

As far as bookkeeping and taxes go, these numbers are often referred to generically as a tax ID, federal tax ID number, or business tax ID number. If you’re a business owner and you hear any of these terms, they are referring your EIN.

Cartoon illustration of an income statement

The Only Tax Checklist You'll Need

Get organized and skip the stress. This tax checklist tells you everything you need to file on time—customized for your business.


This post is to be used for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal, business, or tax advice. Each person should consult his or her own attorney, business advisor, or tax advisor with respect to matters referenced in this post. Bench assumes no liability for actions taken in reliance upon the information contained herein.

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