How to get a tax ID number if you're self-employed or have a small business

  • Some self-employed people might need a Federal Tax Identification Number.
  • Also known as an Employer Identification Number, or EIN, it is issued by the IRS to identify small businesses.
  • The easiest way to get an EIN is to apply online for free through the IRS website.
  • This article was reviewed for accuracy and clarity by Scott Hoppe, an expert on Personal Finance Insider’s tax review board
  • See Personal Finance Insider’s picks for the best tax software »

An Employer Identification Number, or EIN, is a nine-digit number issued by the IRS and used by self-employed individuals for certain tax or business purposes.

If you’re not sure if you already have one, you can call the IRS Business & Specialty Tax Line (800-829-4933), check with the institution that you think may have issued one for you (like your bank), or take a look at your most recent tax return.

The IRS has a handy questionnaire to figure out if you need this tax ID number or if you can just use your Social Security number. If you answer “yes” to any of its six questions, like “Do you have employees?” and “Do you operate your business as a corporation or a partnership?” the IRS says you need an EIN.

You might also want to get an EIN for security reasons. A sole proprietor isn’t required to have an identification number, for instance, but might want one so they don’t have to share their Social Security number.

If you don’t currently have an EIN and need to get one, follow these steps.

How to get an Employer Identification Number (EIN)

1. Speak with your accountant about filing as a business

First of all, if you haven’t actually set your business up yet, speak with your accountant about putting together the proper paperwork to file as a business. Simply being self-employed does not mean you necessarily need this tax ID number.

2. Decide how to want to obtain your EIN

Once you have a legal business structure, you have a few options to get a tax ID number:

  • Your accountant or financial institution may be able to help you obtain one
  • You can use the IRS Business & Specialty Tax Line listed above (800-829-4933)
  • You can manually fill out Form SS-4 and mail it to the IRS
  • You can submit an online application for a tax ID number yourself

3. Gather your relevant paperwork

No matter which route you go, you’ll need to gather the information necessary for completing the application.

This includes your business name and business address, as well as what type of legal structure your business uses, like a sole proprietorship, partnership, or corporation. This is important to know before filing online, because once you start an online application, your session will expire after 15 minutes of inactivity and you will need to start all over.

4. Apply online if that’s easiest for you

To apply online, visit the IRS website to apply for an EIN.

Under Step 3, “Submit your application,” click on the blue button that says “Apply Online Now.”

5. Read through the application rules and guidelines

Once you have a thorough understanding of what’s involved, click “begin application” at the bottom of the page.

6. Answer all the questions pertaining to your business

Start with which type of business structure you have (Corporation? Sole proprietorship? Partnership? Estate? Trust?), the reason you’re applying for an EIN, and how you’re related to the business (is it your business, or are you applying on behalf of another business?).

7. Receive your EIN immediately

Download, save, and print all paperwork to keep on file for future needs.

You’ll need this number for any future business dealings, like filing taxes, opening a business bank account, or signing contracts.

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