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Updated October 25, 2023
A federal tax ID number is also known as a federal employer identification number, also called an EIN or FEIN. It’s a 9 digit number assigned to a business by the IRS.
Essentially, any business that has employees needs to obtain one, but depending on such things as the type of tax return you file, you may need one even if you have no employees. You can find out whether or not you need to obtain an EIN on the IRS website, or use the checklist here (last updated May 2019).
Applying is a simple process, usually done online. If you prefer to apply via fax, mail, or telephone, you can do this too.
It’s also worth remembering that applying for a tax ID number is free. If you’ve been asked to pay to apply, you’re on the wrong site!
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During the application process, you will be asked to provide basic information including details regarding your business structure or the type of organization you operate, personal information, addresses, and other details relating to your business.
If you are not applying yourself, you will need to select a person designated as the “responsible party” for this application. If you are the small business owner, it will most likely be yourself, but it could also be a business partner if you have one. Whoever the responsible party is, they will need to have a valid taxpayer identification number (such as a social security number) to apply.
Once you have completed the online EIN application, you can begin using the number immediately.
That said, it will take a couple of weeks for your EIN to become a part of the IRS’s permanent records. So, if you are looking to make an electronic payment, file an electronic return or pass an IRS taxpayer identification number (TIN) matching program, you will need to wait until you are a part of the permanent record.
In certain circumstances, you may need to replace your tax ID number. These are situations which affect the structure of your business, such as taking on a partnership or filing for bankruptcy. If your business is going through a structural or organizational shift, look into whether applying for a new EIN is right for your circumstances.
Once you receive your number, take a moment to write it down. You will need easy access to this number throughout your business’s life so it’s important you don’t actually lose it!
If you do lose it or forget it, however, you can call (800) 829-4933 and choose EIN from the list of options. Find out more about recovering a federal tax ID number here (last updated May 2019).