What is an Employer Identification Number?

Get a clear definition of an Employer Identification Number and find out what it has to do with your business. Includes commonly asked questions.

Updated on October 1st, 2021

The SMB Guide is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

An Employer Identification Number (EIN) is a nine-digit number issued by the IRS to businesses for tax identification purposes. Also referred to as a Federal Employer Identification Number or Federal Identification Number, an EIN can be used by all forms of businesses looking to operate in the U.S., including non-profits, government agencies, and trusts and estates.

Who needs an EIN?

If you plan on hiring employees or if your business operates as a partnership or corporation, you will be legally required to register for an EIN. However, most businesses, even those without employees, will register for an EIN.

A business's EIN will act as its national identifier and will be required for many situations, including:

  • Banks may require an EIN to open your business bank account.
  • For a business loan application.
  • Local authorities may require an identifier for business licenses and permits.
  • For reporting and payroll tax purposes.
  • If you're self-employed, you may need to give your contractor an EIN to complete their tax requirements.

For sole proprietors, the Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN) will act as their Social Security number or their Employer Identification Number.

How to Get an EIN:

Step 1: Find out if you're eligible for an EIN.

Before you start the application process, determine your business's eligibility. While all businesses are free to apply for an EIN, your business may not need to apply for an EIN or meet the minimum requirements.

EIN Minimum Requirements:
  • Your primary business is located in the United States or U.S. territories.
  • The individual applying online has a legitimate Taxpayer Identification Number (SSN, ITIN, EIN).
  • You are restricted to one EIN per responsible party per day. The "responsible party" is the individual who owns or manages the business.

Step 2: Research and follow the application process.

Applying for an EIN is free and an application form is available online on the IRS website. The online application form can easily be completed and submitted electronically. Simply visit the IRS website and follow the application prompts. While the online application process is by the far the more convenient option, it does come with basic requirements.

EIN Online Application Requirements:
  • Applicants must complete the application in one session and will not be allowed to save or return it.
  • The application session will expire after 15 minutes of inactivity, which means you'll need to restart the application process.

Step 3: Complete your application.

Once your information has been verified and approved, you will immediately be assigned an EIN. You will also receive an EIN confirmation notice that you'll be able to download, save, and print.

Step 4: Stay up-to-date on the EIN requirements.

While your EIN will be valid forever, there are instances where you'll be required to change your EIN or apply for a new one. Typically, you will need a new EIN if your business undergoes ownership or business structural changes. However, you may also require a new EIN if your business files for bankruptcy, if you add new partners, or if you've acquired an existing business.


How do I find the EIN of a company?

  • Ask someone in the business's payroll or accounting department.
  • Search the SEC filings.
  • Obtain the business's credit report.
  • Make use of a paid EIN database.
  • If possible, check the W-2 Form.

How do I find my Employer Identification Number?

You can find your EIN in Box B of your W-2 form. Look for a 9-digit number (NN-NNNNNNN) that has a dash separating the second and third digits.

How can I get a free EIN number?

Applying for an EIN is completely free. You can apply for an EIN on the IRS website.

Are EIN numbers public?

Yes. Once you've received your business's EIN, your number will be made available to the public.

Is an EIN number the same as a tax ID number?

Yes. The EIN is also referred to as a Federal Employer Identification Number or Federal Identification Number. However, depending on the taxpayer, the EIN may or may not be the taxpayer identification number. With sole proprietors, the tax ID is their Social Security number or their EIN. With corporations, partnerships, trusts, and estates, this number will remain an EIN.

What is your EIN number?

Your Employer Identification Number (EIN) is used as your business's national identifier. The unique 9-digit number is assigned to you by the IRS.

How much does it cost to get an EIN number?

There are no costs or hidden fees required when applying for an EIN.

What happens if you never use your EIN?

Even if you never use your EIN, the IRS cannot cancel an EIN. An EIN will become your business's permanent federal taxpayer identification number once it is assigned. Therefore, an EIN cannot be reused or reassigned to another business.

Who needs an EIN number?

  • Businesses that plan on hiring employees.
  • Corporations and partnerships.
  • Businesses looking to open a bank account.
  • Businesses that need to apply for local permits and licenses.