Picture of IRS Form SS-4 with a pen on top of it

SS-4 Tax Form: Everything You Need to Know

5 min read • Jun 20, 2021 • Barry Eitel

Many small businesses, including every American business with employees, need to be uniquely identified by the Internal Revenue Service according to the tax code. To get this number, you first have to fill out Form SS-4 for the IRS. Not only is this form important for your taxes, but potential lenders and investors often request it.

What Is Form SS-4 Used for?

Form SS-4 is used to obtain an Employer Identification Number (or EIN). Form SS-4 is 1 page and requires pretty simple information to put together.

Form W-9, which requests the taxpayer identification number of a taxpayer, is different from Form SS-4. While W-9 can seek certification of an EIN, Form SS-4 is used to actually apply for an EIN.  

What Is an Employer Identification Number?

An EIN is a unique number that identifies your business with the IRS. It is similar to an individual’s Social Security number, except that you aren’t issued a card like your Social Security card. The IRS created the EIN system in 1974.

Does My Small Business Need an EIN?

The IRS has a simple checklist for if your small business will need an EIN. Most small businesses that aren’t sole proprietorships will likely need an EIN.

If any of the following questions apply to your small business, you will need an EIN:

  • Do you have employees?
  • Is your business structured as a corporation or partnership?
  • Do you file tax returns for Employment, Excise, or Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms?
  • Do you withhold taxes on non-wage income paid to a non-resident alien?
  • Do you have a Keogh plan (an uncommon retirement plan)?
  • Is your business involved in any of the following types of organizations: trusts, IRAs, Exempt Organization Business Income Tax Returns, Estates, Real estate mortgage investment conduits, nonprofit organizations, farmers’ cooperatives, or plan administrators?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you should fill out SS-4 and submit it to the IRS.

Using Form SS-4 To Obtain an EIN

Applying for an EIN with the IRS is always free. Beware of any services or websites that claim you must pay to receive an EIN. You can apply for an EIN online, which is similar to filling out Form SS-4 but without the physical paper.

To apply for an EIN through fax or mail, though, you will have to fill out Form SS-4.

You can do this before opening the doors to your business if you know your company will need one.

“If you are thinking about setting up a business, IRS Form SS-4 is a critical step to take because it’s your business’ unique identifier to the IRS. This number is linked to bank accounts and many other aspects of your business,” explains tax preparer H&R Block.

Whether applying online or with Form SS-4, the application must list the name and taxpayer identification number (that is, the Social Security number, EIN, or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number) of the true principal officer, general partner, grantor, owner, or trustor. The IRS calls this person the “responsible party,” and the person “controls, manages, or directs the applicant entity and the disposition of its funds and assets,” the IRS says.

The IRS requires you to keep the information up-to-date on your Form SS-4 in regards to your company and the responsible party. Changes can be submitted using IRS Form 8822-B.

“Keep the Form SS-4 information current,” the IRS continues. “Use Form 8822-B to report changes to your responsible party, address, or location. Changes in responsible parties must be reported to the IRS within 60 days.”

Once accepted by the IRS, you will receive a notice from the agency.

How to Fill Out Form SS-4

Filling out Form SS-4 is straightforward, and the information required for the 1-page form should be easily available. While the specifics of how you fill out the form will depend on your business, structure, and industry, you generally are providing identifying information for your company and the responsible party filling out the form.

Expect to provide information like:

  • The business’s name and address
  • The responsible party’s name and taxpayer identification number
  • Structure of business
  • The date your business was created
  • Your reason for applying to the IRS for an EIN
  • The number of employees that work at your business
  • Your business’s main activities
  • The main types of products and/or services your business offers

How Lenders Use Your Form SS-4

Beyond registering with the IRS, you will likely also need to have your Form SS-4 handy when applying for business loans.

Form SS-4 shows that your business is officially verified with the IRS and, therefore, the United States government. Your SS-4 notice and EIN are both important to have in hand when you go about applying for commercial loans. 

Lenders look at your EIN and Form SS-4 much in the same way your Social Security card is used to verify your identity in the US. It also shows that your business is based in the U.S. 

Remember, unlike your Social Security number, no card is issued when you receive an EIN. Your Form SS-4 notice serves the same purpose as a Social Security card, which is why lenders will want to see a copy of it. 

If you need a copy of your Form SS-4, contact the IRS Business and Specialty Tax Line.

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Barry Eitel

Barry Eitel has written about business and technology for eight years, including working as a staff writer for Intuit's Small Business Center and as the Business Editor for the Piedmont Post, a weekly newspaper covering the city of Piedmont, California.