Understanding IRS Form SS-4: A Guide to Obtaining an Employer Identification Number (EIN)

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Form SS4: Employer Identification Number (EIN)

Starting your own legal practice is exciting, but you’ll quickly find that there are plenty of important items to tackle on your to-do list. One of the first is getting an Employer Identification Number (EIN). This nine-digit number is necessary for filing business tax returns, hiring employees, opening bank accounts, and more. Think of it as a social security number for your firm.

So, where do you begin in obtaining one? It all starts with Form SS-4. In this guide, we’ll break down why a SS-4 form matters, walk you through how to fill one out, outline the ways to submit it, and answer common questions you might have. 

Find the form here: IRS Form SS-4 – Application for EIN

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What is Form SS-4 and why is it important?

Let’s begin with the basics: What exactly is Form SS-4? 

It’s a form from the IRS that your law firm needs to complete to get an Employer Identification Number (EIN), or Federal Tax Identification Number as it’s also called. An EIN is a unique nine-digit number (for instance, 12-3456789) assigned to law firms and other entities operating in the United States for identification purposes. It’s crucial for things like paying taxes, hiring employees, and other business activities that require a federal tax ID.

An EIN isn’t just a nice to have—it’s a necessity. Without one, your law firm can’t properly perform tasks like filing taxes, which can lead to serious penalties. Let’s delve a bit deeper into the top reasons why you’ll need an EIN:

  • Tax filing: Most businesses need an EIN to file federal and state taxes. It’s used to report employment taxes, income tax returns, and other tax-related documents, ensuring you’re compliant with tax laws. (For income not captured through regular payroll reporting, learn more about using Form 1099 here)
  • Employee hiring: If you plan to hire employees in your firm, an EIN is necessary for payroll processing and tax withholding.
  • Business bank accounts: Banks typically ask for an EIN before they’ll let you open a business account. This helps keep your personal and business finances separate.
  • Business licenses and permits: When you’re applying for licenses or permits for your business, you often need to provide an EIN.
  • Building business credit: An EIN helps build your business credit profile, which is important for getting approved for loans, credit lines, and other financial services.  

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Who needs to apply for an EIN using Form SS-4?

Any business entity required to file tax returns, hire employees, or operate as a corporation or partnership needs an EIN. This includes employers, sole proprietors, corporations, partnerships, government agencies, estates, trusts, and non-profit organizations.

How to fill out Form SS-4

Now that we’ve covered why Form SS-4 is important, let’s go through how to successfully complete it.

Step 1: Gather your information

First things first, make sure you have all the information you need before you start filling out the form. This includes details about your firm, like what type of entity it is, the reason you’re applying for an EIN, and details about who is authorized to receive the EIN and answer any questions.

Step 2: Fill out the form

Download the latest version of Form SS-4 from the IRS website. When you’re filling out the SS-4 form, it’s important to watch out for common mistakes that could slow things down. Make sure you select the correct type of entity, fill in all the required parts accurately, and sign the form properly. By being careful with these steps, you’ll ensure your application goes smoothly.

Step 3: Submit the application

Next, decide how you want to apply—that could be online, or by mail, fax, or phone. If you go the online route, you can submit the form electronically through the IRS website. For other methods, follow the specific instructions provided by the IRS for submission (you’ll find more on that below).

Step 4: Wait for processing

After submitting the application, the IRS will begin to process it. Online applications typically receive an EIN immediately. If you use a different method, it will take anywhere from a few days to several weeks.

Step 5: Receive EIN confirmation

Once processed, you’ll receive an EIN confirmation letter from the IRS. This letter officially assigns the EIN to your law firm. Keep it handy so you have it for your records.

Step 6: Keep your information updated

Make sure you keep your Form SS-4 information up to date. If anything changes in your firm, like your address or ownership or structure, let the IRS know within 60 days by using Form 8822-B

Graphic of submitting form SS-4 with the IRS online.

Different ways to submit Form SS-4

When it comes to applying for an EIN, you have options. Whether you’re in the U.S., its territories, or abroad, there’s a method for you. Choose the one that best suits your firm’s preferences and needs, especially in terms of how quickly you need the EIN. And remember, stick to one method to avoid any confusion.

Apply online 

The quickest and easiest way to obtain an EIN is by applying online. Simply head to the IRS website at www.irs.gov and fill out the free interview-style application. In most cases, you’ll get your EIN right after you complete it. You can then download, save, and print your confirmation for your records. This option is available for applicants with businesses or offices in the U.S. or its territories. 

If you decide to apply online, you’ll need a valid Taxpayer Identification Number, such as a Social Security Number, Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, or Employer Identification Number. You’ll also have to complete the application in one session, which expires after 15 minutes of inactivity. The online EIN application is available Monday to Friday, from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. ET.

Apply by fax

Prefer to have a physical paper trail? No problem. You can also fax your SS-4 Form to the IRS. This method takes a bit longer to process than applying online, typically about four business days. The fax number is available 24/7. Don’t forget to include your fax number so the IRS can send the EIN back to you.

Apply by mail

As another option, you can mail your Form SS-4 to the IRS. Keep in mind that processing times for mail applications can take up to four weeks. This option is best for those who prefer to have physical documentation.

Here’s the information you’ll need if you decide to mail or fax Form SS-4.

If you’re in one of the 50 states or the District of Columbia:

Internal Revenue Service
Attn: EIN Operation
Cincinnati, OH 45999
Fax: 855-641-6935

If you have no legal residence, principal place of business, or principal office or agency in any state:
Internal Revenue Service
Attn: EIN International Operation
Cincinnati, OH  45999
Fax: 855-215-1627 (within the U.S.)
Fax: 304-707-9471 (outside the U.S.)

Apply by phone

For international applicants only, applying by phone is an option. To obtain your EIN, call 267-941-1099 any time between 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. ET from Monday to Friday.

Pro tip:  Remember to set aside time to complete Form SS-4 before contacting the IRS. A representative will use the information provided to assign you an EIN—so it’s best to have everything ready for them.

The final word on IRS Form SS-4

As you can see, obtaining an EIN is a critical step for any new law firm—and completing Form SS-4 is an important part of that process. By following this step-by-step guide, you can effortlessly navigate the process, ensuring that your Form SS-4 is filled out accurately and submitted promptly. In doing so, you’ll lay a strong foundation for your firm’s success from the very beginning.

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Disclaimer: This article is provided for informational purposes only for US-based residents. It does not constitute legal, business, or tax advice.

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