IRS Form SS-4 Instructions: What It Is and How to Find Yours

Updated on October 28, 2020
form ss-4

Applying for a small business loan can be overwhelming, but there are a few things you can do in advance to make the business loan application process go smoothly. Along with filing your most recent year’s business income tax return (and any past due tax returns, too), you’ll also want to locate and make copies of the documents your lender is likely to request. Among these documents is your IRS Form SS-4.

As a reminder, IRS Form SS-4, Application for Employer Identification Number, is simply how you apply for an employer identification number (EIN). Even though almost every small business owner has filled out this form, it’s likely that you don’t have a copy handy to show your business lenders.

Here’s everything you need to know about IRS Form SS-4, why it’s important to your lenders, and how to obtain yours.

What Is IRS Form SS-4?

If you’re not familiar with IRS Form SS-4 by name, don’t worry. IRS Form SS-4 is nothing more than the official form number the IRS has given the “Application for Employer Identification Number” form. This is the form that business entities use to apply for an employer identification number (EIN); you might also know your EIN as your business tax ID number that you use when filing your small business taxes

What Is an EIN and Why Apply for It?

An employer identification number, aka an EIN, is a unique, nine-digit number that many types of businesses are required to obtain for tax purposes. If a business has employees, they need an EIN to pay and file payroll taxes. And certain types of business entities need an EIN to file a business income tax return.

Sole proprietorships and single-person LLCs with no employees are the only types of business entities that are exempt from this requirement. That said, all U.S.-based businesses have the option of getting an EIN; and actually, we’d recommend that you do.

There are lots of benefits to having an EIN. For example, with an EIN, you can streamline your bookkeeping processes by separating your personal and business finances, open a business bank account, establish business credit, and even speed up your business loan application.

A Closer Look at IRS Form SS-4

The easiest way to apply for an EIN is by filling out the IRS Form SS-4 online, which you can find right on the IRS website. The form is only one page long, and completing it should be a fairly straightforward task.

Expect to provide information like:

  • Your business’s legal name and address
  • Name of applicant and their SSN, ITIN, or EIN
  • Type of entity
  • Reason for applying for an EIN
  • Date your business started
  • Highest number of expected employees in the next year
  • Principal business activity
  • Principal type of products or services sold or rendered

Also, note that business owners themselves don’t need to apply for their business’s EIN—you can delegate that task to any responsible party, which the IRS defines as the individual or entity that “controls, manages, or directs the applicant entity and the disposition of its funds and assets.”[1] Regardless of whom you choose to fill out your IRS Form SS-4, know that they also how the option of applying via mail, fax, or phone (phone for international applicants only).

irs form ss-4

Why Your Lender Will Request a Copy of Your IRS Form SS-4

When you apply for a small business loan, your lender might ask you for your IRS Form SS-4. But they’re not actually asking for a copy of your EIN application itself. Rather, when a lender requests this form, they’re really asking for the notice the IRS sends out once they’ve assigned your EIN. (Because IRS Form SS-4 is referenced on this notice, the notice itself is often referred to as Form SS-4.)

But why do your lenders need your SS-4 notice at all? Like social security numbers, EINs are private. In fact, you can think of your EIN as your business’s social security number.

If you were applying for a personal loan, your lender could verify your social security number just by inspecting your social security card. But verifying an EIN is a little trickier. Cards aren’t issued for EINs like they are for social security numbers, but lenders still need to be able to verify them—and that’s exactly why they’ll request a business’s SS-4 notice that you get after filing the IRS Form SS-4. 

Why You Need IRS Form SS-4 to Verify Your EIN

Can’t my lender just use my tax return to verify my EIN? Unfortunately, no. The IRS uses the EIN reported on your tax return to match your return to your business—but clerical errors and typos do happen.

It’s possible that your tax preparer entered your EIN incorrectly, and the IRS hasn’t notified you of the error yet. This is actually a pretty common error with returns filed on paper rather than electronically. And it can take the IRS months—sometimes even longer—to identify the error and notify you of it.

Your lender knows that those little errors can occur, so they want to get straight to the source of the information—the SS-4 itself.

And you want to be approved quickly, too! So your lender needs to be sure they’re using the correct EIN when they’re reviewing your loan application and underwriting your business loan. They can’t risk a clerical error resulting in a delayed underwriting process, let alone an unwise lending decision.

What If You Don’t Have an SS-4 Notice?

If you’re a sole proprietor or an LLC with no employees, you might not have gotten an EIN at all (these are the only two types of business entities that aren’t required to get an EIN for tax purposes).

If that describes your business, don’t worry. You won’t need to suddenly get an EIN or complete IRS Form SS-4 to apply for a loan; the loan will be in your name, and your lender will use your social security number in lieu of an EIN.

But remember that if you’re any other kind of business entity, your business is considered a separate and distinct legal entity from yourself. Even if you’re asked to provide a personal guarantee for the loan, you’ll still need to complete your loan application in the name of the corporation, using your corporation’s EIN instead of your personal SSN. In that case, you’ll need your SS-4.

irs form ss-4

How to Obtain Your IRS Form SS-4 Notice: Instructions

Your IRS Form SS-4 notice is just one of many documents your business loan lender might ask to see. But if you’ve been in business for years, you may not have exactly kept track of your form’s whereabouts.  

Don’t panic! You might have a copy of your IRS Form SS-4 notice on your hard drive or in your cloud-based filing system and not even realize it. If you applied for your EIN online, you received this notice—along with your EIN—immediately as a PDF.

Barring that, you can get a copy of your EIN assignment letter right from the IRS. But before you call the IRS directly, there are two more things you should try:

  • U.S.-based banks require a copy of your IRS Form SS-4 notice in order to open business bank accounts. Contact your banker and ask if they can provide you with a printout of the copy they have in their records.
  • If you engaged an accountant when you first started your business, your accountant might have completed your EIN application form for you. At the very least, they probably asked for a copy before completing your first tax return. Ask your accountant if he or she has a copy of your IRS Form SS-4 notice in their files.

How to Request a Copy of Your IRS Form SS-4: Instructions

If all your attempts to recover a copy of your IRS Form SS-4 notice have failed, you’ll have to request a copy of your EIN assignment letter directly from the IRS. Fortunately, this is relatively easy to do.

You can request a replacement copy by calling the IRS Business and Specialty Tax Line. The phone number is (800) 829-4933, and the line is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., taxpayer local time, Monday through Friday.

The tax specialist will ask you to provide your EIN and some identifying information about your business. They’ll also ask for your title within the business in order to prove you’re authorized to receive a copy of the EIN assignment letter.

Once you’ve satisfied the security requirements, the tax specialist will make arrangements to send you a copy of your business’s EIN assignment letter by mail or by fax. For security purposes, the letter will be sent to the address or fax number the IRS has on file for your business.

Requesting a copy of your EIN assignment letter is easy, but it will take some time to receive the copy, especially if the IRS has to mail it to you. The tax specialist will be able to tell you how long to expect to wait.

irs form ss-4

Before Applying for a Loan, Prep Your Documentation—Including Your IRS Form SS-4 Notice

If you plan to apply for a business loan, it’s a good idea to make sure you have all your documentation—including your IRS Form SS-4 notice—on hand before you begin the application process. Scrambling to find or request this documentation once you’ve started the application process will only delay your loan approval… and the funding you need for your business.

If you don’t know where your IRS Form SS-4 notice is, take some time to locate it. If you can’t find it in your files, request a copy of your EIN assignment letter from the IRS. Then, store this—along with your other important business documents—in a safe place like a cloud-based storage system. This will help streamline your business loan application process when the time comes for funding, so you’ll be able to move your business forward that much faster.

Article Sources:

  1. “Responsible Parties and Nominees

Billie Anne Grigg

Billie Anne Grigg

Billie Anne Grigg is a contributing writer for Fundera.

Billie Anne has been a bookkeeper since before the turn of the century. She is a QuickBooks Online ProAdvisor, LivePlan Expert Advisor, FreshBooks Certified Beancounter, and a Mastery Level Certified Profit First Professional. She is also a guide for the Profit First Professionals organization. 

Billie Anne started Pocket Protector Bookkeeping in 2012 to provide an excellent virtual bookkeeping and managerial accounting solution for small businesses that cannot yet justify employing a full-time, in-house bookkeeping staff.

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