When it comes to EIN vs. ITIN vs. SSN, there are key differences to understand. An EIN is an SSN for a business. For those operating a sole proprietorship, they can simply use their SSN for business tax purposes. If you want to form an LLC, hire employees, or establish business credit, you need an EIN. An ITIN differs from an EIN and SSN because it is for individuals who are non-residents who do business in the United States and therefore need to file taxes. Only U.S. citizens and authorized non-citizens are eligible for an SSN and EIN.
EIN vs. ITIN vs. SSN: It’s safe to say that if someone is not an entrepreneur, they probably only know the definition of the last acronym in that trio. As a business owner, on the other hand, you’re likely more than familiar with all three terms—especially if you handle your own business taxes.
Most small business owners have an employer identification number (EIN), an individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN), and a social security number (SSN). This allows the IRS to identify and account for their business entities. Obtaining these numbers also ensures individuals remain in compliance with tax laws in the United States.
What these numbers are not, however, are identical copies of one another. Let’s take a closer look at the definition of each federal ID, what it is used for, and why an entrepreneur needs one to conduct business.
A social security number (SSN) is a nine-digit number issued to U.S. citizens and permanent residents. Over the course of one’s lifetime, the U.S. government will use this number to track your earnings and years employed. Once you are ready to retire, this number will be used by the U.S. government to determine the amount of social security benefits you receive.
Social security numbers were originally created in 1936 with cards issued to their owners in 1972. Added measures would be taken in later years to prevent against the card’s alteration and forgery. In 1983, under Section 205(c)(2)(G) of the Social Security Act (SSA), it was stated that social security cards would be made with bank-note paper and could not be counterfeited.
SSNs protect a great deal of your personal information. As such, they are also susceptible to potential identity theft. It’s important to guard this number closely, or consider getting another, less sensitive federal ID as an added precaution. We’ll talk a little more about that in a moment.
Before you owned a small business, your SSN played a key role in getting hired for new jobs or even obtaining a driver’s license. What can you use a social security number for as a small business owner?
You will need to complete Form SS-5, Application for a Social Security Card in order to obtain an SSN. Form SS-5 is also available by calling 1-800-772-1213 or visiting your local Social Security office. To get an SSN, you must submit evidence of your identity, age, and U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status. It is free to apply for an SSN.
U.S. residents typically do not need to worry about obtaining an SSN since they have already been issued one by the SSA. What they do need to consider is taking action to safeguard these numbers. It may be in their best interest to obtain an EIN next.
An employer identification number (EIN) is a nine-digit number issued by the IRS to identify a business entity. Once you have applied for an EIN, you may use this federal tax ID to legally identify your business. You may also continue using your SSN, too.
The uses for an EIN are numerous for entrepreneurs. Here are a few of the benefits of having (and using) one to identify your business.
You can apply for an EIN online, by phone, by fax, and by mail through the IRS at no charge. All EIN applications must disclose the name and taxpayer identification number (SSN or ITIN) of the true principal officer, general partner, grantor, owner or trustor. To apply online, visit the IRS website application page. Once the application is completed, the information is validated during the online session, and an EIN is issued immediately. Applying by mail takes four weeks while applying by fax takes four days. You can apply by phone by calling 267-941-1099 (note, this is not a toll-free number) 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. ET Monday through Friday.
Did you know that once you have an EIN, it never expires? That’s just an added perk to obtaining this federal tax ID. Beyond the lack of expiration date, an EIN is also critical to safeguarding your SSN. You may use it in lieu of your SSN on various official documents pertaining to your business.
That being said, however, it’s important to protect your EIN just as much as you would an SSN. An EIN is still susceptible to identity theft, so be careful not to leave it written in plain sight where someone might see it.
Let’s say you are an individual (who may be either a U.S. resident or nonresident alien) that needs a U.S. taxpayer ID number. You are in a situation where you are required to file a U.S. tax return or present a federal tax ID. However, you don’t have an SSN and aren’t eligible for one either. For circumstances like these, the IRS will issue an individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN).
An ITIN only has a few purposes, most of which center around staying in compliance with U.S. tax laws. According to the IRS, the shortlist of things one cannot do with an ITIN includes the following.
To obtain an ITIN, you must complete IRS Form W-7, IRS Application for Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. W-7 requires documentation substantiating foreign/alien status and true identity for each individual. You can mail your documentation to the address shown in the Form W-7 instructions, present it at IRS walk-in offices, or process your application through an Acceptance Agent authorized by the IRS. Acceptance agents are entities (colleges, financial institutions, accounting firms, etc.) that are authorized by the IRS to assist applicants in obtaining ITINs.
The only real purpose that an ITIN provides entrepreneurs is federal tax reporting. These numbers do not serve any other purposes for business owners. This is still an important function to ensure your U.S. tax returns have been filed, so if you know you need an ITIN, it is recommended that you apply for the number as quickly as possible.
Now that you know what an EIN, ITIN, and SSN are, let’s compare all three from a business perspective to better understand how they can benefit you.
Essentially, an SSN is for U.S. citizens and “authorized noncitizen residents”—such as green card holders and students on visas. An ITIN, on the other hand, is for residents with foreign status. This includes undocumented aliens and nonresident aliens that conduct business in the United States. Foreign entities that operate in the United States, including corporations, partnerships, and LLCs, would also need an ITIN.
So the main difference when it comes to ITIN vs. SSN is that an SSN is required if you want to work in the United States, and an ITIN is required if you want to do business in the United States. Note that individuals with ITINs don’t necessarily need SSNs, unless they are employed in the United States (rather than their home country). In other words, only non-citizens with authorization to work in the U.S. are eligible for SSNs. SSNs also provide other benefits, such as the ability to collect social security and have access to other social services.
An EIN is an SSN for your business. For those simply operating sole proprietorships, they can use their SSN with the IRS for tax purposes and to open a business bank account. If you form an LLC, want to hire employees, or establish business credit, though, you’ll need to obtain an EIN.
The main difference between an EIN and an ITIN is that an EIN is used to identify a business, while an ITIN is used by people who must file a tax return, but are not eligible to work in the United States. Said another way, an EIN is an SSN for your business, whereas an ITIN is a type of EIN for folks who cannot work in the United States, but do business in the United States. An ITIN could actually be considered an EIN for individuals ineligible for SSNs because it allows them to handle business taxes.
Now that you have a thorough understanding of each of these federal IDs, take a look at each one to determine which your business—and you as its owner—requires. If you are still unsure, consult with a business attorney or accountant for additional assistance.
Deborah Sweeney is a contributing writer for Fundera.
Deborah is the CEO of MyCorporation.com. MyCorporation is a leader in online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and businesses, providing start-up bundles that include corporation and LLC formation, registered agent, DBA, and trademark & copyright filing services. MyCorporation does all the work, making the business formation and maintenance quick and painless, so business owners can focus on what they do best. Deborah primarily focuses on legal and incorporation topics and considerations for Fundera.