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Think of an EIN as a Social Security number for corporate entities

An Employer Identification Number (EIN), also referred to as a federal tax identification number, is a unique number that identifies your organization with the IRS. Think of it as a Social Security number for corporate entities โ€” although the name is a bit misleading, since even nonprofits without employees require an EIN.

Apply online

Once you've filed articles of incorporation with your state (designating your nonprofit as legally incorporated), apply for an EIN by filing IRS Form SS-4. Applying online is easiest and actually preferred by the IRS.

The EIN application is set up like an interview. You're asked a series of questions, and a form is filled out with your responses. You'll need to name someone as your organization's principal officer โ€” typically your chief financial officer or treasurer โ€” and provide his or her Social Security number.

The IRS will also ask a few questions about the type of organization you're running. Refer to your articles of incorporation for easy answers.

Enjoy instant gratification

The best part of the online form? Once you submit the application, you'll receive your EIN immediately. At this point, the IRS considers you a legally formed tax-exempt organization. You'll have three years to begin submitting annual information returns (IRS Form 990, 990-N or 990-EZ). The three-year meter starts running as soon as you receive your EIN.

This article draws on the expertise of Grace Davies, a Minneapolis-based attorney with special interest in product liability, medical malpractice and employment discrimination.

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MissionBox editorial content is offered as guidance only, and is not meant, nor should it be construed as, a replacement for certified, professional expertise.

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Librarian, freelance researcher and nonprofit enthusiast