One of the indicators of a legitimate business in the United States is that it has a valid Tax Identification Number, or TIN. One type of TIN is an Employer Identification Number (or EIN), a number the IRS issues and uses to track businesses for tax reporting purposes.
Without an EIN, a business can’t legally operate inside the US. So one of the steps an organization should take when verifying a potential business client or partner is to look up its EIN. The organization should make sure the company both has a valid EIN and isn’t using the EIN of another company. This article discusses some ways of doing all this.
Let’s first answer some basic questions: what is an EIN search, and why would a business want to look up another company’s EIN?
An Employer Identification Number (EIN) search is a check to ensure a business has a legitimate EIN, and that the EIN actually corresponds to that business. An EIN is a unique number the IRS issues to businesses operating in the US, and is used primarily for tracking corporate tax reporting.
The main reason to complete an EIN number search is to determine if a business is registered to operate inside the US. All commercial organizations doing business in the US must apply for and receive EINs from the IRS before they are legally authorized to function, including hiring and paying employees. So a business not having an EIN, or using another organization’s EIN, is a big red flag that they’re untrustworthy.
This is especially important for the financial industry. A business requires an EIN number to open a bank account, obtain credit, and make investments. A business also needs an EIN number to separate corporate finances and taxes from those of individual shareholders and employees. For insurance purposes, this protects individuals from being held liable for the actions of the business. A company that has a false or missing EIN number is a huge risk factor for all of these reasons.
There are several places you can search for the EIN number of a business, but some are faster and more accessible than others. In addition, some are counted as being more official for the purpose of complying with KYB regulations. Here are some fundamental options.
How compliant is this method?: Exceeds Standards
How fast is this method?: Extremely Fast
The most efficient option is to use a database tool that specializes in looking up business information (like EIN numbers), such as Middesk. These solutions are set up to search several of the official sources listed below at once, so you know you’re getting the information from a reliable source. They’re also configured to refresh the information at regular intervals, so you don’t have to worry about the information being out of date. And they work extremely quickly, which is great for smoothing onboarding processes while staying compliant with KYB obligations.
The main drawback is that it costs money. But several of the options below do as well, and are much slower and/or less accurate at finding the information you’re looking for.
How compliant is this method?: Meets Standards
How fast is this method?: Extremely Slow
Since EIN numbers are mandatory for businesses to operate in the US, they may be found on government registration documents. A good first place to look for these is the Secretary of State portal for the company’s home state. It can also be fruitful to try a direct IRS EIN search, especially for charities and non-profit organizations (which will be listed in the Tax Exempt Organizations database).
Each database’s interface is different, though, so it may take some digging and getting used to the settings before you find the information you’re looking for. Also note that, in some cases, you will be required to pay a fee to conduct a search.
How compliant is this method?: Meets Standards
How fast is this method?: Slow
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) oversees all public stock transactions in the US. So its EDGAR system can be used to find officially-registered information about companies that publicly list their shares for trade. This will often include the company’s EIN number, sometimes referred to as its IRS number.
This method only works if the company in question is publicly offering its shares for trade. If the company isn’t listed on a public stock exchange, the SEC may not have its information available.
How compliant is this method?: Meets Standards
How fast is this method?: Very Slow
Business credit reports aren’t subject to the same level of privacy protections as individual consumer credit reports are. That means pretty much anyone can request a company’s credit report – which may contain the company’s EIN number, among other information – from a major credit bureau. Many of these institutions have been in business for a long time, so they’re generally legitimate sources to get information from.
On the other hand, ordering a report from a credit bureau usually costs money. In addition, depending on the credit bureau’s policies and available information, it may not include a company’s EIN number in a report. Be sure to confirm this one way or the other with the credit bureau before you place an order.
How compliant is this method?: Does Not Usually Meet Standards
How fast is this method?: Very Slow (Will vary from company to company)
Unlike the related Social Security Number, an EIN number is generally not thought of as sensitive information. So a company may have this number displayed on its website or in its print publications. It’s also possible to ask the company’s payroll or accounting department for this number via email, phone call, or some other method of communication.
There are some major caveats to the reliability of this strategy, though. One is that the company employee(s) you get in contact with may be hesitant to give out the company’s EIN number if you don’t properly explain why you legitimately need it. Another is that the EIN number they give you could be out of date; this could happen if the company needed to apply for a new EIN number due to changing its ownership structure.
Finally, informally documenting an EIN number in this manner (like writing down a dictation over the phone) may not always be sufficient for complying with certain KYB standards.
Business EIN search databases can differ in their processes and options, depending on which state or company is providing them. As a demonstration, here’s how to search an EIN number with Middesk’s Business Verification tool.
To find the EIN of a company registered in the US, two critical pieces of information are needed. The first is, obviously, the company’s name. The second is the name of the state in which the company was registered or incorporated, since businesses in the US are by-and-large governed at the state level.
Sometimes, companies will have similar names or stylize their names in different ways. Check all labels in the search results carefully to ensure that you are going to be viewing information for the correct business.
Information on companies in Middesk comes straight from state business registries and is updated every 2 hours. So not only do you get a company’s EIN from an official source, but it will be up-to-date in case anything has changed in the company’s ownership structure recently. You will also be able to view other information on the company that may assist with KYB compliance, such as its business license or articles of incorporation.
If you aren’t able to get a company’s EIN by contacting the business itself, there are other good places to look. The best places to search for an EIN by company name are in government registries, major credit bureaus, or specialized business information databases (like ours at Middesk!). Here are a few specific places where you can start looking.
Best for: A wide array of verified identity information and other risk-related info about a business
Middesk’s Business Verification solution provides essential information for verifying a company’s identity and assessing the risks of associating with it. This doesn’t just include registration information such as names, addresses, states of incorporation, documents, and EIN. It also includes sanctions screening for both the business and its associated people; industry classification and risk score; and litigation and bankruptcy information.
Middesk also updates its information frequently, and keeps a log of these updates for each business. That way, you’ll be able to monitor a company and track when information regarding it is added or changed.
Best for: Finding companies listed on public stock exchanges
If a US company is large enough to offer its shares for public trade, it has to file information and reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission. So the SEC’s EDGAR (Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis, and Retrieval) database is a good place to look in order to find free public information on these companies. A company’s filings on EDGAR will likely include its EIN (or IRS number).
However, EDGAR doesn’t typically have information on smaller companies that don’t offer stock options, such as sole proprietorships. It also won’t have information on charities or non-profit organizations.
Best for: Narrowing the search for a business by the state in which it was registered
All businesses in the US must register with the Secretary of State office in the state where they start their operations. So if you know which state that is, it can help narrow down a search if looking up a company’s information by name.
Each state’s Secretary of State portal doesn’t work the same way, though. So you may need to get used to different settings and processes to dig for the information you need if you’re looking for multiple businesses that are registered in different states. Also be aware that certain states require registering an account and paying fees to conduct business filing searches.
For quick reference, Middesk has a directory of Secretary of State websites for all 50 US states, including D.C.
Best for: Finding the EINs of charities and non-profit organizations
Even if they aren’t registered with the SEC, charities and nonprofits still have to be registered with the IRS as tax-exempt organizations. So you can look up their information in the IRS’s Tax Exempt Organization database. You should be able to find those organizations’ EINs there, as EINs are issued by the IRS as well.
Best for: Information and predictions that help with assessing a business for risk
Equifax is another well-known credit bureau that has been in business for over a century. In addition to public information on a business, like an EIN, a credit report from Equifax will also include a score indicating how likely a business will fail within a year (and why). It may also have information on the demographic makeup of the business, the company’s payment history, and other people or companies associated with the business.
All of this information can be very useful for KYB risk assessment, but it’s fairly pricey to get.
Best for: Monitoring a specific company’s risk level over time
A relatively new major credit reporting company, Experian’s reports include basic information on companies such as their EIN. They also include other information that can be useful in verifying a business, along with potential indicators of risk for the company.
Experian also allows for generating unlimited reports on particular businesses, highlighting any changes that may increase a company’s risk profile.
A valid EIN is a key indicator for whether a potential business client or partner is legally operating in the US. But it’s just one of many pieces of information required to verify the identity of a business and its owners. That’s not to mention assessing the business for risk factors, even if it turns out to be legitimate.
Middesk provides all the information your company needs – EIN numbers included – to comply with KYB identity verification and risk assessment requirements for onboarding businesses. Contact our sales team to learn more.