If you’re an independent contractor or freelancer, you’ve likely filled out a W-9. If you’ve earned interest from a bank or dividends from a mutual fund, you’ve probably also encountered the W-9 form.
As its name implies, the W-9—the Request for Taxpayer Identification Number and Certification—asks for identifying information such as your name, mailing address, and taxpayer ID.
Unlike with many other tax forms, you don’t complete the W-9 and send it to the IRS.
Instead, you send it to whoever asked you to complete one, be it a business owner who hires you to do freelance work or the bank where you have an interest-earning account. They will use that information to fill out paperwork come tax time so the IRS knows how much money they paid you.
Here’s what else you need to know about the IRS form W-9 and how to complete it accurately.
Do I need to fill out a W-9 form?
Beyond independent contracting and freelancing gigs, there are also other situations where you have to fill out a W-9 form.
For example, the W-9 will come into play if you:
- Have proceeds from real estate transactions
- Paid mortgage interest
- Paid student loan interest
- Have canceled debt
- Earned interest from a bank
How to fill out a W-9 form
1. Download the W-9 form from the IRS website
Although you’ll often be supplied a copy of the form, you can also download the form from the IRS website yourself.
2. Provide your full legal name and business name
Line 1 of the form will ask you for your legal name.
If your business is a partnership, multi-member LLC, C corporation, or S corporation, you should use your entity’s legal name.
If you have a separate business name or DBA name, make sure to enter that information on line 2.
3. Describe your business structure
Next, select the business structure in line 3 that matches your situation. This is so the IRS knows how you’re classified for tax purposes.
Most individuals and business types do not have to fill out anything in line 4. You may need to if your business is structured as a corporation though, so make sure to double check with your tax accountant.
4. Enter your mailing address
Lines 5 and 6 are straightforward: write down the mailing address where you want to receive important tax information.
If you’re filling out the W-9 as a freelancer, your client will use this address when they prepare your 1099-MISC, which is essential for filing your taxes accurately. If you’re filling out a W-9 for other reasons, this address is where you’ll receive any additional correspondence.
5. Provide your Social Security number or Employer Identification Number
Next, move down to Part I. This is the main point of the form, the spot where you need to enter your Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN).
Typically, you either use your Social Security Number (SSN) or your Employer Identification Number (EIN). It all depends on your business structure.
|If you are…||Enter your||Unless|
|A sole proprietor||SSN or EIN|
|The owner of a single-member LLC that is taxed as a disregarded entity||SSN||If you personally have an EIN, you can use that as well. But don’t use your LLC’s EIN.|
|The owner of an LLC that is classified as a corporation or partnership||EIN|
|The owner of any other type of business entity||EIN|
See if you need to sign and date the form
Part II is the certification part of the form. Now, this last part of form W-9 is funky.
If the IRS has told you that you are subject to backup withholding, you’ll need to cross out #2. Otherwise, leave that part alone.
Technically, you could be done with the W-9 form at this point. That’s because you don’t need to sign Part II in many situations.
The IRS only requires you to sign the W-9 if you’re completing it because of:
- An interest, dividend, broker, or barter exchange accounts opened after 1983;
- A broker account considered inactive during 1983; or
- A real estate transaction.
However, the IRS also allows the form W-9 requester to require you to sign it. This is often requested to confirm that you are indeed a U.S. citizen or resident alien.
If you do sign it when you don’t need to, that’s generally okay, too—unless the statements are not true.
Once you have completed the form and reviewed it for accuracy, submit it to whoever asked for it. Since it has important identity information, make sure to only send it to people and institutions you know and trust.