Filling Out Form W-9: Request for Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN) and Certification

If you work as a freelancer or independent contractor, most of your clients should ask you to complete Form W-9, Request for Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN) and Certification. This form helps businesses receive key information from their vendors in order to prepare information returns for the IRS. Businesses have to file information returns using Form 1099-MISC whenever they pay a freelancer or independent contractor a total of $600 or more during the year.

Your clients will use the information on your W-9 to put your name, business name, address, and taxpayer identification number (TIN) on the 1099-MISC they file about you. They will send one copy of 1099-MISC to the IRS and another copy to you in late January, following the end of the tax year.

Key Takeaways

  • Form W-9 is used to transmit tax information from one party to another.
  • The form is used to convey Form 1099 information to taxpayers working as independent contracts in addition to other manners.
  • Form W-9 asks for the taxpayer's name, tax identification number, address, and specific information about you or your company.
  • Form W-9 is used by individuals, corporations, trusts, and other entities.
  • You must be mindful that Form W-9 contains sensitive information; store copies you've received and transmit copies you've completed securely.

When Form W-9 Is Needed

You might be asked to fill out a W-9 for a number of reasons include:

  • Certain real estate transactions
  • Mortgage interest paid
  • Acquisition or abandonment of secured property
  • Cancellation of debt
  • Contributions to an individual retirement arrangement (IRA)

Form W-9 is used specific to collect tax information from U.S. persons including resident aliens. It is also used to collect information from partnerships, corporations, companies, estates, or domestic trusts.

How to Complete Form W-9

Form W-9 is one of the easiest IRS forms to complete, but if tax forms make you nervous, don’t worry. We’ll walk you through the proper way to complete it.

Step 1: Enter your name as shown on your tax return.

Step 2: Enter your business name or "disregarded entity" name, if different from the name you entered for step 1. For example, you might be a sole proprietorship, but for marketing purposes, you don’t use your personal name as your business name; instead, you are “doing business as” some other name. You would enter that name here. As for the disregarded entity part, if you don’t know what it is, you probably aren’t one. The most common disregarded entity type is a single-member limited liability company.

Step 3: What type of business entity are you for federal tax classification: sole proprietorship, partnership, C corporation, S corporation, trust/estate, limited liability company, or “other”? Check the appropriate box. If you’re not sure, you’re probably a sole proprietorship, because you would have had to file a lot of paperwork to become one of the other entities.

Step 4: Exemptions. Chances are you’re going to leave these boxes blank. Here are a couple of exceptions: 

1. Payees that are exempt from backup withholding, such as corporations (in most cases), might need to enter a code in the “Exempt payee code” box. The Form W-9 instructions list the exempt payees and their codes and the types of payments for which these codes should be used. Corporations filling out a W-9 for receipt of interest or dividend payments, for example, would enter code “5.”

2. Payees that are exempt from reporting under the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) might need to enter a code in the “Exemption from FATCA reporting code” box. Neither of these boxes will apply to the typical independent contractor or freelancer.

Step 5: Provide your street address, city, state, and zip code. What if your home address is different from your business address? Which address should you provide on Form W-9? Use the address that you will use on your tax return. For example, if you’re a sole proprietor who rents office space, but you file your tax return using your home address, enter your home address on form W-9 so the IRS won’t have trouble matching your 1099s with your Form 1040.

Step 6: In this optional step, you can provide the requester’s name and address. You might want to fill out this box to keep a record of to whom you provided your tax identification number.

Step 7: The IRS calls this section Part I, which has to make you wonder what all those steps you just completed were. Here, you must provide your business’s tax identification number, which will either be your individual Social Security Number(SSN) if you’re a sole proprietorship, or your employer identification number (EIN) if you’re another type of business. Now, some sole proprietorships also have EINs, but the IRS prefers that sole proprietors use their SSNs on form W-9. Again, doing so will make it easier to match any 1099s you receive with your tax return, which you will file under your SSN.

What if your business is new and doesn’t have an EIN? You can still fill out form W-9. The IRS says you should apply for your number and write “applied for” in the space for the TIN. You’ll want to get this number as quickly as possible because, until you do, you’ll be subject to backup withholding. You can apply for an EIN at the IRS website. See the instructions below for Step 8, Part II, for more on backup withholding.

Step 8: In Part II, you must attest to the truthfulness of all of your information before you can sign form W-9. Intentionally lying on a tax form could mean you’ll have to pay a fine or go to jail; the IRS doesn’t mess around. Before signing form W-9, here are the statements you must certify are true, under penalty of perjury:

1. The number shown on this form is my correct taxpayer identification number (or I am waiting for a number to be issued to me).

If you were thinking about using a “borrowed,” stolen or made-up tax ID number, think twice before lying under oath.

2. I am not subject to backup withholding because: (a) I am exempt from backup withholding, or (b) I have not been notified by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) that I am subject to backup withholding as a result of a failure to report all interest or dividends, or (c) the IRS has notified me that I am no longer subject to backup withholding.

Most taxpayers are exempt from backup withholding. If you have no idea what the IRS is talking about here, you’re probably exempt. If you aren’t exempt, the IRS will have notified you, and the company paying you needs to know because it is required to withhold income tax from your pay at a flat rate of 24% and send it to the IRS. Incidentally, now you know another good reason not to cheat on your tax return: You might have to tell a future client about it, and that might make the company think twice about you. Item (c) basically says that if you were once subject to backup withholding but aren’t anymore, no one needs to know.

3. I am a U.S. citizen or other U.S. person.

If you’re a resident alien, you’re in the clear. The IRS also considers the following to be a “U.S. person”: a partnership, corporation, company, or association created or organized in the United States or under the laws of the United States; a domestic estate; and a domestic trust. If your business is a partnership that has a foreign partner, special rules apply; read about them in the instructions to form W-9. If you aren’t a U.S. citizen, you may need to fill out form W-8 or form 8233 instead.

4. The FATCA code(s) entered on this form (if any) indicating that I am exempt from FATCA reporting is correct.

You probably won’t need to worry about this one, which has to do with the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA).

Consider keeping a single copy of a Form W-9 on file, as you can send copies of Form W-9 to those who ask.

Special Considerations When Filing Form W-9

Form W-9 tells you to cross out item 2 above if you have been notified by the IRS that you are currently subject to backup withholding because you have failed to report all interest and dividends on your tax return.

You may cross out item 2 if you’re filling out Form W-9 in connection with a real estate transaction. Item 2 doesn’t apply in this case, so it doesn’t matter if you’re subject to backup withholding.

Now, if you read the fine print in the W-9 instructions carefully, it seems to indicate that most people aren’t required to sign this form at all. You’re generally only required to sign it if the IRS has notified you that you previously provided an incorrect TIN. Technicalities aside, however, the person who asked you to fill out Form W-9 will probably consider it incomplete or invalid if you haven’t signed it, and good luck trying to convince them otherwise.

Returning Form W-9

Return your completed form W-9 to the business that asked you to fill it out. Ideally, you’ll deliver it in person to limit your exposure to identity theft, but this method often isn’t practical. Mail is considered relatively secure. If you must email the form, you should encrypt both the document and your email message and triple-check that you have the recipient’s correct email address before sending your message. Free services are available online to help you do this, but check their reputations before trusting your documents to them.

In addition to being careful of how you send a Form W-9, be respectful and considerate on how you store Form W-9 for independent contractorss that work for you.

Substitute Form W-9

The IRS allows taxpayers to create and use their own Form W-9. This variation is referred to as a substitute Form W-9. The IRS states the form must be substantially similar to the official IRS Form W-9, and it must satisfy certain certification requirements. The certifications on the substitute Form W-9 must clearly state that under penalties of perjury all of the criteria are correct:

  • The payee's TIN is correct.
  • The payee is not subject to backup withholding due to failure to report interest and dividend income.
  • The payee is a U.S. person.
  • The FATCA code entered on this form (if any) indicating that the payee is exempt from FATCA reporting is correct.

 The IRS allows that users can provide certification instructions on a substitute Form W-9 in a manner similar to the official form. This including exempting reporters from FATCA reporting. However, use of the substitute form does not allow using a substitute W-9 for matters unrelated to an original W-9 or to imply that a payee is subject to backup withholding unless certain unrelated provisions are met.

What Is the Difference Between a W-9 and a 1099?

Form W-9 is used to collect information from a taxpayer. That information is then used to remit appropriate tax forms to the taxpayer. One of those forms may be a Form 1099 which is issued to report earnings to an independent contractor or other individual that receives payments for various reasons. While a W-9 is used to receive information from a taxpayer, a 1099 is used to convey information the other way.

Do I File a W-9 With the IRS?

No, Form W-9 is conveyed to an employer that reports taxes on your behalf. That information is also used to prepare and distribute appropriate tax forms as needed. Your Form W-9 is not included in your tax return, and you do not need to directly send a copy of your Form W-9 to the IRS.

Can I Refuse to Fill Out a W-9?

Yes, you can refuse to fill out a Form W-9. In some cases, you may not feel comfortable transmitting this sensitive information to unknown parties, especially using the means being requested. On the other hand, reasonable requests should be met. Be mindful that should you refuse to provide tax information, companies will often maximize the amount of tax withholding to be most conservative in accordance to IRS regulation.

Why Would a Vendor Request a Form W-9?

A vendors often asks you for a W-9 if they are going to pay you more than $600 in a calendar year and you meet other requirements requiring a federal tax return filing. Using the W-9, the vendor is likely going to issue a Form 1099-NEC or Form 1099-MISC to you at the conclusion of the year.

The Bottom Line

Providing accurate information on your Form W-9 will help ensure that payments you receive – or other transactions that require this form – are properly reported to the IRS. If you're unsure of some items, such as the proper classification of your business, check with your accountant or another financial adviser.

Article Sources
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  1. Internal Revenue Service. "About Form W-9: Request for Taxpayer Identification Number and Certification."

  2. Internal Revenue Service. "About Form 1099-MISC: Miscellaneous Income."

  3. Internal Revenue Service. "About Form 1099-MISC, Miscellaneous Income," Page 8.

  4. Internal Revenue Service. "Single Member Limited Liability Companies."

  5. Internal Revenue Service. "Reduced 24-Percent Withholding Rate Applies to Small Businesses and Other Taxpayers."

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