What Is a Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS) Number?

A data universal numbering system or DUNS number is a unique, nine-digit series of numerals that identifies a business. Dun & Bradstreet (D&B) creates the number, which generates a business profile in its database and provides a company's name, phone number, address, number of workers, and line of business, along with other relevant corporate information.

The DUNS number is the most widely used method for identifying companies in the United States. It designates and maintains up-to-date information on more than 300 million global businesses, as of 2019.

Once issued, a DUNS number is permanent, regardless of changes in corporate ownership or domicile; if a company ceases to exist, its DUNS number is never reissued.

How a DUNS Number Works

The data universal numbering system (DUNS) system, created by Dun & Bradstreet (D&B) in 1983, identifies businesses as part of D&B's business credit reporting system. In October 1994, it became the standard business identifier for federal government electronic commerce

Listed companies include major corporations, small business owners, nonprofit organizations, and partnerships. Its users include the U.S. government, the United Nations (UN), and the European Commission.

The DUNS number provides information related to a company such as its official business title, name, financial data, trade name, payment history, economic status, and executive names. Further, the number allows a company to search for information about other companies and helps businesses find potential customers, partners, or vendors. The federal government uses DUNS numbers to track federal money disbursements. 

Registering for a DUNS number is voluntary. However, the identifier is necessary to bid on local, state, or government contracts and apply for federal grants or other credit with a lender. It also allows for the confirmation of the credibility of a business and helps with conducting business with retailers and some foreign countries, such as Australia and the European Union (EU).

key takeaways

  • A data universal numbering system (DUNS) number is a unique, nine-digit numerical identifier that is assigned to a single business entity.
  • Created by Dun & Bradstreet in 1983, DUNS is the most widely used method for identifying companies in the United States.
  • DUNS numbers are free for U.S. companies.
  • While getting a DUNS number is voluntary, having one is mandatory to apply for government contracts and often to conduct business abroad.

Applying for a DUNS Number

Applying for a DUNS number is done through the DUNS website. Businesses based in the U.S. may request a DUNS number for free. An authorized representative of the company must complete the application, and receiving a DUNS number may take up to 30 days.

However, the number can be obtained within five business days at no cost if applying as part of a federal government contract. The authorized representative of the company will need to provide its legal name, title, email address, phone number, and mailing address. Other necessary information includes the contact name of the company and the number of employees at the physical location.

A DUNS number is required for each physical location of a company and specific self-employed individuals, such as contractors, lawyers, or doctors. The number remains with the company location even if the company should go out of business or close. A business that is registered with D&B and has multiple locations would need to apply for separate DUNS numbers for each of its branches. However, the company is not required to ask for a DUNS number for all of its branches if it chooses not to.

A business must renew its DUNS registration every three years, which keeps the D&B database current. If the assigned number falls into inactive status, the company would have to reapply for a new number.

The same system is used to check if a business has a DUNS number assigned as is used to apply for a new DUNS number. The use of the Company Lookup tool on the D&B website will search the database by the name of the company, city, and state. If the company is current, its details will populate. The D&B database allows for accessing the company's D&B business credit score, review and update an existing D&B credit report, view and print a copy of its D&B credit report, review and dispute payment history, and update financial information.

Special Considerations

The DUNS number is only used to identify a business registered with the Dun & Bradstreet database. The listing of companies with another credit bureau, such as Experian, will not be found on the D&B database since the credit bureaus each maintain unique databases and do not share data with one another.