Form W-9

.How to Complete IRS Form W-9

Picture of Form W-9 with a pen laid on a desk on top of a ledger.
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You may be asked to complete IRS Form W-9 if you or your business are contracted to provide services to another company. Form W-9 is most often sent to independent contractors, consultants, and other self-employed workers. The company will then use the information you include on the form to prepare ​Form 1099-MISC, reporting income paid to you to the Internal Revenue Service.

Form W-9 is also used by banks and other financial institutions to request tax information from customers so they can prepare various types of 1099 forms to report interest, dividends and other types of income.

You may be asked for one when opening an account.

Where to Get Form W-9?

In most cases, the business you provide services to will provide you with a blank Form W-9 if you're an independent contractor. Otherwise, you can download the form from the IRS website to give to independent contractors you or your company may hire. 

Filling Out Form W-9

Filling out Form W-9 is pretty straightforward. Just provide your name and Social Security number. Businesses should indicate their name and their employer identification number.  When you submit Form W-9, you certify that the tax ID number you are providing is correct and accurate.

You must also certify whether you are subject to backup withholding. This is withholding at a flat rate of 28 percent on payments made to you or your business under certain circumstances. There are two common reasons for backup withholding: Your name and SSN don't match IRS records, or you have one or more outstanding tax debts and the IRS has notified you that you are subject to mandatory backup withholding until the taxes are paid in full.

Most taxpayers are exempt from backup withholding.

Warning Signs to Be Aware Of

Form W-9 is a standard tax document. By itself, it doesn't pose many problems, but there are a few situations that might wave a red flag: 

  • You don't know the person or business asking you to fill out the W-9. You should always exercise caution when giving out sensitive information like your name, address, Social Security number or employer identification number. Make sure you know who is asking you to fill out the form, why they’re doing so, and how tax information you supply will be used.
  • Be sure to send the W-9 securely. Don’t send your completed W-9 as an unsecured or unencrypted email attachment. Use a secure method of delivery, such as hand delivery, mail, or an encrypted file attachment to an email.
  • Ask what types of tax documents the requester intends to provide to you. If you are unsure why you’re being asked to complete a W-9, ask what types of tax documents you can expect to receive when the information is used.
  • You expected a Form W-4 instead. If you're starting a new job and your new employer hands you a W-9 to fill out, ask if you’ll be working as a self-employed independent contractor or as an employee. Employees fill out Forms W-4 to set their tax withholding level. Self-employed persons don't have taxes withheld from their pay -- they're responsible for making payments to the IRS on their own. 

Tips for Completing Form W-9 If You're a Limited Liability Company

  • If your LLC is its own separate tax entity, such as a partnership, C-corporation or S-corporation, report the name of the LLC and its federal employer identification number on the Form W-9. Check the appropriate tax classification box, indicating whether you are a partnership, C-corporation or S-corporation. Do not check the limited liability company box. This sounds counterintuitive, but it's what the IRS says in its instructions.
  • If the LLC is owned by another LLC, you would then check the limited liability company box. You must also indicate the tax classification of the parent LLC.
  • If the LLC is owned by a single member, indicate the tax classification of the owner.
  • If the LLC is owned by a single member who is a person, the IRS instructs that you must indicate the name of the owner on the “name” line and the name of the LLC on the “business name line.” The IRS prefers that you report the owner's Social Security number instead of the LLC's federal employer identification number.

Tips If You’re Subject to Mandatory Backup Withholding

If the IRS has notified you that you are subject to backup withholding, you must strike out the language in bullet point two in the certification area where it reads:

"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."

Answers to Commonly Asked Questions

How often do I send out or update a Form W-9? 

You should send out a new Form W-9 whenever the information on it changes. Fill out a new W-9 if your name, business name, address, Social Security number or employer identification number have changed.

When and how often should I request W-9s from my subcontractors? 

Generally, you should request a W-9 at the time you contract with an independent contractor to provide services. At the very least, obtain a signed W-9 prior to paying out more than $600 during the course of the calendar year. You can request an updated W-9 at any time, but there's no set requirement to do so.

I received a W-9 from an unlikely source. What should I do? 

Some people have received requests for Form W-9 from landlords and other people or businesses. Form W-9 is used to officially ask a person or business to provide their name, address and taxpayer identification number so the requesting party can properly issue tax documents to the IRS. In general, any business that pays you interest, dividends, non-employee compensation or other types of reportable income will probably request Form W-9. If you receive a W-9 from an unlikely source, ask why they need it and how it will be used.

I need to issue a 1099 to a foreign subcontractor. Do I still send out a W-9 Form? 

No. Form W-9 is used to gather information only from U.S. taxpayers and businesses. If you have a foreign contractor working for you, that person should fill out one of the several Form W-8 documents that are designed to indicate how much, if any, of the payments made should be withheld for U.S. income taxes. See the FAQ for US Withholding Agents on the IRS website for an overview of these issues.

I received a W-9 from my employer. What should I do? 

If you are, or were, being treated as an employee with a regular paycheck and your employer suddenly asks you to fill out a Form W-9, this could indicate that your employer now wants to treat you as an independent contractor. This is a rather sticky situation. On the one hand, there are sometimes legitimate reasons why you might become an independent contractor rather than an employee. On the other hand, employers sometimes run into financial difficulties and can no longer afford to pay their half of payroll taxes. If you get a W-9 from your employer, first ask yourself whether you are an employee or an independent contractor. Ask your employer for clarification. If you cannot reach a consensus after talking with your employer, you can ask the IRS to get involved to make a determination of your work status.

Resources on the IRS Website

Form W-9 and Instructions 

Instructions for the Requester of Form W-9 (These are instructions for business that must send out W-9 Forms)

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