The W-9 form: Information about this common IRS tax form.

Discover what a W-9 is and why both small and large businesses doing business with contractors need to collect them. Learn how to simplify the process with e-signatures.

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The purpose of Form W-9.

IRS Form W-9, also known as a W9, is one of the many tax documents required by the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) to help accurately estimate the taxes owed by contract workers in a given tax year. It’s a request for information about the contractors you pay as well as an agreement with those contractors that you won’t be withholding income tax from their pay — contractors must pay their own taxes on this income.

A W-9 form includes two parts. Part I is identification data about the payee. Part II is the certification, or signature, confirming that the ID info is correct. It can be called a “request for taxpayer identification number and certification” but “W-9” is more typically used.

The contract worker can sign W-9s with an electronic signature and can send it back to the employer digitally, helping to save time for contract workers and companies alike.

Discover more about e-signatures.

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When to use a W-9 form.

Form W-9 is essential for doing business with independent contractors and freelance workers. If a company pays people or small businesses more than $600 each for completed work, and those people are not employees, then the company will need to collect a W-9 for tax purposes.

A company is not required to pay the Social Security or Medicare taxes or withhold income taxes on payments to independent contractors. Because of this, the IRS needs to know who a company is paying so they know who to collect taxes from. A company should keep completed W-9s stored securely and use them at year’s end to report how much the employer paid each contractor.

Some of the information required on a W-9 form.

Before you file this information, you should check that your contractor has filled out all the required items, including:

  • Name of the payee or their business name. For a business, this name must match the name entered on the legal entity formation documents, unless it is an individual/sole proprietorship or single-member LLC (also known as a “disregarded entity” by the IRS.)
  • The payee’s federal tax classification or how they plan on filing their taxes for this income. The payee will check the appropriate box for one of the following: individual/sole proprietorship or single-member LLC, C corporation, S corporation, partnership, trust/estate, limited liability company (LLC), or other.
  • The payee’s current full mailing address.
  • The payee’s taxpayer identification number (TIN). For US citizens operating as an individual or sole proprietor, this is generally their SSN (social security number). For other entities and businesses, the TIN will be the employer identification number that is associated with their business name. And for resident aliens, a special individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN) which must be applied for.
  • Less commonly used fields include exempt payee code, which is used to notify the requester that the payee is exempt from having taxes withheld.
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Accuracy of W-9 forms.

It’s important to collect valid and complete forms from your contractors, just as it’s necessary to supply correct W-9s when you or your company is paid for work. If you have any doubts about what’s required for your business, visit the IRS website for more detailed instructions and seek advice from a tax professional or attorney.

What happens to payees who don’t supply a correct W-9 form?

Say you have a contractor who submits a W9 to you with an incorrect TIN, or their form is missing a TIN altogether. If your company is the payee, it can be fined if it refuses to provide a W-9. You may also face penalties of perjury as the result of a failure to provide correct information on a W-9, such as the correct taxpayer identification number.

What happens to requesters who don’t obtain W-9 forms from their payees?

If you have a contractor who won’t provide their TIN, the IRS requires that you start withholding tax money until you receive the completed W-9. There are penalties for failing to submit backup withholding to the IRS. Avoid withholding altogether by requiring completed W-9s from freelance workers.

A person's hand filling out a W9 form with a pen and holding a stack of papers in the other hand

Other common IRS tax forms.

There are a few other types of tax forms to be aware of used to report who you are paying each year, how much, and how much you are withholding from their pay.

Form 1099-MISC

Businesses must use Form 1099-MISC at the end of the year to report the total amount of non-employee compensation paid to a contractor. The MISC refers to miscellaneous income earned by freelance or self-employed workers. There are many types of 1099 forms used to report income to the IRS, such as income earned through interest on a bank account with a financial institution, cancellation of debt, proceeds from real estate transactions or mortgage interest, and more.

Form W-4

This form serves the same purpose as a W-9 but for your regularly employed workers. Have all new employees sign this form to verify their personal tax situation (tax exemptions, status, etc.), so you know the amount to withhold from their paycheck.

Form W-2

A W-2 is similar to the 1099-MISC, except it is related to your W-4 employees. Like the 1099, it’s part of the “information return” your company must provide to the government. The W-2 names how much was paid to those employees that year and how much was withheld for their taxes, Medicare, and Social Security. It should be given to the employee and the Social Security Administration (who then passes it to the IRS).

Download a free W-9 form.

Send a blank W-9 form to your contractors digitally to make it easier for them to fill it out and send back to you. The Adobe Acrobat Library contains free downloadable templates for Form W-9 and some other important tax documents you might need to send, like the Form W-4 and the IRS I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification.

Download a free W-9 form now

More common questions about W-9 forms.

Do I need to send in a W-9 if I’m a freelancer?

W-9 forms are for self-employed workers like freelancers, independent contractors, and consultants. You need to complete and send it if the business you worked for requests for you to fill out the form or if you’ve earned over $600 in a calendar year without being hired as the business’s employee.

What is a W-9 for a business?

A W-9 for a business entity contains information about the amounts paid to that business by another business during a calendar year. It contains the same basic information as an individual’s W-9, but rather than having personal names and information, it instead lists the business’s legal name, address and Employee Identification Number (not TIN) number.

W-9 vs. 1099 tax forms: What’s the difference?

A Form W-9 is what an independent contractor, freelancer, or consultant fills out and provides to the employer for that business to keep for their records. A Form 1099 details the wages an employer paid to an independent contractor. Businesses provide the 1099 to the contractor so that the contractor can file it with the IRS and state tax authorities.

How do I fill out a W-9 as an LLC?

As an LLC, you'll provide the same type of information on a W-9 as individual contractors, but with two differences:

  1. In the form’s tax classification box, if you’re taxed as a disregarded entity (see the definition above), check the "individual/sole proprietor" box, not the limited liability company box. If you’re an LLC with more than one owner, you’re automatically taxed as a partnership and should select the LLC box, using the letter P for partnership.
  2. Instead of entering a personal TIN, enter your EIN. This taxpayer identification number operates like a Social Security Number (SSN) for businesses and is required if the business has employees, is taxed, or operates as a corporation. You can get a EIN from the IRS online, over the phone, or through the mail.

Adobe Acrobat makes collecting W-9 forms easy.

For business owners, time-saving digital processes for W-9s and employment contracts are a must. Merck KGaA wanted to alleviate administrative headaches so employees could spend more time on issues than paperwork. By implementing an electronic signature process with Adobe Acrobat, they saw a 1,400% increase in faster time to signature.

When it comes to collecting and more securely storing important documents like W-9 forms, Adobe Acrobat removes the steps of printing out and filing physical paperwork, resulting in faster turnarounds. Plus, you can store completed tax forms in Adobe Document Cloud for easier access to this critical information.

Simplify forms with Adobe Acrobat