W-9 vs. W-8: What They Are, When to Use Them, and Tips

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Tax forms can be confusing, especially when it comes to distinguishing between similar-sounding forms like W-9 and W-8. 

In this blog post, we’ll break down the key differences between these two forms, explain when each should be used, and offer practical tips for proper usage.


Imagine you’re a business owner who has just signed a new contract with an international supplier. You’re excited about this new partnership, but when it comes time to handle the payments, you realize there’s a need for some tax forms. The supplier asks if you need a W-9 or a W-8 form, and suddenly, you’re not sure which form is required.

Why are these forms important? Which one do you need?

To clarify, both forms are crucial for tax purposes, but they serve different functions and apply to different situations. Let’s explore what these forms are, when to use them, and some tips to ensure you’re handling them correctly.

The Purpose of W-9 and W-8 Forms

Both W-9 and W-8 forms are used for tax identification and reporting, but they cater to different groups and purposes:

  • Form W-9: This form is used by U.S. persons (including citizens and resident aliens) to provide their taxpayer identification number (TIN) to entities that need to report income paid to them.
  • Form W-8: This series of forms is used by non-U.S. persons to certify their foreign status and claim any applicable tax treaty benefits, thereby reducing or eliminating U.S. tax withholding on certain types of income.

Defining W-9 and W-8 Forms

The world of tax forms can feel like a labyrinth, filled with twists and turns that leave even the most organized individual feeling lost. Two forms that often cause confusion are the W-9 and W-8.

While their names share a similar sound, their purposes differ significantly.  The next paragraphs will help you understand the key distinctions between these forms and who needs to complete them.


Form W-9: Request for Taxpayer Identification Number and Certification

A W-9 form is a simple document used by U.S. taxpayers to provide their TIN to a person or entity (such as an employer or financial institution) that must file an information return to the IRS. The form includes basic information such as the taxpayer’s name, address, and TIN (which can be a Social Security Number (SSN) or Employer Identification Number (EIN)).

When to Use Form W-9:

  • When a U.S. person is working as an independent contractor.
  • When opening a bank account or making other financial transactions.
  • When receiving dividends or interest income.
  • When participating in real estate transactions.

Form W-8: Certificate of Foreign Status

There are several variations of the W-8 form, each serving a specific purpose, but they all help foreign individuals or entities claim tax treaty benefits and confirm their foreign status.

  • W-8BEN: Used by individuals to claim tax treaty benefits and certify foreign status.
  • W-8BEN-E: Used by entities to claim tax treaty benefits.
  • W-8ECI: Used by foreign individuals or entities. It certifies that income is effectively connected with the conduct of a trade or business within the U.S.
  • W-8EXP: Used by foreign governments, international organizations, and foreign tax-exempt organizations. It claims exemption from tax withholding.
  • W-8IMY: Used by foreign intermediaries, partnerships, and certain U.S. branches. It certifies that they are intermediaries or flow-through entities.

When to Use Form W-8:

  • When a non-U.S. person or entity receives income from U.S. sources that might be subject to withholding.
      • When a foreign individual or entity wishes to claim a reduced rate of withholding under an applicable tax treaty.
  • When a foreign person receives payments connected with the conduct of a U.S. trade or business.

Practical Tips for Using W-9 and W-8 Forms

For Form W-9:

  1. Accuracy is Key: Ensure all information is accurate and matches the records with the IRS.
  2. Keep Updated: If your information changes (e.g., you change your address or your legal name), provide a new W-9.
  3. Security: Protect your SSN or EIN by transmitting the form securely to prevent identity theft.

For Form W-8:

  1. Choose the Right Form: Make sure you’re using the correct W-8 form for your situation. For example, individuals typically use W-8BEN, while entities use W-8BEN-E.
  2. Provide Complete Information: Fill out all applicable sections to ensure there are no delays or issues with tax withholding.
  3. Claim Treaty Benefits Correctly: If claiming tax treaty benefits, ensure you meet all requirements and provide the necessary documentation.

Final insights

In summary, while both Forms W-9 and W-8 are essential for tax compliance, they cater to different groups—U.S. persons use Form W-9, and non-U.S. persons use one of the W-8 forms. The key differences lie in their purposes and the information they require.

Remember, this post is for informational purposes only and does not constitute professional tax advice. For specific tax guidance, please consult a tax professional or visit the IRS website for more information.

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