What Is a DUNS Number and What Is It Used for?

First Republic Bank
December 14, 2021

  • A DUNS (Data Universal Numbering System) number is a proprietary nine-digit business identifier created by business credit bureau Dun & Bradstreet.
  • Your DUNS number is associated with a comprehensive financial profile that can help      potential partners, including lenders and other businesses, make informed decisions about whether to work with your company.
  • DUNS numbers were formerly used when doing business with the U.S. government, but they’ve since been replaced by Unique Entity Identifiers (UEIs).

Whether you’re just starting your business or have been operational for several years, establishing and maintaining credibility is critical to developing trust with lenders and partners. When you’re searching for funding or pursuing contracts, for instance, you’ll want a concise way to demonstrate your track record with finances to potential partners. Those partners will want an effective way to assess the risk of working with you, too. A DUNS number is one such tool that can provide partners a clear idea of your business’s financial inner workings.

Having a DUNS number is important to establish the credibility of a business — and, ultimately, to be able to secure the funding and partnerships you need to grow. First, you'll want to understand what a DUNS number is used for.

Note on DUNS Numbers for Government Use

As of April 2022, the DUNS number is no longer the primary business identifier used when doing business with the federal government. It’s been replaced by the Unique Entity Identifier (UEI), a number assigned to businesses via the federal SAM (System for Award Management). DUNS numbers are still, however, used in other nongovernmental contexts.

What is a DUNS number?

A DUNS number is a nine-digit business identification number. The business credit bureau Dun & Bradstreet (D&B) created DUNS numbers as part of their overarching proprietary credit reporting system.

Like a Social Security number that identifies a single individual, a DUNS number identifies a singular business. A business’s credit report from D&B includes a DUNS number, along with other financial scores and assessments.

Potential lenders and partners can use a business’s DUNS number as a way to receive information about a particular company's finances, which they will want to consider before making business decisions around contracts, partnerships, financing and more.

DUNS number vs. EIN

When researching DUNS numbers, you’ll likely run across information about an employer identification number (EIN). Although both numbers are nine-digit business identifiers, and both can be obtained for free, they are different.

Most importantly, an EIN is issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), while a DUNS number is issued by D&B.

EINs are also known as business tax ID numbers and are often used for functions such as paying taxes, applying for business credit cards or opening business bank accounts. This is different from the purpose of a DUNS number, which is used to help potential partners make an informed decision about working with you.

DUNS number vs. Unique Entity Identifier (UEI)

As mentioned earlier, the federal government no longer relies upon the DUNS number when dealing with businesses; instead, businesses must provide a UEI. But how exactly does the new UEI differ from a DUNS number?

Like EINs, UEIs are generated directly by the U.S. government. The new process effectively eliminates credit bureau Dun & Bradstreet as a middle man in the applications process for federal grants and other business awards.

What is a DUNS number used for?

DUNS numbers are used to track a variety of information related to businesses around the world. This includes basic details, including company names and contact information, along with more complex financial data related to creditworthiness. DUNS numbers can also provide information about a business’s relationships with other entities. All information associated with a particular DUNS number creates a profile known as the Dun & Bradstreet Live Business Identity.

Your DUNS number can help current and prospective partners see different financial health indicators, such as your D&B business credit scores and ratings, as well as information on lawsuits, liens, judgments and other types of activity that may help potential partners decide whether to work with your business.

Together, this information paints a picture of your business’s creditworthiness and can act as a predictor of your future financial reliability. This is why many global companies request DUNS numbers when vetting partners for contracts. Additionally, many business lenders require a DUNS number when assessing a business’s risk for a loan.

A DUNS number is one of many tools that businesses should have to set themselves up for success, especially when looking toward the future.

Benefits of a DUNS number

A DUNS number can offer a business many advantages, such as:

  • Expediting the vetting process for partnerships with other business entities and financial institutions
  • Providing a unique business identifier for your company, which enables potential partners, to learn essential financial information about your company
  • Potentially making your business more attractive for partnership, since a DUNS number makes it easier for companies to assess your creditworthiness and financial risk

Do you need a DUNS number?

Your business doesn’t technically need a DUNS number, but it can likely benefit from one. A DUNS number is important for businesses to showcase theircreditworthiness, and is a key tool to build important corporate partnerships. Having a DUNS number can help give your business an advantage and enable it to grow.

So, although DUNS numbers are no longer required to request financial assistance from the government, ensuring your business has a DUNS number is sensible given the ubiquity of Dun & Bradstreet’s credit reporting operations.

How do you apply for a DUNS number?

If you’re ready to apply for a DUNS number for your business, it's best to familiarize yourself with the application process beforehand.

To start, you can apply for a DUNS number on Dun & Bradstreet’s website. The first step is to check that Dun & Bradstreet has not already created a DUNS number for you or that you are not part of a larger organization that already has a DUNS number.

If that’s not the case, you’ll continue through to the application.

Business owners should have the following information handy when applying:

  • Full business name
  • Business mailing address
  • Phone number
  • Business owner’s name
  • Year founded
  • Primary type of business
  • Legal business structure
  • Number of employees (full- and part-time)

After applying, you can receive your number in up to 30 business days.

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