What’s in a number

If you’re looking to start a new business, its likely you will come across a range of confusing numbers issued by various federal and state bodies. The important ones are explained in this article.

Australian Company Number (ACN) – eg 129 168 241

An ACN is a nine digit number issued by ASIC upon registration of a company with every company having a unique ACN. An ACN is one of the things you will receive when you register a company through eCompanies.

Australian Business Number (ABN) – eg 12 129 168 241

Regardless of what type of business structure you use in Australia you will need an ABN. The ABN is a single identifier for all business dealings with the tax office, and also for dealings with other government departments and agencies. ABN’s can be applied for online at the Australian Business Register.

If you are an existing business looking to incorporate, you cannot transfer your existing ABN to the new company. Once the new company is registered you can then apply with the ATO for a new ABN which for companies will be the ACN with two extra digits on the front.

If you are a sole trader you need to have a Tax File Number (TFN) before you can apply for an ABN. More information about ABNs can be found at the ATO website.

Australian Registered Body Number (ARBN) – eg 124 462 826

An ARBN is a 9 digit number issued by ASIC to foreign companies carrying out business directly in Australia rather than through an Australian intermediary company. They are also issued by ASIC to eligible registerable Australian bodies.

Tax File Number (TFN) – 123 123 123

A TFN is a 9 digit number issued by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) to identify a tax payer. A tax payer may be an individual, company, partnership etc. Originally an individual was issued with a 9 digit number and non individuals with an 8 digit number. If you are running your business as an individual, ie sole trader, then you continue to use your personal TFN. Any other business structure needs to apply for its own.

A TFN should be kept secure as stolen TFNs are a key piece of information about an individual. A stolen TFN can be used for fraudulent activities.

More information on TFNs can be found at the ATO website.

Business name registration number (BN) – eg BN98504392

A BN is issued when a business name is registered in any Australian state or territory. As a rule of thumb any person, partnership, or company which carries on business under a name other than their own full name, must register the business name in each state/territory in which they are carrying on business. eg

  • A sole trader doing business under a name other than their own. eg John Smith trading as Ace Plumbers
  • A company trading without legal elements eg Foo Bar Pty Ltd trading as Foo Bar

Upon registration of a business name you generally receive a certificate which contains the registration number.

Business names and their registration numbers can be searched for using the National Names Index search at the ASIC website.