What Is a DUNS Number?

by Vicki A. Benge; Updated September 26, 2017
African American businessman with laptop

Developed and copyrighted in 1962 by Dun & Bradstreet, a recognized leader in business information services, the D-U-N-S Number stands for Data Universal Numbering System. Designated either as D-U-N-S or DUNS, this unique nine-digit number allows businesses to submit bids for contracts with the federal government. In addition, Dun & Bradstreet maintains a credit file on companies in the database.

Doing Business with Uncle Sam

Beginning in October 1994, the government designated the DUNS number as a unique identifier for businesses. It uses DUNS numbers to identify businesses in bid proposals and other contractor activities. Companies looking to do business with the federal government can obtain a DUNS number from Dun & Bradstreet at no charge. This number is also used in the application process for some government grant funds.

Obtaining a DUNS

The U.S. Small Business Administration advises companies seeking a DUNS number to gather specific information before registering. This includes the legal name and any "doing business as" names, along with the address of the company headquarters, and mailing and physical addresses, if different. Contact information, including telephone numbers and the name and title of the priory contact person, also is needed. Businesses are required to provide the number of employees on-site and declare whether the business is operated from the owner's home. Complete registration through Dun & Bradstreet's iUpdate Webform.

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Credit File

When a company becomes part of the Dun & Bradstreet database, a credit file is established for the business. Creditors and suppliers can review the details before conducting business with a particular company. The SBA suggests that companies add references to the file. For example, if a business has suppliers who extend credit, these suppliers can report payment history to Dun & Bradstreet to be added to the file. For companies with no plans to seek government contracts, applying for and obtaining a DUNS number indicates that the business is willing to provide accessible credit files to potential creditors and suppliers.

Maintaining Information

Business owners and managers can check the data Dun & Bradstreet has on file for their companies for accuracy. Through the iUpdate tool, information can be updated and any errors corrected. When checking files for a business through the DUNS number lookup, it is important to note that some companies can have multiple DUNS numbers if they conduct business at multiple locations.

About the Author

Vicki A Benge began writing professionally in 1984 as a newspaper reporter. A small-business owner since 1999, Benge has worked as a licensed insurance agent and has more than 20 years experience in income tax preparation for businesses and individuals. Her business and finance articles can be found on the websites of "The Arizona Republic," "Houston Chronicle," The Motley Fool, "San Francisco Chronicle," and Zacks, among others.

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