Taxpayer Identification Number: Do You Need One To Pay Taxes?

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If you live in the U.S. and do not have — and are not allowed to obtain — a Social Security number, you may need an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number to file your state and federal income taxes. Obtaining an ITIN for federal income tax purposes might allow you to claim certain tax refunds or benefits, which could mean additional money in your pocket. When it comes to paying the Internal Revenue Service, make sure you have all of your documents, and numbers, in order. 

Tax Identification Numbers: Quick Take

ITIN stands for Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. It is an alternative to a Social Security number for individuals who do not qualify for a Social Security number but are required to file taxes in the U.S. Here are the key differences between an SSN and an ITIN:

  • A Social Security number and an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number serve the same purpose as they allow an individual in the U.S. to file their taxes, open a bank account or apply for a loan or credit card. 
  • An SSN is issued by the Social Security Administration whereas the IRS issues an ITIN.
  • The difference is that non-citizens or resident aliens in the United States can apply for an ITIN.
  • An SSN provides other benefits that an ITIN does not. 
  • An ITIN does not allow you to file for Social Security benefits, legally work in the U.S., or allow you to claim the EITC or CTC unless your dependents have Social Security numbers.

Who Needs an ITIN?

You will need an ITIN if you have to file a federal tax return but aren’t eligible to obtain a Social Security number. According to the IRS, this may include:

  • Nonresidents who have income or investments from the U.S. and need to file a tax return.
  • U.S. residents who are not U.S. citizens but are filing a tax return.
  • Dependents or spouses of U.S. citizens who do not qualify for an SSN.
  • Dependents or spouses of nonresident visa holders.
  • Nonresident/non-citizen claiming a tax treaty benefit.
  • Nonresident/non-citizen student, professor or researcher filing a U.S. tax return or claiming an exemption.

How To Obtain an ITIN: 3 Best Methods

The IRS makes it easy to obtain an ITIN in person or by mail. If your application is approved, the IRS says it typically takes up to seven weeks to receive a letter with your new ITIN. You should apply for an ITIN before the federal tax deadline of April 15, 2024, to avoid any penalties if you owe taxes. Your W-7 form, which is your application for an ITIN, should be attached to your U.S. federal tax return when you submit it.

Make Your Money Work For You

When you’re applying for an ITIN, you will need to submit original documentation showing your proof of identity and foreign status. You may also be able to submit certified copies from the issuing agency that originally provided the documentation.

You should submit your W-7, documentation and federal tax returns together. Gather this paperwork first, and then determine whether you’d like to apply by mail or in person. Here are three ways you can apply for your ITIN.

1. Apply for an ITIN by Mail

If you opt to submit your documentation and W-7 form by mail, send it to:

Internal Revenue Service

Austin Service Center

ITIN Operation

P.O. Box 149342

Austin, TX 78714-9342

The documents submitted will be returned to you within 14 weeks. If you need them sooner, you might prefer to apply for your ITIN in person.

2. Apply for an ITIN through a TAC

A Taxpayer Assistance Center will have staff available to help people file their federal tax returns and apply for an ITIN, if necessary. TACs are located in many cities across the U.S. Multilingual assistance is offered at all locations.

To find a center near you and schedule an appointment, you can visit the IRS TAC location website. Make sure to bring all your paperwork, including any information you may need for filing your tax returns. TACs can also help you file your returns properly to ensure you are getting any credits and deductions you deserve.

3. Apply for an ITIN Through a CAA

A Certifying Acceptance Agent can also help walk you through the process of applying for an ITIN and filing your taxes. Through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, you may also be eligible to receive free tax prep services at a CAA near you. You can find a center on the IRS website.

Make Your Money Work For You

Final Take To GO

An ITIN makes it possible to file your U.S. income taxes, even if you are not eligible to work in the U.S. or obtain a Social Security number. If you pay taxes in the U.S. and are not eligible for a Social Security number, you’ll need an ITIN. You can also use your ITIN to open a bank account or apply for credit in the U.S.

FAQ

Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions regarding ITINs.
  • What is the difference between an SSN and an ITIN?
    • A Social Security number and Individual Taxpayer Identification Number serve the same purpose. They allow an individual in the U.S. to file their taxes, open a bank account or apply for a loan or credit card. An SSN is issued by the Social Security Administration whereas the IRS issues an ITIN.
    • The difference is that non-citizens or resident aliens in the United States can apply for an ITIN. Additionally, an SSN provides other benefits that an ITIN does not. An ITIN does not allow you to file for Social Security benefits, legally work in the U.S., or allow you to claim the EITC or CTC, unless your dependents have Social Security numbers.
  • What is the meaning of ITIN?
    • ITIN stands for Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. This number allows individuals to file their taxes, open an account at a bank or apply for a credit card or loan.
  • How do you get an ITIN number?
    • To apply for your ITIN, complete IRS form W-7, "Application for IRS Individual Taxpayer Identification Number." Submit it to the IRS with the appropriate documentation and a completed U.S. federal tax return.

Caitlyn Moorhead contributed to the reporting for this article.

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