Whether you’re a resident in the United States or simply work here, it might be a good idea for you to get an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, or ITIN. Issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), an ITIN offers a way for those who work in the U.S. to pay taxes. It also offers some tax and public benefits.
Here at Remitly, we’re invested in helping nonresidents find success in their new countries. That’s why we’ve put together all the ITIN information you’ll need. Let’s dive right in.
What is an ITIN?
An Individual Taxpayer Identification Number is a tax processing number that’s issued through the IRS. The purpose of an ITIN is to ensure those who work in the U.S. have a method of paying taxes, even if they can’t qualify for a Social Security Number (SSN) by the Social Security Administration.
This number is issued to qualifying nonresident and resident aliens (green card holders), their spouses, or dependents. It’s formatted much like an SSN and is a nine-digit number.
Why Do I Need an ITIN?
Getting an ITIN helps you to receive some benefits like U.S. tax return payments and ensures that you comply with U.S. tax laws.
Anyone who earns income from the U.S. is required to get a tax identification number, since they’re obligated to pay taxes on what they earn.
Other benefits include the ability to open an interest-bearing account and other financial products depending on the financial institution. Not all banking products require an ITIN, however.
For instance, Remitly’s Passbook offers a more streamlined application process that doesn’t require an ITIN or a social security number. Learn more about Passbook here.
Those living in the U.S. who want to get a driver’s license or state-issued ID may also need an ITIN. Read about each state’s driver’s license requirements in this guide from the National Immigration Law Center.
Who Can Get an ITIN?
Anyone can get an ITIN no matter their U.S. immigration status. That means both resident and nonresident aliens can apply for one if they’re not eligible for an SSN.
Individuals who might need an ITIN include:
- Dependents or spouse of a U.S. citizen, resident alien, or nonresident alien visa holders;
- Nonresidents who need to file a federal income tax return;
- Resident aliens who need to file a tax return because of the time they’ve lived in the U.S.; and
- People who need to file taxes but live outside the U.S.
If you’re unsure whether you need to get an ITIN, it’s a good idea to check with the IRS to confirm your obligation for tax purposes.
IRS.gov has a wealth of useful information about the process here. They cover groups like international students, military members, and others.
What’s the Difference Between an ITIN and an SSN?
The IRS issues ITINs, whereas the issuing agency for the SSN is the Social Security Administration, or SSA.
An ITIN helps you to file tax returns and serves no other purpose aside from federal tax reporting. That means that anyone who is required to file taxes in the U.S. will be eligible for one, no matter their immigration status.
In other words, an ITIN doesn’t automatically allow you to work in the U.S. Nor does it qualify you for other benefits such as Social Security, or being able to claim a dependent for the Earned Income Tax Credit.
A Social Security Number is only issued for citizens and qualifying resident aliens, such as green card holders. This number keeps track of the years you’ve worked in the U.S. and your lifetime earnings.
Lawful residents who can legally work in the U.S. with SSNs can qualify for additional benefits such as unemployment income or Social Security disability. Other benefits include applying for federal loans and subsidies, and enrolling in Medicare (health benefits for seniors).
How Do I Get an ITIN?
There are three options for getting an ITIN.
- Go through an IRS-authorized Certifying Acceptance Agent: These services are available both inside and outside the U.S. In most cases you must make an appointment. Bring original documents to prove your eligibility.
- Apply at a designated IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center: they will require you to make an appointment and provide original documents proving your eligibility.
- Mail an application: The IRS allows you to apply for an ITIN at the same time you fill out your tax return and file your taxes. To do so, you submit a W-7 form and complete a tax return. You’ll also need to provide original or certified copies of documents proving your identity and foreign status.
Once you receive your ITIN, you can file your tax return as stated in the tax return forms in subsequent years.
Application for IRS Individual Taxpayer Identification Number
No matter how you end up applying for an ITIN, you must provide at least two documents. One is needed to prove your identity and one to prove foreign nationality or U.S. residency status.
The following are the identification documents the IRS accepts:
- Passport (can prove both your identity and residency status)
- A U.S. Department of State-issued visa
- U.S. driver’s license
- Photo ID issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
- U.S. military identification card
- Foreign driver’s license
- Military identification card (foreign)
- U.S. state identification card
- Foreign civil birth certificate
- Foreign medical records (for dependents under six years old)
- National ID card that has your name, address, date of birth, photo and expiration date
- Foreign voter’s registration card
- Foreign school records (for dependents who are students and under 18 years old)
Remember, an ITIN needs to be re-validated every five years. If you don’t use your ITIN for three consecutive years, it’s considered expired.
Renewing your ITIN is the same process as applying for a new ITIN. However, if you mail in your renewal application, you can simply send along a form W-7 with supporting documents, without attaching a tax return.
How Long Do I Have to Wait to Get My ITIN from the IRS?
Once you apply for an ITIN, you can expect to hear from the IRS about the status of your application within seven weeks.
To prevent delays, make sure you’ve provided correct information, and all required supporting documentation. Any incomplete or incorrect applications may take longer to process.
In addition, submitting the IRS form W-7 with your tax return past April 15 may cause penalties, so it’s best to file as soon as you can.
If over seven weeks go by and you don’t receive a response, you may call the IRS toll-free at 800-829-1040 to check on the status of your ITIN application.
For more helpful information about getting settled in the U.S., check out these resources.
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