Anyone who is required to file a tax return in the United States needs a tax ID number. An ITIN and a Social Security number both serve this purpose, but they’re not the same thing. All American citizens and some non-citizens are eligible for Social Security numbers, while non-citizens who aren’t eligible for SSNs can apply for ITINs.
An ITIN, which stands for Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, is a number issued by the Internal Revenue Service. Each ITIN has nine digits and starts with 9. The IRS issues these numbers to people who are not eligible for Social Security numbers but who need to file tax returns and other documents.
Do I Need an ITIN?
You do not need to have permanent citizenship in the U.S. to receive an ITIN. These numbers are issued to non-citizens who aren’t authorized by the Department of Homeland Security to work in the United States. For instance, a foreign college student or the spouse of a U.S. visa holder would be eligible for an ITIN. Receiving an ITIN does not change a person’s legal or work status in the United States.
Getting an ITIN
Apply for an ITIN at the same time you file a federal tax return, by completing the W-7 form, available through the IRS website or from your local IRS office. This one-page form asks for basic personal information. When you submit your application and tax return, you’ll also need to supply proof of your identity and citizenship. The IRS accepts 13 different documents as proof, including passports, national identification cards and U.S. driver’s licenses.
Applicants can get help with the ITIN process by calling the IRS at 1-800-829-1040. You can also visit a Taxpayer Assistance Center or an Acceptance Agent in your area, to apply in person. If your ITIN request is approved, you’ll receive a letter with your new number, usually within seven weeks.
Social Security Number Basics
Social Security numbers are issued to American citizens and foreign citizens who are approved to work in the United States. Many parents apply for their newborns to receive SSNs before they leave the hospital.
The primary purpose of an SSN is to centrally track a person’s earnings. A worker provides this number to his or her employer when starting work, and uses it as a tax ID number when filing tax returns each year. The Social Security Administration can then track a person’s tax obligations and the benefits to which he or she is entitled. However, SSNs have become personal identifiers, too, with schools, banks and healthcare companies requiring them to open accounts or receive services.
Getting an SSN
If you don’t yet have an SSN, you will need to complete the application for a Social Security card and provide documents that prove your identity and citizenship. Non-citizens will also be asked to provide documents that prove they’re eligible to work in the United States, such as an I-94 issued by the Department of Homeland Security.
These documentation requirements can be confusing because different situations come with different requirements. Check the SSA website for a helpful guide, or visit your local Social Security office for assistance. You can also contact the SSA at 1-800-772-1213, if you need help determining your Social Security eligibility. If your application request is approved, you’ll receive a Social Security card and number within 10 days of when your application is processed.
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