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What is an ITIN? A complete guide to the Individual Taxpayer Identification Number

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If you plan to work in the United States, you’re required to pay taxes. If you’re not eligible to receive a Social Security Number (SSN), you’ll need to an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). In this guide, we’ll discuss ITINs in greater detail.

What is an ITIN? A complete guide to the Individual Taxpayer Identification Number

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If you plan to work in the United States, you’re required to pay taxes. If you’re not eligible to receive a Social Security Number (SSN), you’ll need to an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).

An ITIN is issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the department that collects and processes taxes in the U.S. Your ITIN serves as a tax processing number; it’s a nine-digit number that always begins with a 9, with the fourth digit in the series either a 7 or an 8. An ITIN ensures that you are in compliance with the tax laws of the United States. It also provides the IRS with a way to efficiently process and account for your taxes, including your tax return documents and payments that you make.

In this guide, we’ll discuss ITINs in greater detail, including who needs an ITIN, the eligibility requirements, limitations, how to obtain one and other pertinent information related to your tax processing number.

Who needs an ITIN?

You are required to get an ITIN if you (1) do not have an SSN and (2) are ineligible for but are required to file a federal income tax return. To be eligible for an ITIN, you must be one of the following:

  1. U.S. resident foreign national filing a tax return in the U.S.
  2. Nonresident foreign national filing a tax return in the United States
  3. Nonresident foreign national claiming a tax treaty benefit
  4. Resident or nonresident foreign national who a U.S. citizen cannot claim as a dependent or a resident
  5. Foreign national on a U.S. tax return
  6. Foreign national spouse, either resident or nonresident, who can be claimed as a dependent of a U.S. citizen on a tax return, but who is not filing a federal tax return
  7. Resident or nonresident foreign national who is the spouse of a U.S. citizen and intending to file a joint federal tax return with their spouse
  8. Nonresident professor, student or researcher who is filing a federal tax return or who is claiming an exception
  9. Foreign national, either resident or nonresident, who can be claimed as a dependent or a spouse of a nonresident foreign national who is a holder of a U.S. visa

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What are the limitations of ITIN?

Yes, ITINs do have limitations. An ITIN can only be used to file federal taxes; they cannot be used for any other purpose. The limitations of an ITIN are as follows:

  • No eligibility for Social Security benefits
  • No eligibility for  an Earned Income Tax Credit
  • Not a reflection of work authorization in the U.S.
  • Must have a federal income tax filing requirement; furthermore, unless you meet one of the exceptions, you must file a valid income tax return

ITINs are only used for tax identification purposes; therefore, they do not serve as valid identification for any other purpose. Despite these limitations, however, ITIN holders are eligible for the Child Tax Credit and the Additional Child Tax Credit depending on their unique situations. 

How to apply for an ITIN

In order to apply for an ITIN, you must file Form W-7 (Application for IRS Individual Taxpayer Identification Number). To obtain Form W-7, you can download it online and print it out. In addition to completing the form, you must also provide the necessary supporting documentation, such as:

  • Documents that prove your identification
  • Federal tax return
  • Other valid documentation that illustrates why you need an ITIN (e.g. if you are eligible for a filing exception, you can include the documentation that illustrates you are eligible for an exception with your application)

It’s important to note that since your federal tax return will be filed with your application for an ITIN, you do not need to send in your return to the address listed on Form 1040 (U.S. Individual Income Tax Return); nor should you send it to the address listed in Form 1040A or Form 1040EZ.

Rather, you will need to send in your completed income tax return to the address listed in the instructions for Form W-7. Once the IRS issues you an ITIN, you should file your tax returns as indicated in the instructions that accompany Form 1040, Form 1040A or Form 1040EZ.

How to complete Form W-7 (Application for an IRS ITIN)

Once you have obtained a copy of Form W-7, complete all required fields. You can either handprint the necessary information using black ink or type the information. If you opt to type your information on the form, sign the document yourself using black ink; typewritten or stamped signatures are not usually accepted.

The information required on Form W-7 is pretty straightforward. It includes the following:

  • The reason you are submitting the form. You will need to check the box that indicates the reason why you are filing the application. If you select “Dependent of U.S. citizen/resident foreign national”, you will need to enter your relationship to that individual and the SSN/ITIN of the individual. If you select “Spouse of U.S. citizen/resident foreign national”, you must similarly provide the SSN/ITIN of the individual.
  • Your name, including first, middle (if applicable) and last. If your name has changed, you will need to enter the name you were given at birth; for example, if you have married and took your spouse’s last name, you would provide your maiden name.
  • Your mailing address in the United States, including your street address, apartment number or rural route number, city or town, state or province, country and zip code or postal code.
  • Your foreign address, including your street address, apartment number or rural route number, city or town, state or province, country and postal code.
  • Birth information, including your date of birth (month/day/year format), country of birth and city or state (if applicable), as well as your gender.
  • Other pertinent information, such as countries of citizenship, foreign tax identification number (if applicable) and the type of U.S. visa you carry, including the number and expiration date (if you have a U.S. visa).

You will also need to select which identification documents you’re submitting and the necessary information associated with that documentation. You’ll have to indicate whether you were previously issued an ITIN or an Internal Revenue Service Number (IRSN), and if so, you must provide the number and the name that the ITIN or IRSN was issued under.

If applicable, provide the name of your college, university or employer as well as the city and state of the institution and the length of your stay in the United States.

Once you have provided all the necessary information, sign and date the application and provide a phone number where you can be reached.

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What supporting documents can be used with an ITIN?

To prove your identity and your foreign status, provide supporting documentation with your ITIN application. Below, we highlight acceptable documents that supporting documents that are acceptable and what purpose each document serves:

To establish identity and status:

  • Passport
  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) photo identification
  • U.S. Department of State issued Visa
  • Foreign military identification card
  • Current national identification card (with name, address, date of birth, expiration date and photo)
  • Foreign voter’s registration card
  • Civil birth certificate
  • Medical records (only acceptable for dependents who are over the age of 14 and under the age of 18, if a student)
  • School records (only acceptable for dependents under the age of 14 and under the age of 18, if a student)

To establish identity

  • U.S. driver’s license
  • Foreign driver’s license
  • U.S. military identification card
  • U.S. state identification card

When to apply for an ITIN

When you are ready to file your federal income tax return for the first time, complete an application for an ITIN as your tax return will be sent in with your application.

Do note, however, that if you are not required to file a tax return because you meet one of the exceptions then you can submit Form W-7 and the supporting documentation as soon as you can once you have established that you have met an exception.

ITIN applications can be submitted at any time, but if you submit the W-7 with a federal tax return filed after April 15 (the date federal taxes are due), you may be legally obligated to pay interest, penalties or both; therefore, submitting Form W-7 and your federal tax return prior to April 15 is recommended.

When will you receive your ITIN?

While there is no set timeline for receiving your ITIN, you should generally receive it within two months after you submitting your application, tax returns and the necessary supporting documentation.

Once the IRS receives your application, tax returns and supporting documents, the information will be reviewed to determine your eligibility. If it is determined that you are eligible for an ITIN, the IRS will send you a letter containing your ITIN. 

Your ITIN will not be issued on a card, but rather it will be sent to you as a formal authorization letter; this will allow you and other necessary parties to differentiate an ITIN from a Social Security card.

If two months have passed since you sent in your application and you do not receive your ITIN or any other information from the IRS, you can call the IRS to find out the status of your application at 800-829-1040. Once your application has been reviewed, the supporting documents you provide will be sent to the mailing address that you provided on your application.

Are there other ways to apply for an ITIN?

Generally, it takes about two months for the IRS to process your application, issue an ITIN and return your supporting documents. If, for any reason, you need to have your documents returned sooner or you simply do not want to send them in, there are other ways you can apply:

  1. You can apply for an ITIN in person at a Taxpayer Assistance Center (TAC)
  2. You can apply for an ITIN with a Certifying Acceptance Agent (CAA)

A TAC offers assistance with ITIN applications. This assistance is provided in person; you can either walk into the center or you can set up an appointment.

A CAA is an organization, business or individual authorized by the IRS to provide assistance to those who are seeking to receive an ITIN.

Agents assess documentation and check for the accuracy of the documents and the application. They also send your ITIN application and certificate to the IRS so they can be processed. Supporting documents are verified by agents, who can then make photocopies and mail them into the IRS so that you can retain your original documents.

Does an ITIN have to be renewed?

It depends on the situation. In the following situations, yes, an ITIN does have to be renewed:

  • The middle digits are any of the following: 70 to 82
  • If you have not used your ITIN to file a U.S. federal tax return, regardless of what the middle digits of your ITIN number are

To renew your ITIN, you would need to complete and submit another Form W-7, along with original or certified copies of supporting documentation and any other documents that are required, as discussed above.

If your ITIN is about to expire or has already expired and any of the following situations apply, you do not need to renew it:

  • You have obtained an SSN
  • You are eligible for an SSN
  • Your ITIN is used on information returns that third parties have filed with the IRS; with Form  1099, for example
  • You won’t be using your ITIN to file a tax return
  • You no longer need to be claimed as a dependent on a tax return

The Takeaway 

Applying for your Individual Taxpayer Identification Number is one of the crucial aspects of gaining employment in the United States as a foreign worker. And while we hope this guide has provided valuable answers to help you better navigate the U.S. tax system, it is also important to give some thought to how you will manage your finances and build a good U.S. credit score.

One of the prevailing issues facing newcomers to the U.S. is that they are unable to transfer their credit history from their home countries for use in the United States. That is, until Nova Credit came along with its proprietary Global Credit Passport® technology. With this product, your international credit history file can be translated into a U.S.-equivalent score, which can then be used to evaluate your application for credit services like credit cards, loans, utility plans and other essential services. 

Now keep in mind that this doesn't mean that the international credit history automatically becomes a U.S. credit history. What it does mean, however, is that you are not applying for these essential services with a zero credit history or score, which then considerably increases your chances of a successful application. Credit scores and histories are a big deal in the U.S. and most applications revolve around them and Nova Credit has partnered with credit reporting agencies across the globe to help provide newcomers with a suitable foundation from which they can build and maintain theirs. 

Once you’ve obtained a U.S. credit card, a loan, a phone plan, or any other kind of credit service, then you can begin to build your U.S. credit score and over time, gain access to even more credit services without having to make hefty downpayments. 

Nova Credit currently connects to international credit bureaus in Australia, Brazil, Canada, India, Mexico, Nigeria, South Korea and the UK. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you arrive and thrive in the U.S. 

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