Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)

A tax identification number for those who can’t get a Social Security number

Derek Silva

Derek Silva

Published January 24, 2020

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KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Taxpayers who cannot get a Social Security number should get an ITIN

  • An ITIN only allows you to file your taxes, and doesn’t qualify you for citizenship or Social Security benefits

  • Apply for an ITIN with Form W-7, which you can attach right to your federal tax return

  • ITINs expire if you don’t use them for three years, but you can renew them with Form W-7

All individuals who file a federal tax return in the U.S. need to have a taxpayer identification number (TIN). This allows the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to keep track of the taxes you pay. Most people use a Social Security number (SSN). Nonresident aliens, undocumemnted immigrants, and anyone else who doesn’t qualify for an SSN needs to get an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, or ITIN.

An ITIN is a tax identification number that the IRS assigns to individuals strictly for the sake of filing federal taxes. Getting an ITIN does not come with any other benefits, like citizenship. The ITIN application is Form W-7, and you can apply at the same time as you file an income tax return. Your ITIN will expire after a few years if you don’t use it, but you can also renew it with Form W-7.

In many cases, tax forms are the same whether you have an ITIN or SSN. Simply write your ITIN on the lines that ask for your SSN. However, there are some tax credits that you cannot claim if you have an ITIN.

In this article:

What is an ITIN?

An Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) is a tax processing number from the IRS that allows individuals who can’t get a Social Security number (SSN) to file federal taxes. ITINs are always nine digits long and begin with the number 9. The format of an ITIN is 9xx-xx-xxxx.

An ITIN doesn’t do anything except allow people to file federal and state taxes. ITINs do not authorize you to work in the U.S. but the IRS issues ITINs no matter your immigration status and regardless of whether or not you’re a legal resident. ITINs cannot qualify you for Social Security benefits in retirement.

ITIN vs SSN vs EIN

The IRS uses multiple nine-digit identification numbers to help identify taxpayers. Each one has different properties.

An ITIN is used primarily by the IRS to identify an individual taxpayer on tax documents. You can only get one if you need one, and it doesn't give you access to any other federal benefits. Getting an ITIN does not affect your citizenship status, your residence status, or your employment status. However, an ITIN may be used as identification to help you open financial accounts, like a savings account or Roth IRA.

All U.S. citizens and permanent residents who have a green card can get an SSN. An SSN allows the IRS to identify a taxpayer, but it also allows people to get Social Security benefits when they retire, in addition to other key benefits. An SSN is also a form of identification in the U.S. While some types of accounts or applications may not accept an ITIN, they should all accept SSNs. The Social Security Administration issues SSNs, not the IRS.

Employer identification numbers, or EINs, are also common, but they help the IRS to identify businesses instead of individual taxpayers. An EIN is also used for other business identification purposes, like opening a business checking account.

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Who needs an ITIN

An ITIN is used for federal tax purposes and you generally only need one if you need to file a federal tax return or if someone plans to include you on their tax return. You can also only request an ITIN if you actually need one for tax purposes.

You need to apply for an ITIN if these two things apply to you:

  • You don’t have an SSN and you aren’t eligible for one.
  • You need to file a federal tax return or someone needs your identification number for their return, either because you’re their spouse or because you’re their dependent.

You also need to apply for an ITIN if you are a nonresident alien claiming a tax treaty benefit or if you are a nonresident alien student, professor, or researcher who’s filing a federal tax return or claiming an exception.

You never need an ITIN if you qualify for an SSN. You’re eligible for an SSN if you are a U.S. citizen, a permanent resident (green card holder), or if you have been authorized to work in the U.S. on a permanent basis. If you have an ITIN and then later you qualify for an SSN, stop using your ITIN and use the SSN instead.

How to get an ITIN

You must request an ITIN from the IRS by filling out Form W-7, Application for IRS Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. The IRS will only give you an ITIN if you actually need one for tax purposes.

Most people only need to fill out Form W-7 when they send in their first tax return that needs an ITIN. So whenever you need to file a federal tax return for the first time, just attach your W-7 to the front of your return. On the return itself, leave the lines that ask for your SSN or ITIN blank. The IRS will process your ITIN application first and then automatically put your new ITIN on your tax return. You will get a notice in the mail once your application is processed.

It's possible to fill out your W-7 online or to mail in the paper form. If you want to mail the form, you can find the mailing address in the Form W-7 instructions.

You can fill out a W-7 at any time, as long as you can prove that you will need one (like proving that you have income). If you expect to file a tax return in the upcoming tax season, consider applying for an ITIN beforehand. This will guarantee you can file all your federal and state tax forms on time. It takes about seven weeks to get an ITIN.

Other situations where you may need to request an ITIN include having interest or dividends subject to U.S. tax, having a mortgage on U.S. property, or receiving a grant or scholarship in the U.S. For more situations, see the IRS instructions for Form W-7.

How to fill out Form W-7

Form W-7 is simple and mostly requires you to fill in personal information, like your name, date of birth, and address. There are also a few questions asking why you’re requesting an ITIN and whether this is a renewal or completely new application.

You also need to attach documents that prove your identity and your foreign status. Your foreign status is just proof that you’re actually a resident of another country. You have to provide one document for each requirement. The only exception is if you have a passport, because it can satisfy both requirements (though for dependents, the passport must show their date of entry into the U.S.).

Additional documents for ITIN application (Form W-7)

DocumentDoes it prove identity?Does it prove foreign status?
PassportYesYes
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) photo IDYesYes
Visa from U.S. Department of StateYesYes
U.S. driver's licenseYesNo
Foreign driver's licenseYesNo
U.S. military ID cardYesNo
Foreign military ID cardYesYes
ID card from a U.S. stateYesNo
National ID card with name, photo, address, date of birth, expiration dateYesYes
Foreign voter registration cardYesYes
U.S. birth certificateYesNo
Foreign birth certificateYesYes
Medical records from U.S. (for dependents under age 6)YesNo
Foreign medical records (for dependents under age 6)YesYes
School records from U.S. (for dependents under age 18)YesNo
Foreign school records (for dependents under age 18)YesYes

How to renew your ITIN

ITINs do expire (unlike an SSN), but you can renew yours by filling out form W-7 again. There is a box at the top of the form that you should mark if you’re just renewing an ITIN you already have. To make renewal easier, the IRS suggests that all family members on your tax return who also have an ITIN should renew their numbers at the same time.

When an ITIN expires

An ITIN will expire if you haven’t used it within the previous three years. Using your ITIN simply means filing a tax form that you write your ITIN on. Your ITIN expired at the end of 2019 if you didn’t use it at least once in 2016, 2017, or 2018. You will need to renew it in 2020.

ITINs with middle digits 83, 84, 85, 86, and 87 all expired at the end of 2019, unless you already renewed them. People with these ITINs will need to renew them in 2020. ITINs with the middle digits of 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 81, and 82 expired at the end of 2018 unless you renewed them. The IRS normally sends a notification the summer before your number expires, telling you to renew.

If you file your taxes with an expired ITIN, the IRS will not pay you any refund, and it will not consider credits you claimed. The IRS will send you a letter explaining that your ITIN has expired. You can get your refund when you renew your number.

How to file taxes with an ITIN

In most cases, tax filers with an ITIN need to file federal Form 1040-NR. Write your ITIN on any line that says to write your identifying number. For other tax forms, write your ITIN on all lines that ask for your SSN. (You can also use your ITIN on state income tax forms in place of an SSN.)

For certain federal tax credits, you cannot claim the credit with an ITIN and dependents do not qualify if they have an ITIN. You aren’t eligible to take the earned income tax credit (EITC) if you have an ITIN. Starting in 2018, you cannot claim a dependent who has an ITIN. Your dependent needs an SSN to qualify for the EITC, the child tax credit (CTC), or the additional child tax credit (ACTC).

You may still be able to claim a dependent with an ITIN for the credit for other dependents (ODC), but they need to have their ITIN before the due date of your tax return, April 15. If you need more time to get an ITIN for a dependent, a tax extension may help you because it gives you six more months before your return is due.

Learn more about how to file taxes with our guide to filing taxes.

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About the author

Personal Finance Expert

Derek Silva

Personal Finance Expert

Derek is a tax expert at Policygenius in New York City. He has written about multiple personal finance topics in the past, and his work has been covered by Yahoo Finance, MSN, Business Insider and CNBC.

Policygenius’ editorial content is not written by an insurance agent. It’s intended for informational purposes and should not be considered legal or financial advice. Consult a professional to learn what financial products are right for you.

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