How to Get an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number

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by How to Start an LLC Team
Last updated: June 17th, 2024

The Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) is an important tool for non-residents and others ineligible for a Social Security Number (SSN) to fulfill U.S. tax obligations and certain financial transactions, usually due to immigration status. To be sure an ITIN is right for you, let’s understand what an ITIN is, why it’s necessary, and how to obtain or renew one.

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What is an ITIN?

The Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) is a tax processing number issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). It ensures that individuals, who are not eligible for a Social Security Number (SSN), comply with U.S. tax laws and provide a means to process and account for tax returns and payments.

An ITIN is primarily used by non-resident aliens, as well as their spouses and dependents, allowing them to file taxes despite not having SSN eligibility.

ITINs take the same nine-digit form as other tax IDS, like Social Security Numbers, and can be used in many of the same forms and requests.

How is an ITIN different from a Social Security Number?

ITINs and SSNs are both nine-digit numbers issued by the U.S. government but serve different purposes for different populations.

The SSN is issued to U.S. citizens and eligible U.S. residents to track their earnings for social security benefits and other related services. Unlike the ITIN, an SSN allows individuals to work in the U.S., obtain credit, and access other government services.

An ITIN does not grant these privileges and is solely used for tax reporting purposes. Individuals who have an SSN are not eligible to receive an ITIN.

How is an ITIN different from an Employer Identification Number?

While the ITIN is issued to individuals for tax filing purposes, the Employer Identification Number (EIN) is a tax identification number for businesses.

The IRS issues EINs to business entities, including corporations, partnerships, and limited liability companies, allowing them to hire employees, open business bank accounts, and file business tax returns. Unlike ITINs, which are for individual tax obligations, EINs are used for managing and operating a business within the United States.

Individuals running businesses may need both an ITIN and an EIN if they are non-resident aliens needing to comply with tax obligations.

Who needs an ITIN?

Some of the most common groups who would need an ITIN include:

  • Non-resident aliens: These individuals may need to file a U.S. tax return to report income earned from U.S. sources, even if they do not reside in the U.S.
  • U.S. resident aliens: Based on the substantial presence test and who must file a U.S. tax return, including those who have passed the green card test but do not have an SSN.
  • Dependents or spouses of U.S. citizens/resident aliens: If these dependents or spouses do not qualify for an SSN, they will require an ITIN to be claimed on a tax return.
  • Dependents or spouses of non-resident alien visa holders: Certain visa holders’ spouses and dependents may not be eligible for an SSN but need an ITIN for federal tax purposes.
  • Foreign nationals claiming a tax treaty benefit: Some non-resident aliens need an ITIN to claim tax treaty benefits, even if they do not need to file a standard U.S. tax return.
  • International students, professors, and researchers: These individuals might need to file a U.S. tax return or claim an exception, and if ineligible for an SSN, must apply for an ITIN.
  • Individuals involved in real estate transactions in the U.S. that generate income and therefore require tax filings.
  • Foreign artists and athletes who earn income by performing or competing in the U.S. and need to comply with U.S. tax obligations.
  • Other non-residents who engage in business activities or trades in the U.S. that necessitate federal tax filing responsibilities.

Applying for an ITIN: Step-by-step

The process is fairly straightforward for those who need an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, or ITIN, to comply with U.S. tax laws. However, it is important that everything is completed and submitted accurately to avoid long delays and denials. Below are the steps to take to ensure an ITIN can be issued without any problems.

1
Determine eligibility

Before you apply for an ITIN, confirm your eligibility (see the list above). ITINs are issued to individuals required to have a U.S. taxpayer identification number but who do not qualify for a Social Security Number.

2
Complete form W-7

Download and carefully fill out IRS Form W-7, the application for requesting an ITIN. The form requires detailed information about your identity, foreign status, and reasons for applying.

It is crucial to fill out this form accurately to avoid any delays with your application.

3
Gather supporting documents

Collect the required documents that prove your identity and foreign status. All documents must be either originals or certified copies directly from the issuing agency. Photocopies are not accepted unless certified.

Acceptable documents include:

  • Passport: The most commonly used document because it proves both identity and foreign status.
  • U.S. visa: If applicable, included within a valid passport.
  • Birth certificate: Essential for proving age and identity, particularly for dependents.
  • Foreign driver’s license: Can be used as proof of identity.
  • Other government-issued ID: Must show your name, photograph, and include information establishing foreign status.

4
Attach tax return

You must attach a completed federal income tax return to your Form W-7. While there are a few exceptions, for most, it’s a requirement.

5
Review and submit

Before sending your application, review all filled-out forms and supporting documents for completeness and accuracy. You can submit your application package to the IRS via mail, or you can submit it in person at an IRS walk-in office. ITIN applications cannot be completed via the IRS official website, so you will need to mail the form in if you are not physically in the United States.

Internal Revenue Service
Austin Service Center
ITIN Operation
P.O. Box 149342
Austin, TX 78714-9342

Alternatively, you can use a Certified Acceptance Agent (CAA) to help verify your documents and submit the application on your behalf.

6
Store your ITIN securely

Once you receive your ITIN, keep it in a secure location. You will need this number for future tax filings and any other official purposes that require a taxpayer identification number.

How long does it take to process an ITIN?

The exact timeframe for processing an ITIN can vary significantly depending on several factors, including the time of year the application is submitted, the completeness of the application, and the current workload of the IRS.

  • Standard processing time: Typically, it takes about 7 weeks for the IRS to process an ITIN application, provided all documentation is complete and correctly submitted. This timeframe is a general estimate and applies when the IRS is not overwhelmed with a high volume of applications, such as outside the peak tax season.
  • Peak tax season: During the U.S. tax season, which runs from late January to April 15th, processing times can be longer than other months of the year. In these months, applicants might experience delays, and the processing time can be as long as 11 weeks. It is advised to submit applications well before the tax season begins to avoid any delays.

Special circumstances

Some applications might require additional review or verification that could extend processing times beyond the typical periods. This is more common in complex cases or when discrepancies are noted.

If the application is incomplete or the documentation provided does not meet the necessary requirements, the IRS will send a notice requesting additional information. This can substantially delay the processing time. Applicants will have a specified timeframe, usually 45 days, to respond with the correct information.

To minimize processing delays:

  • Ensure that the Form W-7 and all required documentation are completed accurately.
  • Include clear and valid proof of identity and foreign status, as specified by the IRS guidelines.
  • Consider using a Certified Acceptance Agent (CAA) to verify the documents and certify the application, which might help streamline the process.

Costs to obtain an ITIN

On its own, the ITIN application process can be done at no cost to applicants – however, there are other ways to go about the process that do have expenses. Here are all the potential costs.

Applying for your own ITIN

There is no fee charged by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for processing an ITIN application when you apply on your own. This means that the primary cost is your time and the potential need to mail original documents or certified copies, which could include notary fees if necessary.

If you opt to mail your application, you will need to cover the postage and, for security and peace of mind, you might choose to use a trackable mailing service. The costs here can vary depending on the service selected and the urgency of the application, but will generally not exceed $100.

Using a Certified Acceptance Agent (CAA)

Certified Acceptance Agents are authorized by the IRS to assist applicants in obtaining their ITIN. They can help prepare the application and verify the supporting documents, which can be particularly beneficial for those uncomfortable with handling their tax documents or those who do not want to send original documents to the IRS.

IRS-authorized CAAs typically charge a fee for their services, which can vary widely based on the complexity of the case and the professional’s rates, which usually start at about $100 to $200.

When to renew an ITIN

Unlike a Social Security Number, ITINs can expire if not used actively and may require renewal. To avoid beginning the application process over, it is important to understand if and how you may need to renew your ITIN number.

ITINs do not expire if you have used a given ITIN for federal tax filing at least once in the last three consecutive tax years. However, ITINs that have not been used on a federal tax return in the last three consecutive years will automatically expire.

The IRS also periodically announces expiration for ITINs with middle digits (the fourth and fifth digits) that have become outdated. ITIN holders with these numbers are required to renew their ITINs to avoid tax return processing delays.

The processing time for an ITIN renewal application is typically around 7 weeks. During peak tax filing season, this time may be extended.

Renewal process for ITINs

    • Check Expiration Status: First, check if your ITIN has expired or if it is due to expire soon. The IRS usually sends a notice to the ITIN holder if their number is scheduled to expire at the end of the year.
    • Complete Form W-7: Similar to the initial application, the renewal process involves completing Form W-7, IRS Application for IRS Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. On the form, make sure to indicate that it is for renewal by selecting the appropriate option in the application.
    • Attach Tax Return: While renewing an ITIN, you do not need to attach a federal tax return to your renewal application unless you are also filing a tax return at that time.
    • Include Identification Documents: Submit the original identification documents or certified copies from the issuing agency to prove foreign status and identity. Accepted documents include passports, national ID cards, U.S. or foreign driver’s licenses, and birth certificates, among others.
    • Submission: You can submit the renewal application and documents by mail directly to the IRS or use the services of a Certified Acceptance Agent (CAA) or visit an IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center (TAC).

FAQs

What is an ITIN used for?

An ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number) is primarily used by individuals who need a U.S. taxpayer identification number for tax purposes, but are not eligible for a Social Security Number (SSN). The ITIN facilitates tax payment and filing for those without SSN eligibility.

Who is eligible to apply for an ITIN?

ITINs are available to non-U.S. residents who need to file federal taxes, non-resident alien professors and students who must file or claim tax benefits, and dependents or spouses of a U.S. citizen/resident alien. They are also issued to certain other individuals who have federal tax reporting or filing requirements.

What documents are required to apply for an ITIN?

To apply for an ITIN, you must submit a completed Form W-7, your federal income tax return, and original or certified copies of identity and foreign status documents, like a passport, U.S. state ID, or birth certificate.

Do ITINs expire?

Yes, ITINs can expire if not used on a federal tax return at least once in the last three consecutive years. Also, ITINs with middle digits 88 expired in 2020, and the IRS periodically updates groups of ITINs set to expire based on similar rules.

What is the difference between an ITIN, SSN, and EIN?

An ITIN is assigned to individuals needing to comply with U.S. tax laws without qualifying for an SSN, which is issued to U.S. citizens and qualifying residents for benefits and earnings tracking. An EIN is designated for businesses to handle employee taxes, open business bank accounts, and fulfill other official financial obligations.

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