Everything You Should Know About Getting, Using, and Renewing Your ITINPublished:
What is an ITIN?
An Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) is a nine-digit tax processing number that starts with a “9,” used by individuals to file a federal tax return if they do not have (and are ineligible for any reason to get) a social security number (SSN) or social security card.
An ITIN is unique to the individual, and as long as you’re using it at least once every three years, it stays up to date (more about the “three-year rule” later). This type of ID is often referred to as a “taxpayer ID,” “individual tax ID,” “Individual Taxpayer Identification Number,” or “ITIN.” Once you have an ITIN, you’ll need to keep the IRS up to date with your current mailing address so they can send you notices.
Many immigrants have ITINs. But not all.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issues ITINs to individuals who do not have SSNs or who cannot get one because of their foreign status. The IRS also issues ITINs to certain nonresident aliens who qualify as U.S. residents under the law.
Ordinarily, you cannot file a US tax return without a social security number. However, you don’t have to be from the US to earn an income and need to file federal tax returns in the US.
That’s where an ITIN comes in. An ITIN is the alternative for individuals who do not have social security numbers. An ITIN is not an actual social security number, but it does the job of one.
The ITIN goes in the blank for an SSN on a tax return. It identifies you, your spouse (who might be a secondary applicant), or dependent without an SSN, on the tax return so you can file tax returns online and pay taxes.
But it does a few other things, too.
What’s the point of an ITIN?
Having an ITIN is not just about filing a federal tax return. An ITIN also gives you something valid to put on forms that need a social security number. Here are just a few other uses for an ITIN:
- Paying bills
- Opening a bank account
- Buying a home
- Getting a job
ITINs are actually most common for people who work in the U.S. but live outside in another country. Also, an ITIN is required by employers to pay taxes on behalf of employees, the same way they’d use an employee’s social security number.
One major thing to note: Getting an ITIN itself doesn’t authorize you to work in the U.S. An ITIN isn’t a replacement for your visa. Nor does it qualify you for social security benefits.
Do you need an ITIN?
If you need to file a federal tax return (or you need to give someone a federal tax identification number) but you don’t have a social security number (SSN), then yes, you do need an ITIN.
According to the IRS, you’ll need an ITIN if you are a
- Resident or nonresident alien filing a U.S. federal tax return, including students, professors, or researchers claiming an exception
- Spouse or dependent of a U.S. citizen resident alien (which would make you a secondary applicant)
- Dependent or spouse of a nonresident alien visa holder
- Nonresident alien claiming a tax treaty benefit
The Internal Revenue Service says it doesn’t care where you live — as long as you’re filing federal tax returns. If you hold an Individual Tax Identification Number, you must still file a return for each taxable year. Even if you don’t live in the United States, you must use Form 1040EZ, Schedule SE or W-2G, depending on whether you work or receive income. You must also report foreign earned income on your federal return.
The IRS requires that individuals claiming certain exemptions must report information about themselves on their tax returns. This includes those claiming dependents, children, earned income credit, child care credit, adoption credits, student loan interest deduction, and medical expense deductions.
If you need an ITIN, you have three options ahead.
They all start with the IRS Form W-7 application.
How do you get an ITIN?
To apply for a form ITIN, fill out IRS Form W-7 to begin. You’ll need original identification documentation to prove your identity and your foreign status. You can also use certified copies from the agency that issued your original identification documentation, too. Follow any of the Form W-7 instructions printed on the most recent form.
How do I fill out the Form W-7?
Before you can begin, make sure you go and get the newest form. Go to irs.gov/FormW7. It’s a one-page, front-only form from the Department of the Treasury. Form W-7s do get updated, so you should make sure you’re using the most recent form.
Next, gather all your original documents, from birth certificates to treaty exception information. Fill out as much information as you can on the form, and leave anything else blank.
Here are some instructions to fill out Form W-7 easily:
New or renewing? At the top of the form, you’ll mark whether you are applying for a new ITIN or renewing your existing ITIN.
Reason for applying. Next, you’ll mark why you’re submitting the form. Study the reasons carefully. Depending on the option you choose, you may need to also file a federal tax return with your Form W-7.
You do not have a filing requirement if you are:
- A nonresident alien claiming a tax treaty benefit
- Receiving passive income and need an ITIN because of third-party withholding or tax treaty benefits
- Paying mortgage interest on real property in the U.S. that’s subject to a third-party reporting
- In a special circumstance requiring an ITIN that isn’t described in the other options
All the other options include a nonresident alien filing tax returns and a U.S. resident alien filing a federal income tax return and seeking to get their allowable tax benefits.
Identifying yourself. Enter your name (including a former name if applicable), address in the U.S., as well as your foreign, non-U.S. address. You’ll also enter your birth date and birth place, as well as any visa types and foreign tax ID numbers.
Indicate your documents. Check boxes for passport, driver’s licenses, USCIS docs, and any other documents that apply to your situation. If you have military identification cards, you’ll mark that in the “other” box.
Put the ITIN you’re renewing. If you want to renew your ITIN, you’ll indicate it here and put your name associated with that ITIN.
Mark your company or college. Alien students and non-U.S. residents hired enter their info in this section.
Gather additional documents. You’ll also need to prove eligibility for an ITIN with up-to-date documentation of your foreign status. For example, you may need to provide a copy of your passport, birth certificate, or any naturalization papers. See below for a list of acceptable documents.
Those original documents are precious, and you may not want to put those in the mail. Applying for an ITIN does not need to jeopardize your original identification papers.
Note that getting a new ITIN from the IRS can take up to seven weeks. Let’s go through your options, fastest first.
You can get an ITIN from an IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center.
If you’re in the U.S., either use Google Maps or the IRS’s office locator to find your nearest branch offices. Then call and make an appointment. You can ask about which documents you’ll need.
Pack all your original identification documentation, foreign status documentation, passports, etc. You’ll also want to bring a Form W-7 Application filled out as best as you can. Then pack a lunch.
Expect a professional and thorough appointment. Making an appointment ahead of time is one of the best ways to speed up your process. And more importantly, an in-person appointment keeps your documentation out of the mail and in your hands. If approved, the IRS will mail the new ITIN to you.
You can get an ITIN from an IRS-authorized Certifying Acceptance Agent.
As the name suggests, these locations are authorized to process your documentation as if they were an IRS branch. They also have another benefit: plenty are located outside of the United States.Just like an in-person appointment with the IRS, this appointment will process your original documents and foreign status documentation without you having to put them in the mail.
You can get an ITIN through the mail.
Just so you understand, this means you’re putting your original proof of identity, your original foreign status documents, your original identification documents (or certified copies from the issuing agency) into the mail. And you might not see them for 14 week at least. Yes, that’s at least twice as long as waiting for an ITIN than if you were doing an in-person appointment.
So, if you’re sure you want to choose to get your ITIN through the mail, you’d take your documentation and Form W-7 application and mail them to:
Internal Revenue Service
Austin Service Center
P.O. Box 149342
Austin, TX 78714-9342
The agency will send your originals (or copies) to the address you put on your Form W-7. You can include a prepaid Express mail or a courier envelope to speed up your return, but you should allow for 14 weeks before you worry about your original documents.
After 14 weeks, if you haven’t received your documentation, you can call the IRS ITIN phone number:
800-908-9982 (U.S.) or 267-941-1000 (international, not toll-free)
Why is my ITIN renewal taking so long?
Although 14 weeks seems like a long time, it’s standard protocol if you send your renewal via mail. Even in person, you can face several weeks of waiting. During non-peak seasons, the IRS can take seven weeks to process your Form W-7 application.The last and worst possible moment to file your Form W-7 application is in January, if your deadline to file a federal tax return is in April. Between January 15 and April 30, it can take 11 weeks.
When should you apply for an ITIN?
Ideally, you should apply for an ITIN months before April next year. You can apply for your ITIN at any point in the tax year you think you might need to file a federal tax return.
Keep this in mind: The IRS is a thorough agency, not a fast one. Applying early prevents any issues from stalling your federal tax return. And if your Form W-7 is filed with a late federal tax return, you may owe interest, penalties or both.
How do I show proof of identity and foreign status for my ITIN?
The following are eligible proofs of identity and/or foreign status that you can show to get your ITIN:
- Your passport, which shows proof of foreign status and identity at the same time. Passports are the only original identification document that can do both for the IRS.
- A national identification card that shows your photo, name, current address, date of birth, and an expiration date.
- Your U.S. driver’s license or state identification card
- A foreign driver’s license
- A U.S. military personnel identification card
- A foreign military personnel identification card
- A foreign voter’s registration card
- Your visa
- Your photo ID from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
- Civil birth certificate, which is required for any dependents younger than 18 years old
- Medical records for dependents younger than 6 years old.
- School records for dependents younger than 14 (or 18 if they’re a student.)
And you only need two of the above to meet the document requirements. In general, it’s best to bring all that you have. The IRS will accept 13 types of documents for proof of identity and foreign status. Now, each document must be current and contain an expiration date, or at least be issued within 12 months of your application.
How do I show proof of residency for my dependents?
A required document for dependents can seem stressful, but keep in mind that the agency will accept more documents for the purposes of verifying residency for those young applicants
The documents for dependents depend on their ages. If they’re 5 years old or younger, the following documents will prove proof of residency:
- U.S. visa
- U.S. medical record, including a birth certificate
- U.S. school record
- U.S. state identification with the applicant’s name and current address
If your dependents are 6-17 years old, proof of residency can be proven with:
- U.S. school record
- U.S. state identification card
- U.S. visa
- A driver’s license with the applicant’s name and current U.S. address
If your dependents are 18 years old or older, you’ve got many more options for proof of residency, including:
- U.S. school record
- Rental statements
- Utility bills
- Bank statements
- U.S. visa
- U.S. state identification card
- Driver’s license with the applicant’s name and current U.S. address
How do I use my ITIN to file my federal tax returns?
Put your ITIN in the space for the social security number. It’s that easy. The IRS issues ITINs to people who don’t have a social security number and need to file a federal tax return. The better question is “Why file taxes with an ITIN?”
First of all, filing your federal tax returns is a signal of good moral character in immigration cases. If you have an ITIN, you may not be heading toward immigrating to the U.S. But if you are, using your ITIN and completing all the necessary IRS tax forms can boost your case.
Can tax credits be claimed with an ITIN?
First, let’s say this: the earned income tax credit (EITC) cannot be claimed if you use an ITIN. An ITIN doesn’t meet the requirements for that tax credit, but that should not discourage applicants from seeking a new ITIN or renewing one.
However, there are plenty of allowable tax benefits you can claim.
- The Child Tax Credit, if your qualifying children have social security numbers. (Your spouse can have an ITIN or SSN.)
- The Credit for Other Dependents, for any relatives who are dependents, including children with an ITIN who would have qualified for the Child Tax Credit. Note: It’s non-refundable, meaning it just lowers your taxable income.
- The Recovery Rebate Credit, if you didn’t get a third stimulus check in the 2021 tax year.
- The Child and Dependent Care Credit, for any child care or adult care you needed for your job (or while looking for a job.).
- The American Opportunity Tax Credit, for college expenses in the first four years of a post-secondary education.
- The Lifetime Learning Credit, another non-refundable credit for reducing the costs of any post-secondary educational expenses, including job training. (It’s not just for college students.)
How do I renew my ITIN?
The IRS will actively communicate with you about your ITIN and when you need to renew it. Your ITIN will expire (and the number deactivate) if you have not used it at least once in the last three years. When you file your federal tax return, just attach a Form W-7 to renew your ITIN.
You’ll use the Form W-7 again, this time marking a renewal instead of a new application. You’ll also need to supply any valid supporting original documents or certified copies of those documents to go with your Form W-7 Renewal Application. Check the updated Form W-7 for particular requirements.
And you have the same three options of renewal as you did when applying for a new ITIN:
- Visit any IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center location
- Visit a local Certifying Acceptance Agent
- If you’re comfortable mailing your original or certified copies of foreign status, identification documents and other supporting documents, you can mail your Form W-7 application for renewal to:
Internal Revenue Service
P. O. Box 149342
Austin, TX 78714-9342
Renewing your ITIN does not change the number. Like a social security number, each ITIN is associated with each individual unless the ITIN is revoked.
How do I renew my ITIN online?
You cannot renew your ITIN online with the IRS. Visiting in-person at a taxpayer assistance center or with a certifying acceptance agent is your fastest method for finishing the application process.
How do my spouse and kids renew their ITINs?
First, your spouse and dependents are eligible for a renewed ITIN if you claim them for an allowable tax benefit (or if they file their own federal tax returns).
Your tax preparer will list them as a secondary applicant on the schedule or form related to the allowable tax benefit. Expect to include their own Form W-7 with a federal tax return.
Now, if your spouse and dependents aren’t going to be claimed between 2018 and 2025, they’re ineligible for an ITIN number.
What happens if my ITIN expires?
Nothing special. You’ll have received a notice and a letter from the IRS telling you that the agency knows your number is expiring.
First, your number does not get reassigned. It is dedicated to you, just the way a social security number is associated with a specific individual. Instead, when your ITIN expires, the number deactivates and waits until you need to renew it for federal tax purposes.
If you’ve finally gotten your social security number, do you need to renew your ITIN?
First of all, congratulations on getting your social security number. Now, you’re done with your ITIN. The IRS recommends contacting their agency directly to inform it that you have changed your tax filing status and no longer need your existing ITIN. If your ITIN is going to expire, let it.
Don’t renew your ITIN with a Form W-7 if you have your social security number. Instead, notifying the IRS will combine your ITIN records with your new SSN, preventing anyone else from using your personal numbers on their records.
However, if you don’t change your tax filing status with the IRS, you could cause a delay in processing your federal tax return. And why would you use your old ITIN when you have a perfectly good social security number?
Wait! Can’t the government track undocumented immigrants with an ITIN?
No, that’s not how ITINs work. First of all, an ITIN is not proof that you are a citizen or lawful permanent resident of the United States. In fact, it doesn’t even prove that you legally live in the U.S. Often, it’s the opposite.
While the IRS does not release official numbers of how many ITINs exist or who is using them, you only need to look at how ITINs are used to realize that following an ITIN would be an ineffective way to track immigrants of any kind.
Your ITIN works as an alternative to a social security number. That’s all. Using an ITIN on a job application or on your federal tax return only means you’re part of a large group of individuals who work in and pay taxes to the U.S., including millions who never plan to immigrate to the U.S. Think about foreign-born celebrities making movies on U.S. soil for U.S.-based movie studios. Yes, plenty of actors from the Marvel Cinematic Universe have ITINs and file federal tax returns. And so do the dependents of a lot of military personnel.
Bottom line, the ITIN does not give the IRS any way to track undocumented immigrants. On top of that, the IRS doesn’t collect sensitive data about tax returns filed with a Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). This includes bank account numbers, credit card numbers, or anything else that could identify the taxpayer. Federal laws protect taxpayer information from being shared with other government organizations. But it’s not just Internal Revenue Code section 6103 protecting you.
Your privacy is also in the IRS’s interest.
While it may be challenging to understand, the IRS wants to keep taxpayer information private. The IRS (and the Treasury Department at large) cares only about getting paid. Staying trustworthy with every taxpayer is vital to keeping tax revenue flowing. After all, every taxpayer gives a lot of information to the IRS, from bank account numbers to foreign status papers to treaty participation to embarrassing job titles. Keeping that information private allows the IRS to work directly with you without concerns about other government branch interference, which bothers their orderly operations.
The only time the IRS would share information with other government organizations is from a specific, hands-on process. The IRS would have to be ordered to share information by a federal court judge in a specific, non-tax criminal investigation case. It’s a rare situation, and purposefully so.
I live in New York state, and I need my ITIN to qualify for the Excluded Workers Fund. Can the IRS speed up its processing?
The IRS constantly works through ITIN applications and processing. However, the agency understands the urgency. The Excluded Workers fund is giving income replacement checks for those who are excluded from unemployment, usually because of immigration status. And participating in the fund requires a valid ITIN.
To support residents in New York, the IRS set up taxpayer assistance centers in the state to help applicants provide their documentation. Again, sending your original documents through the mail is the slowest way to get your ITIN. Those centers are authorized to review your original documents in person so you can hold onto them. The only documents they cannot review are school or medical records.