In order to file your taxes, the government needs a way to identify and keep track of the income you earn. This is done through a tax identification number. This is the same number used by credit bureaus to determine your credit score (see the Finance & Capital topic area).
For those eligible, this number is your Social Security Number (SSN). If you do not have or are ineligible for a SSN, you may instead file for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), regardless of immigration status. ITINs are issued by the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The IRS is the nation’s tax collection agency and is responsible for administering the federal tax code.
ITINs allow individuals ineligible for a SSN to:
- Report their earnings to the IRS
- Open interest-bearing bank accounts with certain banks
- Open checking accounts with certain banks and build credit
- Conduct business in the U.S.
- Access personal and business loans
The IRS issues ITINs regardless of immigration status, because both citizens and noncitizens may have a U.S. tax filing or reporting requirement under the Internal Revenue Code. That means that regardless of immigration status, if you earn more than $400 in the U.S., or meet any other filing requirement, you are required to pay taxes on your income.
How to Apply for an ITIN
It can be complicated to apply for an ITIN by yourself if you are unfamiliar with the process. We suggest working with a professional or an IRS acceptance agent if you can. For more detailed information and a step-by-step guide through the application process, watch the Immigrant’s Rising webinar ITIN 101: EVERYTHING YOU WANT TO KNOW ABOUT ITINS, BUT DON’T KNOW WHAT TO ASK.
You can complete your ITIN application through the Internal Revenue Service by filling out form W-7: Application for IRS Individual Taxpayer Identification Number.
Limitations of the ITIN
- Not a valid form of identification
ITINs are not valid identification outside the federal tax system. ITINs are strictly for tax processing, so the IRS does not apply the same standards as agencies that provide genuine identity certification (e.g. state IDs/ driver’s license, passports, green cards, etc.). However, some states may accept the ITIN as part of the driver’s licence application or verification of residency.
- Does not change immigration status
ITINs are for federal income tax purposes only. Getting an ITIN does not change your immigration status or your authorization to work in the United States.
- Ineligibility for some benefits
An ITIN does not provide eligibility for Social Security benefits or the Earned Income Tax Credit.
- Cannot be used for employment
ITINs cannot be used in place of a social security number for employment purposes.