How to Obtain a Tax ID Number Without a Social Security Number

by Victoria Lee Blackstone ; Updated March 15, 2018
An ITIN allows you to file a tax return without a Social Security number.

A Social Security Number (SSN) is a type of Tax Identification Number (TIN) that U.S. citizens use for tax and identification purposes. If you’re not a U.S. citizen, you can get an SSN only if the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) authorizes you to work in the United States. If you’re not authorized by the DHS, you can get another type of TIN, called an Independent Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).

What is an Independent Taxpayer ID Number (ITIN)?

An ITIN is a 9-digit processing number issued for tax purposes. Each ITIN begins with the number “9,” and its formatting is similar to an SSN (9NN-NN-NNNN). But unlike SSNs, which are issued by the Social Security Administration, ITINs are issued by the IRS. The IRS issues ITINs regardless of a recipient’s immigration status.

Do I Need an ITIN?

Primarily, you are required to have an ITIN if you do not have an SSN (and you’re not eligible for one), and you are a nonresident alien who is required to file a U.S. federal tax return. But you also need an ITIN if any of these categories applies to you:

  • U.S. resident alien filing a U.S. federal tax return
  • Spouse of a U.S. citizen or resident alien
  • Dependent of a U.S. citizen or resident alien
  • Spouse of a nonresident alien visa holder
  • Dependent of a nonresident alien visa holder
  • Nonresident alien claiming a tax treaty benefit
  • Nonresident alien student, professor or researcher filing a U.S. federal tax return or claiming an exception

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Why Do my Non-Working Spouse and Other Dependents Need an ITIN?

If you must file a federal tax return, you are required to list all people, and their SSNs, for whom you claim exemptions. If your spouse or other dependents do not have an SSN (and are not eligible to get one), you must list an ITIN instead of an SSN for each. If you had a child who was born in the same tax year that the child died, you don’t need to get an ITIN for the child. Simply attach a copy of the child’s birth certificate to your tax return and write “died” on the corresponding exemption line.

How Can I Use an ITIN?

You can use your ITIN only for reporting your federal income taxes. This number is recognized only within the U.S. federal tax system. It cannot be used to authorize you to work in the U.S., to change your immigration status, to grant you eligibility for Social Security benefits or to qualify a dependent for earned-income tax credits. You cannot use your ITIN as proof of identification to apply for your driver’s license.

How Do I Apply for an ITIN?

First, complete IRS Form W-7, “IRS Application for Individual Taxpayer Identification Number.” You can download this form from the IRS website (IRS.gov). Mail your completed form to the address listed in the W-7 instructions, take it to an IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center (TAC) walk-in office or get an IRS-authorized Acceptance Agent to submit the paperwork for you. You can find a listing of authorized agents and TAC offices on the IRS website. You can also call the IRS at its toll-free number, 800-829-1040, if you need help completing your W-7. You’ll need to provide paperwork that documents your foreign/alien status and verifies your true identity when you submit the W-7.

About the Author

Victoria Lee Blackstone is a horticulturist and a professional writer who has authored research-based scientific/technical papers, horticultural articles, and magazine and newspaper articles. After studying botany and microbiology at Clemson University, Blackstone was hired as a University of Georgia Master Gardener Coordinator. She is also a former mortgage acquisition specialist for Freddie Mac in Atlanta, GA.

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