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What is an ITIN and How to Get One

You might not know this, but a large percentage of the immigrants living in the United States today haven’t obtained citizenship or secured legal permanent residency. Even if they lack the proper documentation, this community has the right to work and provide for their families the best way they can.

However, there is an option for undocumented immigrants who are employed and are seeking greater stability: getting an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). An ITIN allows you to pay federal taxes, open an interest-bearing bank account, gain access to loans, and more. Keep reading to understand what an ITIN is and what steps you can follow to get one.

What Is an ITIN?

The ITIN is a number assigned by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to those who aren’t eligible for a Social Security Number (SSN). It is a 9-digit number that starts with the number "9" and is formatted like an SSN (NNN-NN-NNNN). The ITIN number allows a person to file their taxes and thus comply with federal law.

Remember, every person who generates an income is obligated to declare their earnings. People who are still processing their legal status in the U.S. can use their ITIN to properly comply with their tax obligations in the meantime.

Keep in mind: The ITIN does not authorize you to work in the U.S., nor does it enable you to receive Social Security benefits.

Why Should You Get an ITIN?

Paying taxes on your income is a legal obligation in the United States. If you don’t have a Social Security Number, getting an ITIN is the only way that you’ll be able to file your taxes and comply with the law. If you apply for United States citizenship in the future, you can use your returns to provide evidence of how long you’ve been living and paying taxes in the country.

You’re eligible for an ITIN if at least one of the following statements is applicable to you:

  1. You need to file a tax return and you don’t have an SSN
  2. You’re a dependent or spouse of a U.S. resident
  3. You’re a dependent or spouse of a non-resident alien who has a visa
  4. You’re a non-resident immigrant with the right to claim a tax benefit
  5. You’re a non-resident immigrant student, professor, or researcher filing a U.S. tax return or claiming an exception
Keep in mind: Once you’ve obtained an SSN, it is important that your ITIN tax return and payment history be transferred to this new SSN.

What’s the Process for Getting an ITIN?

1. Fill out a W-7 form

The W-7 form is requested personally from an IRS office or through a Taxpayer Assistance Center (TAC). Click here to find the closest TAC near you. Another option is to find a Certified Acceptance Agent (CAA) who can help you with your application. These entities are authorized by the IRS to review your documentation and forward the completed form for processing. You can find a CAA near you by clicking here. After you fill out the W-7, you’ll have to send it to the IRS via mail.

2. Submit proof of why you require an ITIN

An example of proof might be your responsibility to submit a tax return due to employment or other income. After the IRS processes your request for an ITIN and you file your first return, you can then retroactively file returns from previous years using this ID.

3. Submit your identity documents

Along with the W-7, you must submit to the IRS original current documents to verify your identity and status as a foreigner, such as:

  • A U.S. driver's license or U.S. ID card
  • A national identity card or a birth certificate from your country of origin, foreign academic records, or foreign passport

Providing the correct documentation allows the IRS to confirm your identity and whether or not you qualify for an ITIN.

Keep in mind: If you’d prefer not to mail in your original documents, visiting a TAC or meeting with a CAA is a great option. They will review everything in person, which means you can bring everything back home once you’re done.

How Do I Renew My ITIN?

If you have an ITIN that’s about to expire, you can choose one of the following three options:

  1. By mail. Send your completed W7-(SP) form, proof of identity, and documents regarding your undocumented status to the following address:

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

    Documents will be returned to you within 60 days. Submit your application as soon as possible to avoid delays in processing your next tax return.

  2. With an Acceptance Agent. Apply personally for an ITIN through an IRS-approved CAA. This allows you to hold onto your original documents and IDs for the remainder of the application process.

  3. At an Assistance Center. Book an appointment at an IRS designated Taxpayer Assistance Center. This option also allows you to hold onto your documents and IDs while your application is being processed.

How Long Does the Process Take?

Typically, getting an ITIN takes six to eight weeks. However, the process can take up to 10 weeks if you apply during the busiest period, which starts in the months leading up to April 15. 

After you submit your application, the IRS will review your documentation in detail before returning it and letting you know if you’ve been approved. Following this, it will take another six to eight weeks for the IRS to process your tax return.

Your ITIN allows you to file your taxes and demonstrates that you’re complying with federal law. This form of ID can also be used for both financial and professional opportunities in the future. 

At SABEResPODER, our mission is to empower you on the path to stability and success as you adapt to life in the United States. If you think someone would benefit from learning more about the ITIN process, be a friend and send it their way!