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By Mary Loos
Managing Attorney for Legal Aid of Arkansas, Inc., and
Clinic Director for Legal Aid of Arkansas Low Income Taxpayer Clinic

What is an ITIN?  An ITIN is an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number.  It is a nine-digit tax processing number that is issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).  The IRS issues ITINs to individuals who are required to have a U.S. taxpayer identification number but who are not eligible to obtain an SSN.  If you do not qualify for a Social Security Number (SSN), you may be eligible for an ITIN.  By law, an alien individual cannot have both an ITIN and an SSN.

Can an ITIN be used as a valid form of ID?  An ITIN is intended to be used for federal tax purposes only and is not intended to serve any other purpose because the IRS does not apply the same standards in validating the authenticity of identity documents as governmental agencies that provide genuine identity certification.  ITIN applicants are not required to apply in person.  For these reasons, ITINs are not considered valid identification for anything outside the tax system, and ITINs should not be offered or accepted as identification for non-tax purposes. 
Does an ITIN affect an individual’s rights or immigration status?  An ITIN is not for employment purposes, and it does not authorize or entitle an individual the right to work in the United States.  Having an ITIN does not change an individual’s immigration status.  It does not make an individual eligible to receive Social Security benefits.  It does not entitle an individual to take the Earned Income Credit. 

The IRS issues ITINs regardless of immigration status because both resident and nonresident aliens may have responsibilities to file U.S. tax returns and payment liabilities under the Internal Revenue Code.  To receive an ITIN, Individuals must have a filing requirement and file a valid federal income tax return, unless an exception applies.

Why apply for an ITIN?  ITINs are issued to help individuals comply with the U.S. tax laws, and to provide a way for the IRS to efficiently process and account for tax returns and payments for individuals not eligible for SSNs.  ITINs are issued to foreign nationals and others who have federal tax reporting or filing requirements and do not qualify for SSNs.  The IRS processes returns showing SSNs or ITINs in the blanks where tax forms request SSNs.  The IRS will no longer accept or process forms indicating that an SSN has been applied for or if the space is left blank. 

If you are required to furnish a federal tax identification number or file a federal income tax return, but you do not have an SSN and are not eligible to obtain an SSN, you must apply for an ITIN.  Do not file a Form 2-7 if you have an application for an SSN pending.  Complete Form W-7 only if you have been notified that an SSN cannot be issued.
Who needs an ITIN?  Examples of individuals who need an ITIN are:

  • Non-resident alien filing a U.S. tax return who is not eligible for an SSN
  • U.S. resident alien (based on days present in the United States) filing a U.S. tax return and not eligible for an SSN
  • Dependent or spouse of a U.S. citizen/resident alien
  • Dependent or spouse of a non-resident alien visa holder

How do you get an ITIN?  You must apply by filing a revised Form W-7 (Application for IRS Individual Taxpayer Identification Number) and attach a federal income tax return to the Form W-7.  Include your original or certified proof of identity documents.  Applicants who meet an exception to the requirement to file a tax return (according to the instructions for Form W-7) must provide documentation to support the exception.  Do not mail the tax return to the address listed in the Form 1040, 1040A or 1040EZ instructions.  Instead, send the tax return, Form W-7 and proof of identity documents to:
                                Internal Revenue Service
                                Austin Service Center
                                ITIN Operation
                                PO Box 149342
                                Austin, TX  78714-9342

The Austin ITIN Unit issues all numbers by mail.  The process usually takes about 4-6 weeks.  Alternatively, you can visit an IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center for in-person help with ITIN applications on a walk-in or appointment basis in the US.

What documents are acceptable to prove an applicant’s identity and foreign status?  The ITIN applicant must provide acceptable proof of your foreign status and identification.  There are 13 acceptable documents that may be used.  An original, or a certified or notarized copy, of an unexpired passport is the only document that is considered a “stand-alone” document because it proves both foreign status and identity. 
What If you do not have a passport?  Then you must provide a combination of current documents that contain expiration dates.  The documents must contain your name and photograph and support your claim of foreign status.  The documentation must be valid, unexpired and must contain an apostille (foreign Notary). 

What documents are acceptable to prove identity and foreign status when applying for an ITIN?  The IRS will accept certified or notarized copies of two or more of the following documents if you do not have a passport:

  • National identification card (must show photo, name, current address, date of birth, and expiration date)
  • U.S. driver's license
  • Civil birth certificate
  • Foreign driver's license
  • U.S. state identification card
  • Foreign voter's registration card
  • U.S. military identification card
  • Foreign military identification card
  • Visa
  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) photo identification
  • Medical records (dependents - under 14 years old - only)
  • School records (dependents and/or students - under 25 years old - only)

                Unacceptable documents include:  National health cards from Canada, Smile Safe Kids cards, Identi-Kids or US Aid cards.  None of these are considered acceptable documentation to apply for an ITIN.

                When should you apply for an ITIN?  You can apply for an ITIN any time during the year.  During tax season, you should complete Form W-7 as soon as you are ready to file your federal income tax return, since you will need to attach your tax return to the application.  If the tax return you attach to Form W-7 is filed after the tax return’s due date, you may owe interest and/or penalties.  Therefore, if you want to avoid interest and/or penalties, you should file your current year tax return on or before the April 15 deadline.
What are some statistics related to ITIN applications and taxes?  Since 1996, the IRS has assigned 11 million ITINs.  In 2006 alone, 1.6 million were assigned, and in the first 11 months of 2007, 2.3 million were assigned.  For the 7-year period of 1996 through 2003, as a result of ITIN use for filing tax returns, $48 billion in tax liability was accounted for, and $23 billion in total refunds were issued during the same time period.

If you are a low income taxpayer who cannot afford professional tax assistance or if you speak English as a second language (ESL) and need help understanding your tax rights and responsibilities, you may qualify for help from the Legal Aid of Arkansas Low Income Taxpayer Clinic (LAA LITC).  LAA LITC is not associated with the federal government and services are free to qualifying individuals.  Eligibility for one-on-one consultations is based on income guidelines and other criteria.  Appointments for individual consultations are available.  Applicants may contact the Legal Aid Hotline at 1-800-952-9243 to determine if they qualify for assistance.

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