Updated April 22, 2021
What is an ITIN?
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issues Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs) to people who are required to have a U.S. taxpayer identification number but who do not have, and are not eligible for, a Social Security number (SSN).
An ITIN does not:
- Allow you to receive Social Security benefits
- Allow you to claim the EITC
- Permit a child to be claimed for the EITC or CTC. A child must have a valid SSN and authorization to legally work in the U.S. to be claimed for the EITC and CTC.)
- Change your immigration status
- Mean that you are an undocumented worker
- Give you the right to work in the U.S. Any individual who is eligible to be legally employed in the U.S. must have an SSN. If you have an ITIN you should not provide it to an employer in place of an SSN, since this would indicate to your employer and to the Social Security Administration that you are not authorized to work.
The ITIN is used in place of an SSN on a tax return to identify you, your spouse, or dependent without an SSN, on the tax return. For example, if you are an immigrant in the U.S. who has applied for legal status to work or reside in the U.S., you would need an ITIN to file a tax return while waiting for a decision.
If you have an ITIN that was issued before 2013, you should have already received a notice from IRS to renew it. If you haven’t used your ITIN on a U.S. federal tax return in the last three years (2017-2019) you will need to renew it. For more information, visit ITIN Renewals.
How do I file taxes with an ITIN?
Filing taxes can serve as proof of “good moral character” in immigration cases. Filing taxes could be helpful for your immigration case if you are able to adjust your status in the future.
To file a tax return, you must enter your ITIN in the space for the SSN on the tax form, complete the rest of the return, and submit the tax return (along with any additional forms) to the IRS.
Can I claim tax credits with an ITIN?
Yes. There are some tax credits that you may be eligible to claim with an ITIN.
1. Child Tax Credit (CTC)
This tax benefit is worth up to $2,000 for each child. Eligibility for claiming the CTC depends on the status of your children. You can only claim the CTC if your qualifying children have Social Security Numbers. You and your spouse (if married) can have an ITIN or SSN.
To claim the CTC, you will enter your ITIN and your children’s SSNs on Schedule 8812 “Additional Child Tax Credit.” Qualifying children for the CTC must be either a U.S. citizen or a resident alien living in the U.S. (While children with ITINs living in Mexico or Canada can be a dependent for tax filing purposes, they cannot be claimed for the CTC.)
The 2021 American Rescue Plan makes temporary expansions to the CTC including offering advance payments that are issued between July and December 2021. Learn more about the newly expanded CTC here.
Note: The SSN requirement for children is set to expire in 2026. Unless legislation is enacted, CTC eligibility will revert to prior rules—the credit will be worth up to $1,000 per child, and you, your spouse, and your qualifying child can have an SSN or ITIN to claim the CTC using Schedule 8812.
2. Credit for Other Dependents (COD)
A $500 non-refundable credit is available for families with qualifying relatives. This includes children over 17 and children with an ITIN who otherwise qualify for the CTC. Additionally, qualifying relatives who are considered a dependent for tax purposes (like dependent parents), can be claimed for this credit. Since this credit is non-refundable, it can only help reduce taxes owed. If you are eligible for both this credit and the CTC, this will be applied first to lower your taxable income.
3. Recovery Rebate Credit (RRC)
If you didn’t get your first or second stimulus check, you can still claim them as the RRC when you file a 2020 tax return in 2021. The first stimulus check is worth up to $1,200 for adults and $500 for dependents. The second stimulus check is worth up to $600 for adults and dependents. Filing a 2020 tax return will also ensure that you receive your third stimulus check if you are eligible and haven’t gotten it yet.
4. Child and Dependent Care Credit (CDCTC)
The Child and Dependent Care Credit is a federal tax benefit that can help you pay expenses for child or adult care that is needed to work or to look for work. This non-refundable credit is worth up to $1,050 for one dependent or up to $2,100 for two or more dependents.
The 2021 American Rescue Plan temporarily expands the credit for tax year 2021 (which you file taxes for in 2022). The expansion makes the tax credit refundable and nearly quadruples the value to up to $4,000 for one dependent and up to $8,000 for two or more dependents. Learn more here.
5. American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC)
This credit is worth up to $2,500 and can help reduce educational expenses to attend college. The credit is only available for the first four years of a student’s postsecondary education. Eligible students must be pursuing a degree or another recognized credential.
6. Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC)
This non-refundable credit is worth up to $2,000 per household. It can be used to help reduce any post-secondary educational expenses (such as job training) and isn’t limited to people attending college.
Note: You CANNOT claim the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) with an ITIN.
How do I apply for an ITIN?
If you want to file a tax return but cannot obtain a valid SSN, you must complete IRS Form W-7, “Application for IRS Individual Taxpayer Identification Number.” Form W-7 must be submitted to the IRS with a completed tax return and documents verifying identity and foreign status. You will need original documents or certified copies from the issuing agencies. The instructions for Form W-7 describe which documents are acceptable.
Parents or guardians may complete and sign a Form W-7 for a dependent under age 18 if the dependent is unable to do so, and must check the parent or guardian’s box in the signature area of the application. Dependents age 18 and older and spouses must complete and sign their own Forms W-7.
There are three ways you can complete the ITIN application:
- Taxpayer Assistance Centers: Certain IRS Taxpayer Assistance Centers have staff who can help you prepare W-7 forms, determine which documents are acceptable, and verify the validity of identification documents. You must schedule an appointment.
- Acceptance Agents: An Acceptance Agent authorized by the IRS can examine identification documents, certify that they are valid, and send the application to the IRS. For dependents applying for an ITIN, Agents send the original documents (or copies certified by the original issuing agency) to the IRS. Some Acceptance Agents also offer free tax preparation to help you file a tax return.
- Self-preparation: You can apply directly to the IRS. Form W-7’s must include original documentation or copies of these documents certified by the issuing agency. Photocopies and notarized copies of documentation are not accepted. All documents must be mailed with the tax return to the IRS Service Center in Austin, Texas (the address is in the Instructions for Form W-7 and is different from the address to mail tax returns only for processing). This office can be reached at (800) 829-1040.
Note: There is risk of delay in the IRS returning the supplied documentation, or it being lost, so applying through an IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center or with the help of a Certifiying Acceptance Agent is recommended.
Upon approving the application for the ITIN, the IRS will process the tax return and send a letter to the taxpayer, or the Certified Agent, containing the ITIN number(s) for use on subsequent tax returns.
What if I don’t have an immigration status that authorizes me to live in the U.S.?
Many people who are not authorized to live in the United States worry that filing taxes increases their exposure to the government, fearing this could ultimately result in deportation. If you already have an ITIN, then the IRS has your information, unless you moved recently. You are not increasing your exposure by renewing an ITIN or filing taxes with an ITIN.
Current law generally prohibits the IRS from sharing tax return information with other agencies, with a few important exceptions. For instance, tax return information may in certain cases be shared with state agencies responsible for tax administration or with law enforcement agencies for investigation and prosecution of non-tax criminal laws. The protections against the disclosure of information are set in law so they cannot be rescinded by a presidential executive order or other administrative action unless Congress changes the law.
Knowing the potential risks and benefits involved, only proceed with an ITIN application or tax filing if you feel comfortable. This information does not constitute legal advice. Consult with an immigration attorney if you have any concerns.
What are Acceptance Agents?
Acceptance Agents are authorized by the IRS to assist you in completing your ITIN application. Some Acceptance Agents do not prepare tax returns. In that case, you must take the completed Form W-7 certified by the Agent to a VITA site or commercial tax preparer and submit it with the tax return.
Acceptance Agents are often found at colleges, financial institutions, accounting firms, nonprofit agencies and some Low Income Taxpayer Clinics. Commercial tax preparers who are Acceptance Agents often charge a fee that can range from $50 to $275 for completing the Form W-7. There is no fee for applying directly with the IRS.
Visit Acceptance Agent Program on the IRS website for a list of Acceptance Agents by state that is updated quarterly. Low Income Taxpayer Clinics (LITCs) may also be able to help identify local Acceptance Agents.
Note to organizations:
You may want to become an Acceptance Agent. To do so, your organization must:
- Submit the Application IRS Form 13551, IRS Application to Participate in the IRS Acceptance Agent Program(this applies to both new and renewing applicants)
- Complete an Acceptance Agent training
- Attach the certification form for each authorized representative
- Complete forensic training and submit certificate of completion
For more information on becoming an Acceptance Agent, see How to Become an Acceptance Agent for IRS ITIN Numbers.