What Is a Taxpayer Identification Number and How Do I Get One? (2024)

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Each taxpayer in the U.S. needs to have a unique nine-digit number that can identify them to the IRS. Many Americans use their Social Security number, or SSN, to confirm their identity on tax returns and other IRS correspondence.

But those without SSNs—whether they’re individuals, businesses or other organizations—also need nine-digit numeric IDs that enable the IRS to keep track of their accounts.

The umbrella term “taxpayer identification number” (TIN) signifies all tracking numbers used by the IRS to organize tax filings by individuals and entities.

Taxpayer Identification Numbers

Several varieties of TIN exist. You may even need more than one, depending on your circ*mstances.

Social Security Number

For individuals, the most commonly used TIN is an SSN. The Social Security Administration issues SSNs to individuals, monitoring their earnings and determining their eventual Social Security benefits. At the same time, the IRS uses SSNs to track individuals’ tax returns, forms and other documents.

How To Get an SSN

  1. Determine eligibility. Any U.S. citizen can request an SSN. Some noncitizens can get an SSN if they work or attend school in the U.S. or have a valid reason unrelated to work. Additional eligibility information can be found at the Social Security Administration’s website.
  2. Gather the required documentation. Collect documents that prove your citizenship, age and identity. This can include a U.S. birth certificate, a U.S. passport, a state-issued driver’s license or identification card, or an identification card from your employer or school. The SSA requires you to provide at least two separate documents. The documents must be either originals or certified copies from the agency that issued them.
  3. Apply online. You can request an SSN at the SSA website. You’ll need to answer questions about your citizenship and provide some basic information, such as your legal name, date of birth, state of residence and parents’ names.
  4. Take your documents to a Social Security office. If you’ve submitted your request online, you must provide documentation within 45 calendar days by visiting a local Social Security office. Or, instead, you can choose to go through the full application process during the in-person visit.
  5. Wait for your card. After your application is approved, a Social Security card with your number on it will arrive by mail. Expect it within 14 days.

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Employer Identification Number

Businesses and other entities use an employer identification number, or EIN—sometimes called a federal employer identification number, or FEIN—for tax reporting. This number is essential for hiring employees, opening business bank accounts and applying for licenses.

How To Get an EIN

  1. Determine eligibility. To get an EIN, your principal place of business must be in the U.S. or a U.S. territory. You must have a valid SSN or ITIN to apply for an EIN at the IRS website.
  2. Complete an online application. Filling out the free EIN application online takes just a few minutes—but you’ll need to do it on a weekday, as the application is only available Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. ET. You’ll provide your name, SSN or ITIN and the business’s name and address, and answer a few questions about your business’s structure, ownership and physical location. Keep in mind that you’ll have to complete the application in one session—you can’t save your progress and return later.
  3. Get your EIN. Once you submit a valid application, you’ll get your EIN immediately. Download or print a copy of the EIN confirmation notice for your records.

Individual Taxpayer Identification Number

The IRS will issue an individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN) to an individual who’s required to file a federal tax return in the U.S. but who is not eligible for an SSN.

ITINs are available to both resident and nonresident aliens. The number’s only purpose is for tracking federal tax returns. It doesn’t authorize you to work in the U.S. or make you eligible for Social Security benefits.

How To Get an ITIN

  1. Determine eligibility. You must be someone in a category that requires an ITIN, such as a nonresident alien who must file a U.S. tax return.
  2. Complete Form W-7. The application process for an ITIN begins with completing IRS Form W-7, Application for IRS Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. The form requires detailed personal information, including your name, mailing address, foreign address (if applicable), birth date and location and your reason for applying.
  3. Attach a valid federal income tax return. Generally, you must apply for an ITIN when you file a federal income tax return. However, there are some exceptions, which are covered in the Form W-7 instructions.
  4. Include identity and foreign status documents. You must include original documents or certified copies from the issuing agency to prove your identity and foreign status. The IRS accepts a range of documents, such as a passport, birth certificate, U.S. or foreign driver’s license and other government-issued identification. Ensure that any documents you submit are current; at least one must contain a photograph to help confirm your identity. The Form W-7 instructions include a table showing the acceptable types of supporting documentation.
  5. Submit your application. There are several ways you can submit your ITIN application:
    • By mail. Send your Form W-7, tax return (if applicable) and documentation to the IRS address listed in the Form W-7 instructions.
    • Through an IRS acceptance agent. A certified acceptance agent can help you complete and submit your application. They can also certify your documents, so you don’t have to mail original documents to the IRS.
    • At an IRS taxpayer assistance center (TAC). Make an appointment at a local IRS TAC that can process your application and verify your documents in person. That way, you won’t have to mail your original documents.
  6. Wait for processing. The IRS usually processes ITIN applications within about seven weeks. Once yours has been processed, you’ll receive a letter from the IRS with your ITIN.

Adoption Taxpayer Identification Number

An adoption taxpayer identification number, or ATIN, is a temporary TIN issued by the IRS to a child whose adoption is pending. Adoptive parents need an ATIN when they can’t get the child’s regular SSN in time to file their federal tax return. With an ATIN, a parent could claim the child as a dependent and, if eligible, get the child tax credit and other dependent-related tax benefits.

How To Get an ATIN

  1. Confirm eligibility. To be eligible for an ATIN, the child must be legally placed in your home for adoption by an authorized placement agency. It must be either a domestic adoption or a foreign adoption in which the child has a permanent resident alien card or certificate of citizenship.
  2. Complete an application. Fill out Form W-7A, Application for Taxpayer Identification Number for Pending U.S. Adoptions. The form is fairly straightforward. It requires the adoptive parent’s name and address, the child’s name and birth information, and information on the placement agency.
  3. Gather supporting documentation. You must attach supporting documentation to your Form W-7A to prove that a domestic adoption is in process. This documentation may include a placement agreement from an authorized agency, a court order or other legal documents indicating that the child has been placed in your home for adoption. You should send copies of these documents rather than originals, as the IRS won’t return the documents you provide.
  4. Submit your application. Mail your completed Form W-7A to the IRS along with the supporting documentation. The address to which you should send your application is provided in the instructions for Form W-7A. Ensure that all information on the form is accurate and complete to avoid delays in processing.
  5. Wait for processing. Processing an ATIN application generally takes four to eight weeks, according to the IRS.

Preparer Tax Identification Number

The IRS issues a preparer tax identification number (PTIN) to paid tax preparers aged 18 years or older. All individuals who prepare or assist with preparing federal tax returns in exchange for compensation must include their PTIN on clients’ returns. PTINs help the IRS track tax return preparers and their compliance with current tax laws and regulations.

How To Get a PTIN

  1. Create an account at IRS.gov. Visit the IRS website and navigate to the Tax Professionals section to access the PTIN system. You will need to create an account if you are a new user. This involves providing your personal information, including your name, mailing address and email address.
  2. Complete the PTIN application. Once you have an account, you can complete the PTIN application online. You’ll need to provide your name and mailing address, your business name and mailing address, explanations for any felony convictions or problems with tax obligations, and certification information on any professional credentials you hold, such as CPA, EA or attorney.
  3. Pay the PTIN application fee. The fee to receive or renew a PTIN is $19.75. You can pay online through the PTIN system using a credit or debit card.
  4. Await confirmation. After you complete the application, review it for accuracy and pay the fee, go ahead and submit the form. You should get your PTIN immediately.

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What Is a Taxpayer Identification Number and How Do I Get One? (2024)
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