Navigating the realm of social security numbers (SSNs) and Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs) can be a complex task, especially for families with dependent children. Understanding whether your children are eligible for an SSN and what an ITIN is, forms a crucial part of managing your family's financial and legal affairs in the United States.
Let's break down these concepts to help clarify the process, starting with whether your children are actually able to get a social security number at all.
Eligibility of Dependent Children for Social Security Numbers
A Social Security Number (SSN) is a piece of paper (referred to as a card) which is used for various purposes in the U.S., including taxation, employment, and accessing government services. It's a card which holds almost magical powers with how important it is and it's very important you know who you should give it out to and who you should not.
But not all people living in the US are eligible to get one. The answer largely depends on their residency status and the visa status they hold:
- U.S. Citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents: If your children are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents (green card holders), they are eligible to receive an SSN. You can apply for an SSN for your child through the Social Security Administration (SSA) usually soon after birth or upon receiving lawful permanent resident status.
- Non-Resident Children: For children who are in the U.S. on a temporary visa or are non-residents (for example those on an E-3D), obtaining an SSN is generally not possible. In these cases, an ITIN becomes relevant for filing taxes and for getting access to other services.
Spouses who have an EAD or are on an E-3S do not get an ITIN, they get an SSN because they have work rights. A requirement for a social security number is work authorization, which is why children do not qualify.
Understanding the Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)
An ITIN is a tax processing number issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to individuals who are required to have a U.S. taxpayer identification number but are not eligible to obtain an SSN.
This includes non-resident children who are dependents:
- Tax Purposes: ITINs are used primarily for tax filing purposes. If your children are dependents on your tax return but cannot get an SSN, you will need to apply for an ITIN for them.
- Application Process: To apply for an ITIN, you need to complete Form W-7 and submit it to the IRS, along with the required documentation to prove your child's identity and foreign status (see below for more information).
How to apply for an ITIN for your children
The steps required to apply for an ITIN are:
- Option 1 (Apply in person) – You have two options: You can either apply in person with an IRS-authorized Certifying Acceptance Agent, or make an appointment at a designated IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center. This is likely the best method and you will just need to take proof of identity, proof of foreign status, and supporting documentation (along with the filled in W-7). For information on how to prove these things, be sure to read these instructions for the W-7.
- Option 3 (Apply by mail) – You also have the option to apply by mail at the same time as you file your tax return, and I would recommend working with an accountant to do this. This option can take up to 14 weeks, so if you need your original documents (which you likely will for other things) within this time, then you should send certified copies of your documents or use one of the other methods.
- The address for postage is: Internal Revenue Service, Austin Service Center, ITIN Operation, P.O. Box 149342, Austin, TX 78714-9342
- You need to send in your W-7 (same as above), tax return, proof of identity, and proof of foreign status to this address.
- You don't need to include a return envelope but can include a prepaid Express Mail or Courier envelope if you want your documents back faster.
You can apply for an ITIN any time during the year, so if it's early in the year, jump on it sooner rather than later. If it's late in the tax (calendar) year, then you should file iwth your tax return. Don't be late!
You will receive a letter back within approximately seven weeks if all goes well.
Key Differences Between SSN and ITIN
It's important to understand that while SSNs and ITINs are both tax identification numbers, they serve different purposes and have different implications:
- SSN: An SSN is a comprehensive identification number that allows U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents to work, receive social security benefits, and access other government services.
- ITIN: An ITIN does not provide legal status or work authorization in the U.S. It is solely for tax filing purposes and cannot be used to claim social security benefits or other government-provided services. Your children cannot work, even if they have an ITIN.
As always: If you're unsure about the process or eligibility, it's always wise to consult with a legal or tax professional for personalized advice.