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The Difference between a Social Security Number and ITIN
Informative10 min read

The Difference between a Social Security Number and ITIN

Did you know that since 1936, over 450 million Social Security Numbers (SSNs) have been issued and there are approximately 5.5 million new SSNs assigned every year? Meanwhile, Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs) are assigned to more than 3 million foreign nationals and others who have federal tax reporting obligations in the U.S. With such staggering figures, understanding the difference between SSNs and ITINs becomes crucial for anyone dealing with U.S. taxation and identification. Whether you’re applying for a job, paying taxes, or opening a bank account, the correct identification number determines your rights and obligations. The following information will delve into these differences and help you discern which number suits your individual circumstances best.

Social Security Numbers (SSNs)

In the landscape of U.S. identification, Social Security Numbers (SSNs) play a pivotal role. They are the foundational identifiers for American residents, a fact that underscores their importance for a range of crucial processes. Let’s delve into what SSNs are, who is eligible for them, and the purposes they serve.

What is a Social Security Number (SSN)?

A Social Security Number (SSN) is a nine-digit number assigned to U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and certain temporary residents. Its primary purpose is to track individuals for Social Security purposes, a program designed to ensure economic security for citizens in their retirement, disability, or for their family in case of their demise. The Social Security Administration (SSA), an independent agency of the U.S. federal government, issues and manages these SSNs. Over time, the SSN has evolved into a de facto national identification number due to its broad applicability across numerous public and private sectors.

Eligibility for a SSN

The eligibility for a Social Security Number primarily encompasses U.S. citizens and permanent residents. However, it also extends to certain categories of non-immigrant visa holders who have authorization to work in the United States. This includes, but is not limited to, students in valid F-1 status who are authorized to work in relation to their studies, and spouses of certain non-immigrant visa holders. People under these categories must provide proof of identity, age, and lawful alien status or U.S. citizenship to obtain an SSN.

Uses of a SSN

The Social Security Number, in addition to serving its primary role in the Social Security system, is used for a myriad of other purposes. Employers use SSNs to report income to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and the numbers are also required when applying for federal loans or certain types of public assistance. Beyond these uses, an SSN is often required for mundane tasks like opening a bank account, getting a driver’s license, or even signing up for utilities. Given its widespread use, protecting one’s SSN is vital to prevent identity theft, emphasizing the need for vigilance when asked to provide this important number.

Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs)

The U.S. tax system has a complex set of identification requirements, necessitating the need for an identifier distinct from the Social Security Number (SSN) for certain individuals. The Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) fills this role. We will now explore what an ITIN is, who qualifies for it, and the uses and limitations of this identifier.

What is an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)?

An Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) is a tax-processing number issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for individuals who are not eligible for a Social Security Number but are obligated to file a federal tax return. It is a nine-digit number that begins with the number 9 and has a 7 or 8 in the fourth digit spot (for example, 9XX-7X-XXXX). The IRS issues ITINs to help individuals comply with U.S. tax laws and to provide a means to process and account for taxes.

Eligibility for an ITIN

ITINs are available to non-resident aliens, as well as their spouses and dependents, who are not eligible for an SSN but have a federal tax filing requirement. U.S. resident aliens based on the substantial presence test, as well as certain nonresidents filing a U.S. tax return only to claim a refund, also qualify. Furthermore, a nonresident alien student, professor, or researcher filing a U.S. tax return or claiming an exception can obtain an ITIN. Applicants must provide documentation substantiating foreign/alien status and true identity for each individual.

Uses of an ITIN

The primary purpose of an ITIN is for tax reporting, to ensure compliance with U.S. tax laws, and to provide a means to process and account for tax returns and payments for those not eligible for an SSN. An ITIN does not authorize work in the U.S. or provide eligibility for Social Security benefits or the Earned Income Tax Credit. Furthermore, ITINs are not valid identification outside the tax system, which means banks and other institutions may not recognize ITINs for identification purposes. Thus, while ITINs are essential for tax purposes, their utility is limited compared to an SSN.

Key Differences between SSNs and ITINs

While both Social Security Numbers (SSNs) and Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs) are crucial identifiers in the U.S. system, they serve distinct purposes and entail different scopes. In the ensuing sections, we’ll explore the key differences between SSNs and ITINs in terms of their purpose and scope, eligibility and application process, and the limitations and benefits associated with each.

Purpose and Scope

The key difference between a Social Security Number and an ITIN lies in their primary purposes and scopes. SSNs, managed by the Social Security Administration (SSA), are primarily used to track individuals for Social Security purposes. However, SSNs have evolved into broader identification numbers used across a variety of sectors. In contrast, the scope of ITINs, issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), is significantly narrower. ITINs are tax-processing numbers assigned to individuals who do not qualify for an SSN but are obligated to file a federal tax return. The crucial difference between a Social Security Number and an ITIN, therefore, is that while both are used for tax purposes, the SSN has a much wider application in identification.

Eligibility and Application Process

The eligibility criteria and application processes for obtaining an SSN and an ITIN also showcase substantial differences. For an SSN, U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and certain non-immigrant visa holders who have authorization to work in the United States are eligible. To apply, individuals must provide evidence of age, identity, and citizenship or immigration status. On the other hand, ITINs are designed for foreign nationals and others who have federal tax reporting or filing requirements but do not qualify for an SSN. Applications require proof of identity and foreign status, and unlike the SSN, there’s no requirement for the applicant to be living in the U.S.

Limitations and Benefits

Lastly, the limitations and benefits associated with an SSN versus an ITIN underscore another crucial difference. An SSN opens a wide array of opportunities, including the ability to work, access to social security benefits, and eligibility for other government services. In contrast, an ITIN is limited in scope. It does not authorize work in the U.S. or provide eligibility for social security benefits. It primarily serves to ensure that everyone, regardless of immigration status, pays taxes. The significant difference between a Social Security Number and an ITIN is hence a clear reflection of the holder’s rights, responsibilities, and benefits within the United States.

How to Apply for a SSN or ITIN

Obtaining the right identification number based on your status and obligations in the U.S., be it a Social Security Number (SSN) or an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), is a critical step. This section will guide you through the application process for each, highlighting the difference between a Social Security Number and an ITIN application process.

Applying for a Social Security Number (SSN)

The process of applying for an SSN involves several steps. To begin with, you need to complete an application form, known as the SS-5 form, available online or from any Social Security office. Documentation is required to verify your age, identity, and U.S. citizenship or current immigration status. For most individuals, this means providing a U.S. birth certificate or passport, and a driver’s license or state-issued identification card.

Once the application and evidence are prepared, they must be taken or mailed to a local Social Security office. The administration then verifies the documents and processes the application. Given the differences between a Social Security Number and an ITIN, it’s crucial to contact the Social Security Administration for accurate and up-to-date information regarding SSN application.

Applying for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)

The process of applying for an ITIN is different from applying for an SSN. To apply for an ITIN, individuals must complete IRS Form W-7, IRS Application for Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. The form must be attached to the federal tax return for which the ITIN is required. Applicants must also provide a valid federal income tax return and original proof of identity and foreign status documents, or certified copies.

The application can be submitted through the mail, at an IRS-authorized Acceptance Agent, or at an IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center. Once the IRS receives the application, it authenticates the documentation and processes the application. Because of the difference between a Social Security Number and an ITIN application process, contacting the Internal Revenue Service for accurate and up-to-date information regarding ITIN application is vital.

FAQ

Can you have a social security number and ITIN?

No, you cannot have both a Social Security Number (SSN) and an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). ITINs are assigned to individuals who are not eligible for an SSN. If you have an SSN, you cannot apply for an ITIN. Likewise, if you are assigned an ITIN and later become eligible for an SSN, the ITIN becomes invalid.

Can I have an ITIN and a social security number?

As mentioned above, you cannot have both an ITIN and an SSN. If you become eligible for an SSN after being assigned an ITIN, you should apply for an SSN. Once you obtain an SSN, it should be used for tax purposes instead of the ITIN. The IRS will then deactivate your ITIN.

Can I use my ITIN as a social security number?

No, an ITIN cannot be used as a Social Security Number. They are different in purpose and use. An SSN is issued to U.S. citizens and eligible U.S. residents for tracking Social Security benefits and for other identification purposes. An ITIN, on the other hand, is issued to individuals who are not eligible for an SSN but have a requirement to file a Federal tax return. An ITIN does not provide authorization to work in the U.S. or qualify for Social Security benefits.

Can someone with an ITIN get a social security number?

Yes, if an individual with an ITIN later becomes eligible for an SSN – for example, due to a change in their immigration status – they can and should apply for an SSN at that time. Once they have obtained an SSN, they should use that for tax filing purposes, and the ITIN will no longer be used.

What is an SSN/ITIN number?

An SSN/ITIN number refers to either a Social Security Number (SSN) or an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). An SSN is a nine-digit number issued by the Social Security Administration to U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and temporary working residents. An ITIN is a nine-digit number issued by the IRS to individuals who need to file a federal tax return but are not eligible for an SSN.

Can you have an ITIN and SSN?

Again, it is important to note that you cannot have both an ITIN and an SSN. If you are assigned an ITIN and later become eligible for an SSN, you must apply for the SSN. Once you receive an SSN, you must use it for tax filing purposes, and the IRS will deactivate your ITIN.

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