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What is a Tax Identification Number (TIN)?

What is a Tax Identification Number (TIN)?
Ines Zemelman, EA
27 December 2021

A taxpayer identification number (TIN) is a unique nine-digit number used to identify an individual, business, or other entity in tax returns and other documents filed with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). 

Any government-provided number that can be used in the US as a unique identifier when interacting with the IRS is a TIN, though none of them are referred to exclusively as a Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN). A TIN may be an SSN, ITIN, EIN, ATIN or PTIN. Let us look briefly about the various types of TINs below.

What are the types of Tax Identification Numbers (TIN)?

Social Security Number (SSN)

  • A Social Security number (SSN) is a most common and popular tax ID number, used by individuals who have (or had) the right to work in the United States.
  • The SSNs are issued to individuals—U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and certain temporary residents—by the Social Security Administration. 

Employer Identification Number (EIN)

  • An Employer Identification Number (EIN), also known as a FEIN (Federal Employer Identification Number), used by employers, sole proprietors, corporations, LLCs, partnerships, non-profit associations, trusts, estates of decedents, government agencies, certain individuals, and other business entities.
  • Those who qualify for an EIN must apply for this and should use it to report their income for taxation purposes. Applying for an EIN is a free service provided by the IRS, and can be obtained immediately. 

Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)

  • An Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), used by aliens who may or may not have the right to work in the US, such as aliens on temporary visas and non-resident aliens with US income, their spouses, and dependants.
  • To get an ITIN, the applicant must complete Form W-7 and submit documents supporting their resident status.

Adoption Taxpayer Identification Number (ATIN)

  • An Adoption Taxpayer Identification Number (ATIN), used as a temporary number for a child for whom the adopting parents cannot obtain an SSN;
  • To qualify for this, the child must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident and the adoption must be pending.

Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN)

  • Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN), used by paid preparers of US tax returns. You must have a PTIN if you, for compensation, prepare all or substantially all of any federal tax return or claim for refund.
  • The Preparers can get PTINs from the IRS online in about 15 minutes. Alternatively, they can fill out and mail IRS Form W-12. This method takes about four to six weeks.

Why Do I Need a TIN?

A TIN must be furnished on returns, statements, and other tax-related documents. For example an identification number must be furnished:

  • When filing your tax returns.
  • When claiming treaty benefits.

A TIN must be on a withholding certificate if the beneficial owner is claiming any of the following:

  • Tax treaty benefits (other than for income from marketable securities)
  • Exemption for effectively connected income
  • Exemption for certain annuities

Often, expats encounter a request for a TIN when their bank or online marketplace asks to furnish Forms W-9/W-8 and provide their TIN (aka US tax ID). 

 How Do I Get a TIN?

A Social Security number (SSN) is issued by the SSA whereas all other TINs are issued by the IRS. For more information please see the Social Security Administration website and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) website.

Is a TIN the same as a Tax I.D.?

A TIN is the same as a tax I.D. as it stands for tax identification number or taxpayer-identification number.

Is a TIN and a Social Security Number the same?

A Social Security number is one of the Tax Identification Numbers (TIN). It allows the taxpayers to seek employment in the United States, to obtain credit with banks and other lenders, and they can file their annual tax returns with the IRS using their SSN.

Can I use ITIN instead of SSN?

No. You CAN NOT use your ITIN instead of SSN. An ITIN, or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, is a tax processing number only available for certain non-resident and resident aliens, their spouses, and dependents who cannot get a Social Security Number (SSN).

So if you are eligible for an SSN, then you need to apply for the SSN and that number should be used in your tax documents. While you're waiting to get your SSN you must use an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) when filing your tax documents. An ITIN will no longer be necessary after you obtain your SSN. Thereafter, your SSN will be the primary Identification number and that must be used for all future filing purposes. Your ITIN will become void.

How do I know whether I have an ITIN or SSN?

Both the SSN and ITIN are the 9 digit numbers arranged in the same format as (xxx-xx-xxxx). However, the ITINs will always begin with the number “9” and will have a format as (9xx-xx-xxxx) same as the SSN. For example, the SSN will look like 123-45-6789 whereas the ITIN will be 912-34-5678. 

Ines Zemelman, EA
Founder of TFX