An identification number is needed at most banks to open a bank account or to get a credit card. The most common type of identification number is a social security number. If you don’t qualify for a social security number, you can consider applying for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).
An ITIN number allows immigrants to participate in all aspects of the financial system including opening bank accounts and credit cards, building credit, investing in the stock market, starting. a business, and taking out a mortgage to buy real estate property. For more guidance on how you can navigate the financial system, book a complimentary 30 minute consultation with us here.
Do I Even Need an ITIN or Can I Get a Social Security Number Instead?
The easiest way to show an identification number to a bank is by having a social security number. These groups of people are most likely eligible for a social security number, depending on their individual circumstances:
- lawful permanent residents (“green card holders”)
- people who have been granted asylum (“asylees”)
- people who have a certain kind of visa that allows them to work in the United States
- people who naturalized and become a U.S. citizen
If you are not in one of these groups, you may not be able to get a social security number.
An ITIN is another way you may be able to provide a bank with your ID number. If you do not have any legal status and you are undocumented immigrant, an ITIN may make sense for you. An ITIN can also be a good option if you are not eligible to have a Social Security Number.
What is an ITIN?
The U.S. government’s tax agency, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), gives ITIN numbers to foreign nationals who are working in the U.S. and pay taxes. This is how many undocumented immigrants pay taxes to the government.
How Can I Get an ITIN?
To apply for an ITIN, submit Form W-7 to the IRS.
When Can I Apply for an ITIN?
A person can apply for an ITIN at the same time that he or she files a federal tax return to the IRS. Tax returns are due by April 15th each year, however for a new taxpayer a tax return can be filed with Form W-7 any time of year.
What Documents Do I Need to Submit to Apply for an ITIN?
The purpose of providing the documents that you need to show to apply for the ITIN is to show that you are who you say you are. Once you complete all of the documents for the ITIN application, you can submit your ITIN application along with your federal tax return.
- Fill out the required Form W-7. It is available in English and Spanish.
- Make sure to follow the instructions.They are available in English and Spanish.
- Provide proof of identity with an unexpired document that includes a photograph of you. For example you can use an unexpired passport or a driver’s license.
- Provide proof of your connection to a foreign country with an unexpired document. The whole purpose of an ITIN number is to allow foreign nationals or people from other countries to be able to pay taxes in the U.S. That is why you have to show what country you are associated with.
- Complete your federal tax return.
- Attach your Form W-7 and proof of identity with your tax return and submit it to the IRS.
There’s only one document that will satisfy both of the requirements to provide photographic proof of your identity and proof of your connection to a foreign country (requirements #2 and #3) all in one step. That is an unexpired passport from your home country.
If you do not have an unexpired passport, the IRS has a chart of 13 types of documents that can be used.
Can I Provide a Regular Copy of My Documents?
No. For each of these documents, you need to provide an original document or a certified copy. A certified copy is like a copy of the original document from the government agency that is giving it certifying that is a true and correct copy.
How Do I Submit Original Documents?
The IRS lets you either mail in those original documents to the IRS when you submit your application or you can make an appointment with the IRS on their website to come in and show your original documents.
If you mail in your original documents, the IRS will send the documents back to you. However, personally if it was us we would not do that because we are always afraid to hand over original documents to government agencies. You just never know. Things can get lost. We think the appointment is a good way to go.
Putting It All Together
To sum up, you can submit Form W-7 to the IRS with a tax return and then provide documentation that shows your identity and what country are from. That documentation has to be unexpired and it has to be either original or certified copy that you show to the IRS either by mailing it in or going to an appointment. At least one of those documents that you use has to have your photograph.
This can sound complicated at first. The big picture point, however, is that if you are undocumented, you can apply to get an identification number to open a bank account or credit card through an ITIN.
Resources on ITINs
- Camino Financial, “ITIN Application: A Guide to Get an ITIN Number“
Want to know what’s next for personal finance planning for immigrants? Not sure where to start?
- Subscribe and listen to the Immigrant Finance Podcast
- Join our Private Community Group with complimentary trainings every month
- Sign up for a free 30 minute Immigrant Finance personal finance coaching session. We’ll work together to identify what areas you need to focus on and set up some steps to get your basic finances in the U.S. set up.
Read our disclaimer here. This article contains general information. We are not providing legal advice to you or representing you in any legal matter.