As we all know that H4 visa holders are not eligible to have a Social Security Number (SSN), but for filing U.S. tax returns and claiming them dependent on H1 visa holders, they do require a unique identification number, which is called Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). On H4 visa, me and my daughter (18 months) had no SSN number and we needed ITIN to file our tax returns. There are different ways to apply for ITIN, I am outlining them with my experience on ITIN submission and tax filing.
Important note is that you cannot apply for ITIN number beforehand, you need to have the actual tax return to file taxes and apply for ITIN number at that same time. Also, don’t file your tax return without ITIN’s else you might not get claims or tax benefits that H4 holders are entitled for.
Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) and H4 Visa Holders :
What is ITIN Number ?
Basically, it is a nine-digit tax processing number issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to foreign nationals (both resident and non-resident aliens) who have federal tax reporting or filing requirements but are not eligible to obtain a SSN. It is for federal tax purposes only.
Why do H4 Visa holder need ITIN number ?
ITIN number helps individuals comply with the U.S. tax laws, and to provide a means to efficiently process and account for tax returns, payments and refunds under the provisions of a U.S. tax treaty.
When do we need to apply for ITIN number ?
We need to apply for ITIN as soon as we are ready to file our federal income tax return for a tax year, as we need to attach the return to our ITIN application.
How to Apply for ITIN Number and File Taxes? What do we need? Documents List ?
An application for ITIN must include all of the following set of documents. I have described details about each of the documents and how to get them or other alternatives.
1. Application form – Form W7 :The form used for this ITIN application is Form W-7, which can be downloaded from the IRS website along with the instructions on how to fill out the form. Since we need to submit a W-7 for each ITIN we apply for, I filled one W-7 for me and one for my child. There are different options available to choose for reason of applying ITIN, for me it was “e, spouse of resident alien” and “d, dependent of resident alien” for my little one. For tax purposes, spouse is not regarded as dependent. See below.
Link to download W7 form and instructions: https://www.irs.gov/uac/about-form-w7
2. Federal income tax return: Your original, valid tax return(s) for which the ITIN is needed. We cannot e-file the tax return if we applying for ITIN. Attach Form W-7 to the front of your valid Federal Income Tax Return (Form 1040, Form1040A, and Form 1040EZ) unless you qualify for an exception (see page 3 of Form W-7). You may use TurboTax or other free e-software to fill your return, leave the SSN section blank (for whom you are applying ITIN), fill your return and print it out.
As you will be filing your tax return as an attachment to your ITIN application, you should NOT mail your return to the address listed in the Form 1040, 1040A or 1040EZ instructions. Instead, send your Tax return, Form W-7 and proof of identity documents to the address listed in the Form W-7 instructions at : Internal Revenue Service, Austin Service Center, ITIN Operation, P.O. Box 149342, Austin, TX 78714-9342.
Always keep a copy of your file and you don’t need to give return envelope for sending back original documents. Applicants are permitted to include a prepaid Express Mail or courier envelope for faster return delivery of their documents. The IRS will then return the documents in the envelope provided by the applicant
3. Supporting Documents for Tax Filing: The original documents or certified copies of them to establish your identity and your connection to a foreign country (“foreign status”) and support the information provided on the Form W-7. The documents should be acceptable as proof of identity and foreign status.
*A certified document is one that the original issuing agency provides and certifies as an exact copy of the original document and contains an official stamped seal from the agency.
An original and valid passport is the only document acceptable as proof of identity and foreign status. If you do not wish to provide your passport (or certified copy of a valid passport) or it is unavailable, you must submit any 2 of the following 12 documents (including at least one identification with photo and one identification from your country):
National identification card (must show photo, name, current address, date of birth and expiration date), U.S. driver’s license, Foreign driver’s license, US state identification card, Foreign voter’s registration card, US military identification card, Foreign military identification card, Visa issued by US department of state, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) photo identification, Civil birth certificate (for dependents under 18 years only unless you submit a passport), Medical records (dependents under age 6 only) and School records (dependents under 14 years and/or students under 18 years only). All documents have to be latest except birth certificate as it doesn’t expire.
Update for tax year 2016: ‘Proof of U.S. residency’ is required for dependents. Effective October 1, 2016, the IRS will no longer accept passports that do not have a date of entry into the U.S. as a stand-alone identification document unless the dependents are from Mexico, Canada, or dependents of U.S. military personnel stationed overseas. Thus, now we are required to submit one of following document depending on dependent age:
- If under 6 years of age: A U.S. medical record that lists the applicant’s name and U.S. address.
- If under 18 years of age: A U.S. school record that lists the applicant’s name and U.S. address.
- If 18 years of age or older: U.S. school records, rental statement, utility bill, or bank statement that lists the applicant’s name and U.S. address.
Certification of Supporting documents: According to revised rule in 2013, application for ITIN, must include original documentation or certified copies of these documents. The certification can be done by the issuing agency or U.S. embassy or consulate. Notarized or Apostilled copies of documentation are no longer accepted.
How to get a certified copy?
- One can get his home country government agency (issuing authority of the document, which in the case of a passport is the embassy of the country that issued it) to endorse that the passport photocopy.
- The other good option for certification available to those not in U.S. (like back in homeland country) is to go to the U.S. Embassy or one of the U.S. Consulate offices. This certification is equivalent to the certification by the IRS itself and is accepted by the IRS. But yes, the U.S. embassy is normally located in the country’s capital city only, and not all of the smaller cities have a U.S. Consulate office.
For these above options, check your local embassy office (if any) or U.S. Consulate office website for availability (as not all offices certify the documents), the prices and prior appointment. Get the copies of documents (in case of passports all the pages, which bear entry and exit stamps, first page, last page, visa pages). They may want only color photocopies. Take the appointment letter print out and carry all the originals and color photocopies at appointment time. Get your copies certified and send those to IRS by mail with return and W7 form.
To check U.S. embassy in your country for certification: http://www.usembassy.gov/
*In lieu of sending original documentation, applicants also have the option to use a CAA and designated TAC locations (explained further).
Where to apply for ITIN and File Tax Return for H4 Visa Holder and Dependents?
- Traditional Mail ( Normal Post) : First option is to mail Form W-7, tax return and supporting documents to IRS office. It’s always better to use certified mail to keep a track of your application. But here is the catch, as per IRS requirements either the original documents or certified copies of these documents have to be submitted. Sending anyone of these is sometimes risky or not feasible.
- Original passport: As in most of the cases, the passport is sufficient as it would serve both the purposes but many people are not comfortable for sending original passport as it is the most important document in alien country. We had a recent bad experience when a UPS guy dropped my husband renewed passport to someone at next door; luckily, we were tracking the passport. We had our Indian travel planned for next month also so sending away passport was not at all an option for us.
- Options – Certified Copies : Alternative for not sending the original passport was certified/endorsed copies of passport. But for this our problems were obvious, nearest Indian embassy was at least 8-hour drive.
2. Apply in person at Local TAC/IRS: An alternate of mailing original or certified copies of documents to IRS office is to apply for an ITIN by bringing completed W7 and tax return forms and documentation (original and 2 photo copies) to any IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center (TACs) in the United States or IRS office. TACs provide in-person help in providing ITIN on appointment basis (update, from 2017 onwards) and are able to authenticate passports and National ID documents. For dependents, TACs can verify passports, national identification cards, and birth certificates. These documents will be returned to you immediately.
For us, the nearest office IRS was at least 30 min drive, that too operating on weekdays with same working hours as my husband’s and on walk-in basis. One of our friend had applied ITIN the previous year from there and it took him a whole day, so waiting there in long queue with a toddler after taking off from work was for sure not good option for us.
Update: From 2017 onwards, TAC will work on ‘appointment basis’ only so it could be a relief to many taxpayers and ITIN applicants.
Location of IRS center near you: https://apps.irs.gov/app/officeLocator/index.jsp
- Through a certified acceptance agent (CAA): Taking all factors (not willing to send original passport, busy working hours, unavailability of certified copies etc.) into account, applying through a CAA was best suited option for my family for filing our taxes and ITIN. These CAA’s are authorized by the IRS and can help complete returns and file Form W-7. They can verify the original documents or certified copies for primary and secondary applicants, prepare a certificate of accuracy and forward application with copies of the documents they reviewed to the IRS for processing. For dependents, CAA’s can now verify passports and birth (update for 2017) certificates.
One of our friend referred us to a CAA who had her office within 5 miles from our place. You can check CAA in your area at link below. She helped us out in filing our taxes and had good knowledge too. We came to U.S. a year before in Feb so we filed our return as “Married Filing jointly” using 1040 A and submitted photocopies of our passport and original marriage certificate. Since it was a requirement to submit original documents of dependents (my daughter in my case) that time in 2015 (if applying through CAA), and we didn’t want to submit her original passport, we submitted her original birth certificate and her medical record with her ITIN application. Usually IRS sends the original certificates back, our friends got their child birth certificate back. We didn’t get ours back; as we had a backup, we never followed up. Over all, it took us 40-45 mins in whole process with prior appointment and around $170 (with peace of mind protection) but yes we were totally satisfied and when she told about the juicy check which we were to get was the best part 😛 (though it depends how you have filled W2 form initially).
Location of CAA in your area: https://www.irs.gov/individuals/acceptance-agent-program
What happens after you file for ITIN and Taxes ? Duration of Processing ?
Within around 6 weeks after applying we got letter regarding our ITIN number and return. This is the average time limit for processing though it may take longer is you apply in peak time (end Jan-Mar) or from overseas. If some doesn’t receive any letter from the IRS in or after 7 weeks, he can call the IRS to check the status of application at the IRS telephone assistance number: 1-800-829-1040.
More information about taxes and or ITIN visit:
- General guidelines for aliens for tax purposes: https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p519.pdf
- General information about ITIN: https://www.irs.gov/individuals/individual-taxpayer-identification-number-itin
What was your experience filing Taxes? Any Additional pointers ?
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