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What is a Taxpayer Identification Number?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 29 November 2016
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The taxpayer identification number (TIN) is a variety of number sequences that identify individuals or entities like businesses for the purposes of taxation and other related matters in the United States. There are several different kinds of TINs for which people can apply, depending on their status. Many individuals in the US have a Social Security number (SSN), which is basically their TIN. Businesses hold an employer identification number (EIN). Other circumstances might call for requesting a taxpayer identification number of different types, including preparer taxpayer identification number (PTINs), individual taxpayer identification numbers (ITINs), and ID numbers for children who are being adopted (ATINs).

The SSN is one of the most common types of taxpayer identification number and people can apply for these if they have citizenship rights or other legal rights to reside in the country permanently and work in the US. People apply for a Social Security number through local Social Security offices. Many non-workers hold an SSN too, as this nine-digit number is required for dependent children, in order to claim deductions for them on income taxes.

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Even most American infants possess an SSN, and the number should be guarded carefully to avoid identity theft that might go undetected for many years. Lots of businesses besides employers or the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) can require an SSN, and these include banks, credit card companies, or medical facilities. When the US first began issuing SSNs, they promised the number was never to be used for identification purposes. This promise has not been kept, and the SSN is used exactly in this manner quite frequently.

The EIN is another common form of TIN that’s required for most businesses. The type of business is inconsequential; most companies have to have one to file taxes, to pay their employees and to hold bank accounts or obtain credit. Companies can apply by mail or online for an EIN. Certain companies that may be subject to tax laws in the US but are based in other countries, may also need a taxpayer identification number, and must submit application to the IRS for an EIN, too.

Different types of the taxpayer identification number could be required under certain circumstances. If people don’t qualify for an SSN because of their residential or citizenship status but legally reside in the US, they still generally need a TIN. They can apply to the IRS for an ITIN that helps them legally work, hold bank accounts, and pay taxes.

The other types of TINs fit very specialized circumstances. PTINs are for tax preparers who don’t want their Social Security number evident on the documents they prepare for clients. ATINs are for children in the midst of adoption, when adopting parents want to claim these children on their taxes. Again, both of these ID numbers are acquired by applying to the IRS. Note that the Social Security office is only used when people apply for the SSN for themselves or children.

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