How to File Federal Income Tax If One Spouse Doesn't Have a SSN

Not having an SSN does not exempt you from your tax obligation.

Not having an SSN does not exempt you from your tax obligation.

The federal government collects taxes to enable it to function -- pay its bills and provide services to the public. The Internal Revenue Service is the agency tasked with tax collection. You must file a federal income tax return every year, if you are a United States citizen, to determine the amount you owe in federal income tax. As a prerequisite to filing, you need a Social Security number, or SSN. If one spouse does not have a SSN, that spouse should apply for an ITIN -- Individual Taxpayer Identification Number.

Filing Status

If you are married, determine your tax filing status, which may be married filing jointly or married filing separately. To file a joint return when one spouse is a nonresident alien at the end of your tax year, the spouse can be treated as a U.S. resident. In this case the spouse will need either an SSN or ITIN. If you choose to file as married filing separately and the spouse has no U.S. source income, then the spouse will not need to file.

Individual Taxpayer Identification Number

Under the Internal Revenue Code, both resident and nonresident aliens in the U.S. may have a tax obligation or filing requirement, regardless of immigration status. A spouse who falls in either category qualifies for an ITIN -- a nine-digit tax number issued by the IRS to facilitate tax return preparation for those individuals who are not eligible to obtain SSNs from the Social Security Administration. The ITIN takes a similar format as SSNs, although it will always begin with 9, for example, 9XX-88-XXXX.

Applying for an ITIN

To get an ITIN, you will have to fill out the application for the ITIN on Form W-7 as soon as you are ready to file your federal tax return. Attach necessary identifying documents such as original, notarized or certified copy of passport. Unless you are excepted, you should include a valid tax return. These documents should be delivered to the nearest IRS offices or those of an Acceptance Agent authorized by the IRS. You can also mail them to the appropriate IRS address.

If You Get an SSN

Your ITIN is not intended to serve any other purpose than for federal tax reporting. The ITIN will not authorize a spouse who is not yet a citizen or permanent resident to work in the U.S., neither will it provide eligibility for the Earned Income Tax Credit or Social Security benefits. Once you have been assigned an SSN, you must discontinue using your ITIN. Notify the IRS so that it can void the ITIN and combine all your tax information under the SSN.

About the Author

Dr Jack Gordon, the Chief Technology Officer at Strontium Logistics, is a 20-year veteran of the engineering and marketing business who favors stiff drinks, good debates and developing innovative digital marketing strategies to help companies grow.

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