You don't always need to use a personal identification number to file and pay your federal taxes, but in some cases, you will need a PIN issued by the IRS, particularly if you've had identify theft issues in the past. You may also use a PIN to make certain tax payments through the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System, whether online or on the phone.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
If you're an identity theft victim, the IRS will send you a tax filing PIN every year. If you use a PIN with the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System, contact the government to request a new PIN if needed.
IRS PIN to File Taxes
If you've had identity theft issues in the past, you may be invited by the IRS to apply for an identity protection personal identification number, or IP PIN. This is to prevent someone from filing a fraudulent return with your Social Security number, since returns with your Social Security number but no PIN or an incorrect IP PIN will be automatically rejected by the IRS.
If you are a victim of identity theft, especially involving fake tax returns, notify the IRS as soon as possible. The IRS can provide you with identity theft assistance, including enrolling you in the IP PIN program. You may be required to file an identity theft affidavit asserting that you were a victim of the crime. If you can't file online because someone fraudulently filed in your name, file on paper and include the affidavit on IRS Form 14039 with your tax return.
If you last filed your taxes using a Georgia, Florida or District of Columbia address, you may be eligible to apply for an IP PIN even without a prior history of fraud. Contact the IRS for details.
If you were invited by the IRS to get an IP PIN, you should receive it on a form called CP01A. You will generally receive one of these forms each December with a new six-digit IP PIN to use in filing that year's taxes the following year. If you're filing your taxes online, your tax prep software should prompt you for your current IP PIN if you have one. If you're filing on paper, write the IP PIN in the appropriate box.
IRS AGI and EFTPS PINs
If you don't have an IP PIN, you can often simply use your adjusted gross income from the previous year to authenticate yourself and verify your identity when you file taxes online. If you use the same tax prep software from year to year, it may handle this for you automatically. Otherwise, consult your previous year's return to find your IRS AGI and enter it when prompted.
If you're using the treasury department's Electronic Federal Tax Payment System to make tax payments, you will use a separate PIN to identify yourself. You can use this system to pay various business taxes or use it as an individual to pay taxes, including federal quarterly estimated taxes.
You can enroll in EFTPS online and you will receive a PIN in the postal mail that you can use to log in to the system. If you lose your PIN, call to request a new one. You may be able to make a payment over the phone in the meantime. Your EFTPS PIN is separate from any identity protection PIN.
Some states may have their own PINs for taxpayers to use for various circumstances. These are separate from IRS and EFTPS PINs.
2018 Tax Changes
The tax law changes for 2018 don't affect any taxpayer PIN program. Make sure you use your up-to-date IP PIN for each tax year if you have one.
2017 and Earlier Tax Years
If you're filing an amended return for earlier years than the current tax year, you don't need to use your IP PIN even if you have one. Amended returns are always filed on paper using Form 1040-X.
- If you can’t find your PIN, there’s still hope for filing electronically. Use the IRS self-select PIN process to file your taxes. Find your previous year’s income tax return and locate the Adjusted Gross Income amount – line 4 for 1040EZ, line 21 for 1040A or line 37 for 1040. Enter this as a replacement for your PIN.
Steven Melendez is an independent journalist with a background in technology and business. He has written for a variety of business publications including Fast Company, the Wall Street Journal, Innovation Leader and Ad Age. He was awarded the Knight Foundation scholarship to Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.