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William Byrnes (Texas A&M) tax & compliance articles

Taxpayer Advocate Chimes In On Taxpayer Identification Numbers (TINs)

Posted by William Byrnes on July 21, 2014


Taxpayer AdvocateOn July 16, 2014 Nina Olson, the Taxpayer Advocate released her midyear report to Congress.  Volume 2 of the report contains the IRS’s responses to the administrative recommendations the National Taxpayer Advocate made in her 2013 annual report to Congress, along with additional TAS comments.

Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs)

The Taxpayer Advocated noted that in November 2012, the IRS announced permanent changes to its application procedures for ITINs.  As a result, found the Taxpayer Advocate, dependent ITIN applicants now face a substantial burden because they can no longer use a certifying acceptance agent (CAA) to certify their documents.  Dependents must mail original documents or copies certified by the issuing agency, or have the documents certified at an IRS taxpayer assistance center (TAC) or at one of just four U.S. tax attaché offices overseas.

What is an ITIN?

An Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) is a tax processing number issued by the Internal Revenue Service. It is a nine-digit number that always begins with the number 9 and has a range of 70-88 in the fourth and fifth digit.  The range was extended to include 900-70-0000 through 999-88-9999, 900-90-0000 through 999-92-9999 and 900-94-0000 through 999-99-9999.

The IRS issues ITINs to individuals who are required to have a U.S. taxpayer identification number but who do not have, and are not eligible to obtain a Social Security Number (SSN) from the Social Security Administration (SSA).  ITINs are issued regardless of immigration status because both resident and nonresident aliens may have a U.S. filing or reporting requirement under the Internal Revenue Code.  Individuals must have a filing requirement and file a valid federal income tax return to receive an ITIN, unless they meet an exception.

What is an ITIN used for?

ITINs are for federal tax reporting only, and are not intended to serve any other purpose. IRS issues ITINs to help individuals comply with the U.S. tax laws, and to provide a means to efficiently process and account for tax returns and payments for those not eligible for Social Security Numbers (SSNs).  See my previous article on completing the W-8BEN.

An ITIN does not authorize work in the U.S. or provide eligibility for Social Security benefits or the Earned Income Tax Credit.

Who needs an ITIN?

IRS issues ITINs to foreign nationals and others who have federal tax reporting or filing requirements and do not qualify for SSNs. A non-resident alien individual not eligible for a SSN who is required to file a U.S. tax return only to claim a refund of tax under the provisions of a U.S. tax treaty needs an ITIN.  IRS processes returns showing SSNs or ITINs in the blanks where tax forms request SSNs.  IRS does not accept, and will not process, forms showing “SSA”, 205c”, “applied for”, “NRA”, & blanks, etc.

Other examples of individuals who need ITINs include:

  • A nonresident alien required to file a U.S. tax return
  • A U.S. resident alien (based on days present in the United States) filing a U.S. tax return
  • A dependent or spouse of a U.S. citizen/resident alien
  • A dependent or spouse of a nonresident alien visa holder

If a person does not have a SSN and is not eligible to obtain a SSN, but has a requirement to furnish a federal tax identification number or file a federal income tax return, then that person must apply for an ITIN.   By law, an alien individual cannot have both an ITIN and a SSN.

Why Are ITIN Applications Falling, ITIN Application Rejections Increasing?

From January through October 2013, applicants filed only one million ITIN applications with returns, compared to 1.8 million during the same period in 2012. During this period, ITIN applications and accompanying returns declined nearly 50%, while the percentage of applications rejected by the IRS soared to 50.2%.

The Taxpayer Advocate reports that an explanation for these numbers is the burden caused by the new ITIN procedures.

ITIN applicants report problems, including a lack of communication about why the IRS suspended or rejected an application, an inability to speak with IRS employees, a lack of notice about the status of the application, the rejection of applications with legitimate supporting documents, and lost original documents. The IRS’s policy of generally accepting ITIN applications only during the filing season forces the IRS to process applications under short timelines and does not provide sufficient time to review them for potential fraud.

The IRS stated in response that it does not plan to pursue electronic filing of the ITIN application. The IRS provided several reasons why its Form W-7, Application for IRS Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) is not a suitable candidate for electronic filing:

In order to strengthen the ITIN program, when requesting an ITIN taxpayers are required to submit documentation that supports the information provided on the Form W-7. The applicant can submit original documents or certified copies from the issuing agency. The attachment of an electronic copy of the documents, such as a .pdf version of the supporting documentation, will not allow IRS to authenticate the documents as outlined in IRM 3.21.263. In addition, taxpayers are required to submit their original tax return(s) for which the ITIN is needed with the W-7 attached. The Modernized e-File (MeF) system is not able to accept both the W-7 and associated tax return(s) in the same transaction.

IRS Cancelling Unused ITINs

Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs) will expire if not used on a federal income tax return for five consecutive years, the Internal Revenue Service announced today. To give all interested parties time to adjust and allow the IRS to reprogram its systems, the IRS will not begin deactivating ITINs until 2016.

The new, more uniform policy applies to any ITIN, regardless of when it was issued. Only about a quarter of the 21 million ITINs issued since the program began in 1996 are being used on tax returns. The new policy will ensure that anyone who legitimately uses an ITIN for tax purposes can continue to do so, while at the same time resulting in the likely eventual expiration of millions of unused ITINs.

ITINs play a critical role in the tax administration system and assist with the collection of taxes from foreign nationals, resident and nonresident aliens and others who have filing or payment obligations under U.S. law. Designed specifically for tax administration purposes, ITINs are only issued to people who are not eligible to obtain a Social Security Number.

Under the new policy:

  • An ITIN will expire for any taxpayer who fails to file a federal income tax return for five consecutive tax years.
  • Any ITIN will remain in effect as long as a taxpayer continues to file U.S. tax returns. This includes ITINs issued after Jan. 1, 2013. These taxpayers will no longer face mandatory expiration of their ITINs and the need to reapply starting in 2018, as was the case under the old policy.
  • To ease the burden on taxpayers and give their representatives and other stakeholders time to adjust, the IRS will not begin deactivating unused ITINs until 2016. This grace period will allow anyone with a valid ITIN, regardless of when it was issued, to still file a valid return during the upcoming tax-filing season.
  • A taxpayer whose ITIN has been deactivated and needs to file a U.S. return can reapply using Form W-7. As with any ITIN application, original documents, such as passports, or copies of documents certified by the issuing agency must be submitted with the form.

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Practical Compliance Aspects of FATCA

Over 600 pages of in-depth analysis of the practical compliance aspects of financial service business providing for exchange of information of information about foreign residents with their national competent authority or with the IRS (FATCA),

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