Difference Between a TIN Number & Social Security Number

By Georgiana R. Frayer-Luna
Difference Between a TIN Number & Social Security Number

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Taxpayer Identification Numbers (TINs) are a broad category of identification numbers used by the Internal Revenue Service for tax reporting purposes. This broad category of identification numbers includes the Social Security Number (SSN), the Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN), and the Employer Identification Number (EIN). The first two numbers are assigned to individuals and the latter is assigned to business entities only. Considering information about these three TINs can clarify the difference between the broad TIN category and its subsets.

Social Security Number

Think of a Social Security Number as one of the spokes in a TIN umbrella that covers tax reporting activities. According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), the SSN is assigned to individuals qualified to work in the United States and who are qualified to receive Social Security retirement benefits. This includes U.S. citizens, permanent residents and nonresidents who have approval from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to work in the U.S. An individual cannot have both an SSN and an ITIN number. The SSN is issued only by the SSA.

Individual Taxpayer Identification Number

Another spoke in the TIN umbrella is the ITIN. According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the ITIN is required for tax reporting or tax filing requirements for residents or nonresidents who do not qualify for a SSN. The ITIN is also required for those who are dependent spouses of such individuals. The ITIN is another one of the TINs, but it is issued by the IRS rather than the SSA.

Employer Identification Number

Another spoke in the TIN umbrella applies to businesses only, the EIN. The EIN identifies a business for tax filing and tax reporting purposes, just as the SSN and ITIN identify individuals for tax purposes. The IRS states that if a business has employees, is a corporation or partnership, files tax returns of any kind, withholds taxes on income paid to a nonresident alien or has a Keogh plan then it will need an EIN. In addition, organizations like trusts, estates, nonprofit organizations and farmers' cooperatives are among other enterprises that may require an EIN. The IRS issues EINs.

Apply for Taxpayer Identification Numbers

Apply for TINs according to the type of TIN needed. Apply for an SSN online or at an SSA office. SSNs are issued only by this agency. Apply for an ITIN through the IRS or through an IRS agent. These IRS authorized agents may include colleges, accounting firms or other financial institutions. Apply for the EIN with the IRS online or by telephone, fax or mail. These three TINs are spokes in the broader TIN umbrella that individuals and businesses are required to use for tax purposes.

About the Author

Georgiana R. Frayer-Luna is a researcher and author in Honolulu. She invested seven years in the first Hawaiian-language puzzle books published by the University of Hawaii Press, "Ho’opilipili ‘Olelo, Volumes I and II." Frayer-Luna now contributes to several online publications, covering subjects ranging from aviation and bar codes to Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.

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