SSN and ITIN? What are these random acronyms and why do I need to know them?

A Social Security Number (SSN) and an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) are both essentially just 9 digit numbers that serve to identify you. Both are really important to building your financial record. Think of it as a Jersey number in a basketball game; just like LeBron is number 23, your own 9-digit number is like a unique jersey that you as an individual put on. For a SSN, your number allows the US government to track the financial information about you across several areas: paying taxes, collecting benefits or spending on credit cards.

What’s the difference between an SSN and ITIN?

In a way, ITIN is used as a replacement for SSN in case you are not allowed to possess an SSN, for whatever reason.

The key difference between an SSN and an ITIN is that an SSN is for U.S. citizens and authorized noncitizen residents, such as students on F1 visas like yourself. An ITIN is for residents with foreign status, like people who might not reside in the States but still conduct business here. An ITIN is issued by the IRS and is used for tax filing purposes. Similarly, just think of it as a number coded to your financial data.

So, why do you need a number to apply for a loan or credit card?

Banks rely on social security numbers so they can verify your identity. For credit lenders, they have to comply with a law called the USA Patriot Act, which makes sure that nothing suspicious is happening when money gets moved around. By checking it against the social security database, credit card issuers can verify your personal information and make sure you are who you say you are.

More importantly, having an SSN or ITIN lets you start building that sweet credit history. By knowing that you and your unique jersey number are paying credit on time, banks gain confidence that in future you’ll do the same, unlocking more benefits and better rates for when you need to buy that first car you’ve always wanted.

So, how do I get my own distinctive number?

That’s a great question! If you’re an international student, you can only get an SSN if you are making money (i.e., you have an on-campus job or summer internship). Apply through your local Social Security Office for a SSN. If for some reason you’re unable to do so, apply through the Internal Revenue Service or IRS for an ITIN. According to the IRS’s website, a mail-in application for an SSN takes 2-4 weeks to process while an ITIN can take 7 weeks.

We know that’s a long time to wait, especially if you want to start building your credit score as soon as you land in the US. Join ChrysCard’s waitlist as we try and find out together how to make that process faster, whether you have an SSN or not!


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