As we continue on our journey on How To Get US Credit Cards we come to our first of many roadblocks, how to establish credit history in the US and what that means for you going forward. Before I get into it, I want you to read my standard disclaimer:
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I take no responsibility for what you do with the information provided so if the IRS comes knocking … you don’t know me 🙂
As you probably know, in Canada, your credit history is associated with your Social Insurance Number (SIN), which is cross-referenced with your current address, previous addresses, and other identifying characteristics. It probably won’t surprise you that in the US, it’s done exactly the same, except with a Social Security Number (SSN). As a Canadian, you won’t have an SSN so there’s nothing that a credit issuer can use to pull up any existing credit history or a unique identifier to report on your creditworthiness. So what can you do?
Can I Use My SIN as my SSN?
If you are up to speed on the SSN vs the SIN, you will know that both are 9 digit identifiers that are uniquely issued to individuals upon application. And while the format of the SSN (XXX-XX-XXXX) is different from that of the SIN (XXX-XXX-XXX), the number of digits is the same.
So with the number of digits being the same, can you simply use your SIN as your SSN?
In a word, no.
Please God, don’t do this.
To me, this is a moral issue where if your SIN happens to meet the rules of an SSN’s algorithm (which doesn’t always happen), you are essentially committing identity theft. If you do this, you are causing someone endless grief as you will be applying for credit products using their personal identification and untangling that web is no easy or cheap feat. Stop and put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself if you should do this.
Stop and put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself if you should do this.
I would strongly discourage you from doing this.
Fine, I Won’t Use My SIN … What Else Can I Do?
Well, as a Canadian without an SSN, you need to have a unique identifier that credit issuers can report on to establish your credit history. Luckily, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) can issue something called an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN).
What Is The Purpose Of An ITIN?
At some point, I intend on publishing a book and using Amazon to sell that book. The problem is that as a Canadian citizen, Amazon will automatically take 30% of all revenues and hold them to ensure that taxes are paid on my earnings. In order to not have that happen, I need to prove to Amazon that I will be making my tax contributions to the IRS but how do I do that? Through an ITIN.
The purpose of the ITIN is to allow the IRS to collect taxes on revenues generated in the US by non-US citizens, and while that is its main purpose, you can use it as a quasi-SSN so that when you apply for a credit product, you can reference that number and credit issuers will be able to look up your US credit history. This is an incredibly important step as without an ITIN you will not be able to get US credit cards.
How Do I Get An ITIN?
There are three things that you need in order to receive an ITIN from the IRS:
- A properly completed W-7 form
- Proof of your identity
- A signed letter from a withholding agent
Remember in Part 1 where I told you that attention to detail is important? This is where it comes into play so pay attention as we look at each individual requirement.
The W-7 form is an IRS form that is required by the US Government to prove that you require an ITIN. The form itself is fairly easy to fill out but I’ll give you the step-by-step on how to complete it.
You can download the form from the IRS website using the link highlighted here. If you are looking for the official instructions on how to fill out the form from the IRS, you can find that here.
- At the top of the form, where it asks the Reason you’re submitting Form W-7, check off Box “H” and in the text box to right, type in “Exception 1(d) – Royalty Income”
- In the text box labeled “and treaty article number“, type in “TIAS 11087”
- In the Name section, fill out your first, middle (if applicable) and last name. If you had a different name at birth, list it in the boxes below.
- In the Applicant’s Mailing Address section, fill in your mailing address in Canada.
- In the Birth Information section, fill in your real birthdate. This is important because it will likely be used as an identifier by credit issuers. Don’t forget to check off your sex.
- In the Other Information section, check off Passport and fill in 6a and 6d with your passport information.
- The last section to complete is the Sign Here section. Simply sign under Signature of applicant, provide the Date and your Phone Number.
Now that you have the W-7 form completed, save it, print it and sign it and put on your desk. It’s going to be mailed after we get the other things required in order.
Proof of Identity
As part of your W-7 submission, you have to prove to the IRS that you are who you say you are and that’s why you’re required to provide your proof of identity.
You can do this in a couple of ways:
- Send in your passport as part of your application – I don’t like doing this with anything because I’m always nervous about it being lost or delayed in having it returned. With my job, there are occasions where I have last minute travel so I need my passport. If you don’t need your passport and aren’t as paranoid as I am, then go ahead and send it in … but there’s a better way.
- Send in a Certified True Copy of your passport – a Certified True Copy of your passport is simply a photocopy of your passport that is stamped and sealed by the Government of Canada, certifying that the photocopy is a true copy of your passport. This is an official document and is accepted as if it is your passport.
Getting a Certified True Copy of Your Passport
In order to get a Certified True Copy of your Passport, you will need to complete the Government of Canada’s form, pptc516. You can find a link to the form here (please note that I had to use Internet Explorer to get the form to download – Chrome did not work). If you need a copy, I have one stored locally on my server here, (again Internet Explorer is required) but your first choice should always be to get it from the Government of Canada website.
Fill out Sections A, B, and C.
There is a $45 fee to get the Certified True Copy but you can use it for future Visa applications as well. The $45 fee can get you up to 3 copies, so request 3.
You will need to take the completed form, your passport and the $45 to a Passport Canada Service Location to get it processed and it will take 10 business days.
Signed Letter From A Withholding Agent
In order to get the ITIN from the IRS, they need to know that there is a possibility of revenues being generated by a non-US citizen so they can collect taxes. There are many self-publishing options based out of the US including Kindle Direct Publishing and Smashwords that will provide letters supporting your application for an ITIN.
I used Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing when I got my ITIN but for the life of me, I cannot find the link to request the letter but I do recall that it was fairly well hidden and took some cajoling to get the letter sent out to me. I have read that Smashwords makes it much easier to get the letter through their Contact Form. I would request the letter similarly as I have noted in the picture below.
The letter from the Withholding Agent can take up to 4-8 weeks to arrive but when it does, assuming you have your Certified True Copy of your Passport, you will have everything you need in order to send away for your ITIN.
This is what the letter will look like:
Packaging It All Together
Once you have everything ready, place your completed and signed W7 form along with your Certified True Copy of your Passport and the letter from Amazon/Smashwords in an envelope.
Send the envelope to the following address if you are sending by regular mail:
Internal Revenue Service
P.O. Box 149342
Austin, TX 78714-9342
If you are sending via courier (FedEx, UPS, etc), use the following address:
Internal Revenue Service
3651 S. Interregional, Hwy 35
Mail Stop 6090-AUSC
Austin, TX 78741-0000
I scanned all my documents before sending it out to the IRS because it’s much easier printing the letter from Amazon or Smashwords than it would be to re-request it if the letter somehow got lost.
I sent my documentation via courier to make sure that everything got to the IRS and depending on your financial situation or risk appetite, you may want to consider doing the same.
Here’s what you can expect in terms of timing:
- It will take 10 business days to get your Certified True Copy of your Passport
- It will take 4-8 weeks to get your Signed Letter from a Withholding Agent (at least that’s what it was with Amazon … not sure about Smashwords)
- It will take 6-8 weeks for the IRS to process your request and return you a letter with your new ITIN.
I was successful after my first attempt but I was meticulous in my attention to detail. If you hope to be successful, you should double and triple check your work.
It’s a long process and the most painful part of getting US credit cards but ultimately it’s the price you pay for what amounts to access to a treasure trove of points and miles.
Now that you have your ITIN in order, you will need to get your first US credit card but first, let’s make sure you have everything you need to ensure you get approved. In the next part of the series, we’ll look at getting a mail forwarder and a US Bank Account set up.
Also published on Medium.