How to File Taxes if Your Spouse Doesn’t Have an SSN

Updated on April 9, 2024

At a Glance

  • Filing taxes with a non-U.S. citizen spouse depends on their tax residency status.
  • If the spouse is a U.S. resident alien, federal income tax returns must be filed based on residency tests.
  • Options include filing jointly, which requires obtaining an ITIN for the non-U.S. citizen spouse, or choosing Married Filing Separately or Head of Household.
  • Benefits exist for filing jointly, but it means the non-U.S. citizen spouse is treated as a U.S. tax resident and taxed on worldwide income.

Tax season can be the most stressful time of the year. It combines the difficulty of navigating complex laws with the challenge of understanding your finances. Not to mention what happens if you don’t file taxes on time. The process is more complex when you are married and filing jointly with your spouse, especially if your spouse does not have a social security number. Read on to learn how to file taxes if spouse does not have SSN.

Spouse’s Tax Status Explained

There are several ways you can file your tax return if your spouse is not a U.S. citizen. The options depend on whether your spouse is a U.S. resident for tax purposes or not. In other words, the options depend on whether your spouse is already required to file tax returns with the IRS (Internal Revenue Service). 

If your spouse is a resident alien, they are a tax resident of the United States and required to file federal income tax returns. If your spouse is a nonresident alien then they are not required to file U.S. tax returns.

There are two main ways to determine whether your spouse is a tax resident of the U.S.: the Green Card Test and the Substantial Presence Test

The Green Card Test

If your spouse has been issued a lawful permanent resident card (a green card), they are considered by the government to be a U.S. resident for tax purposes.

The Substantial Presence Test

Your spouse may also be considered a tax resident of the U.S. if they spend a lot of time in the country. This is called having a substantial presence in the U.S.

The conditions that indicate a substantial presence are listed below. Your spouse is a resident alien if they were physically in the U.S. for at least:

  • 31 days during the current year, and
  • 183 days in the last 3 years (including the current year) and
  • of those 183 days over the last 3 years,
    • 1/3 of them were last year, and
    • 1/6 of them were in the year before last.

As a general rule, resident aliens are taxed the same as U.S. citizens. They are taxed on all income from anywhere in the world. 

If your spouse does not pass the Green Card Test or the Substantial Presence Test, they are a nonresident alien. 

Once you understand your spouse’s tax status, the next step is to figure out how to file taxes if the spouse does not have SSN. 

Can I File as Single if My Spouse Does not Have an SSN?

Under U.S. federal tax law, you cannot file your taxes as a single person once you are married. This is true even if your spouse is not a U.S. citizen. After you get married, you can only choose between filing under the following three statuses:

  • Married Filing Separately
  • Married Filing Jointly
  • Head of Household.

If your spouse is a nonresident alien, the automatic filing status is Married Filing Separately unless you choose to change it.

Please note that even if your spouse lives in a different country, you are still not allowed to file your taxes as a single person in the United States.

Filing Options When Your Spouse Does Not Have an SSN

If you are married, you cannot file as a single person, even if your spouse is not a U.S. citizen. However, you can freely choose whether to file a joint tax return with your spouse or file separately. Each filing status is explained in more detail below.

Married Filing Jointly With Nonresident Alien Spouse

If your spouse is a nonresident alien, they are not required to file U.S. tax returns. This means that you can file your taxes as Married Filing Separately and your spouse does not have to do anything. 

However, there are financial benefits to choosing your tax status as Married and Filing Jointly. You can do this even if your spouse is a nonresident alien. By filing your taxes as Married Filing Jointly you could be eligible for dozens of different tax credits and deductions for married couples. These benefits could lead to significant savings on your tax bill.

For example, if you file your taxes with your nonresident alien spouse as Married Filing Jointly, you would get the automatic tax deduction for married couples, which is $24,400.

You can only file a joint tax return if you treat your spouse as a resident alien for tax purposes, even if they don’t live in the U.S. You are allowed to voluntarily do that, even if your spouse does not pass the Green Card or Substantial Presence tests.

However, it is important to note that if you choose to do this, the IRS will treat your spouse as a resident alien for all tax purposes. Resident aliens are taxed the same as U.S. citizens, so your spouse would then be taxed on all their income from anywhere in the world.

If your spouse’s worldwide income is low, then it would still make sense to file jointly and get the potential tax savings. However, if your spouse has significant income from outside the U.S., your joint tax bill could end up being much higher.

If you want to file as Married Filing Jointly and your spouse is a nonresident alien, you can follow the steps outlined below:

  1. Your spouse must apply for an ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number) from IRS
  2. Attach a declaration to your tax return (as a resident alien or U.S. citizen) that your spouse is a nonresident alien, but they choose to be treated by the IRS as a resident alien. Both of you must sign this letter.
  3. On your joint tax return form, include your spouse’s name, address, and ITIN (in place of an SSN).

After you file a joint tax return in this way, the IRS will continue to treat your spouse as a resident alien for tax purposes every year until you change your decision and tell them in writing.

Married Filing Separately With Nonresident Alien Spouse

If your spouse is a nonresident alien with a high income, it may be better to file your taxes as Married Filing Separately. 

Married Filing Separately is the standard filing status for a U.S. tax resident who is married to a nonresident alien. When you file your return in this way, you just have to indicate that your spouse is a nonresident alien without an ITIN. Your spouse is not required to file any documents.

There is also a third filing option: Head of Household. You can choose this if, in the year of filing, you paid more than half of the cost of maintaining a household for certain dependents or relatives, not including your spouse.

In this case, again, your spouse would not be subject to U.S. income taxes and would not have to apply for an ITIN from the IRS.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Can I file taxes if my spouse doesn’t have a Social Security Number (SSN)?

Yes, you can file taxes if your spouse doesn’t have an SSN. You will need to use an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) for your spouse when filing your tax return.

What is an ITIN and how do I get one for my spouse?

An ITIN, or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, is a tax processing number issued by the IRS to individuals who are required to have a U.S. taxpayer identification number but do not have and are not eligible to obtain an SSN. To obtain an ITIN for your spouse, you must complete IRS Form W-7 and submit it along with the necessary documentation.

What documents are needed to apply for an ITIN?

To apply for an ITIN, you need a completed IRS Form W-7, proof of identity, and foreign status documents for your spouse. Acceptable documents include a passport, national identification card, U.S. driver’s license, and others as specified by the IRS.

How do I file my taxes using an ITIN?

When filing your taxes, enter your spouse’s ITIN in the space provided for the SSN on your tax return forms.

Can I file jointly with my spouse if they only have an ITIN?

Yes, you can file jointly with your spouse if they only have an ITIN. Filing jointly can often provide tax benefits.

What if I am already married but my spouse doesn’t have an ITIN by the tax deadline?

If your spouse doesn’t have an ITIN by the tax deadline, you can file for an extension using Form 4868, giving you extra time to get the ITIN and then file your taxes.

Are there any tax credits I can claim if my spouse has an ITIN?

While some tax credits are only available if both spouses have an SSN, you may still be eligible for certain credits, like the Child Tax Credit, if you have qualifying children with SSNs.

How does filing taxes with an ITIN affect my tax return?

Filing taxes with an ITIN instead of an SSN can affect your eligibility for certain tax credits and benefits. However, you are still able to file and report your income as required by law.

Can I claim my spouse as a dependent if they have an ITIN?

No, you cannot claim your spouse as a dependent on your tax return. If you are married and filing jointly, your spouse is considered a joint filer, not a dependent.

Will using an ITIN for my spouse affect their immigration status or application?

Using an ITIN for tax purposes does not affect an individual’s immigration status or application. The IRS does not share ITIN information with immigration enforcement agencies.

Read More

Final Thoughts

There are several methods of how to file taxes if the spouse does not have SSN. The options available depend on whether your spouse is a tax resident of the United States (resident alien) or not. The most important thing is to understand whether your spouse is currently a resident or non-resident alien for tax purposes. You cannot file as a single person if you have a spouse but you can choose to file jointly, separately, or as a head of household. If you choose to file jointly, your spouse will need to have an ITIN. For more specialized advice consider using services like Turbotax vs. HR Block.

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Frank Gogol

I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.

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