How to File Taxes If Spouse Does Not Have SSN or ITIN

May 14, 2024

For US expats, filing taxes can become complex when married to a nonresident alien who lacks a Social Security Number (SSN) or an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). Navigating the intricacies of federal income tax is a significant aspect of this complexity, especially when making choices that affect one’s status and potential obligations. This article outlines the key choices available to expats in these circumstances, focusing on the strategic considerations that can impact their tax filings and optimize tax benefits.

Can I File Single If I’m Married to a Nonresident Alien?

No, you cannot file as single if you are married to a nonresident alien. Understanding your household filing status is crucial, especially when married to a nonresident alien, as it affects your tax obligations and benefits. Once you are married, you must file as either Married Filing Jointly or Married Filing Separately.

How Can US Expats File Taxes If Their Spouse Does Not Have an SSN or ITIN?

If your spouse is a nonresident alien, you have three options when filing your taxes:

Married Filing Jointly (MFJ): You’ll need to include all of your spouse’s income, foreign and domestic, which will be subject to U.S. tax, including the spouse’s worldwide income. This comprehensive inclusion directly impacts your taxable income, potentially increasing your tax liability. However, you may be able to claim credits for any taxes your spouse paid on their foreign income, which can reduce your overall taxable income. If this is the first year filing jointly, you’ll need to elect to be treated as U.S. residents for tax purposes.

If choosing to include the nonresident alien spouse in the tax return, it is crucial to apply for an ITIN by filing Form W-7 along with the federal tax return. This process requires submitting a federal tax return when applying for an ITIN with a W-7 form, allowing for joint filing and potentially more favorable tax treatment.

Married Filing Separately (MFS): If preferring to keep the nonresident spouse out of the U.S. tax system, the US citizen can file using “Married Filing Separately” status, writing “NRA” where the spouse’s SSN is required. You won’t treat your spouse as a resident for tax purposes and won’t include their income on your return, which means the spouse’s worldwide income is not considered in your taxable income calculation. However, the standard deduction is lower than MFJ potentially affecting your ability to lower your taxable income. If your spouse doesn’t have an SSN or ITIN, you can leave the field blank when e-filing or write “NRA” on a paper return. This avoids the need for the spouse to report worldwide income and simplifies the expat’s tax situation.

Head of Household: If you have other qualifying relatives living with you, you may be eligible for this filing status, which provides a higher standard deduction than MFS.

How Can I file married filing jointly if my spouse is a non-resident alien?

If your spouse is a nonresident alien, you can file married filing jointly if you elect to treat your nonresident alien spouse as a U.S. resident for tax purposes. This election allows you to file a joint return and be taxed on your worldwide income. This election is permanent unless suspended or revoked, and once revoked, the nonresident alien spouse cannot elect to be treated as a resident in the future, even if married to someone else.

How Can You Make an Election to Treat Your NRA Spouse as a U.S. Person for Tax Purposes?

Step 1. Prepare your return

Step 2: Attach a signed statement to your return stating that one spouse is a U.S. citizen/resident and the other is a nonresident alien, and you elect to be treated as U.S. residents for the entire tax year

  • Include full names, addresses, and SSNs/ITINs of both spouses
  • If your NRA spouse doesn’t have an ITIN, apply for one by completing Form W-7 and attaching it to your return with required documentation
  • Mail your return to the IRS address specified in the instructions

Consequences and Considerations

  • Tax Liability: By making this election, both spouses agree to be taxed on their worldwide income and cannot claim benefits under any tax treaties to not be a U.S. resident.
  • Future Filings: While you must file jointly in the year you make the election, you may file jointly or separately in subsequent years.
  • Revoking the Election: This election can be revoked by either spouse by the due date for filing the tax return for the tax year for which the revocation applies. The revocation must include a signed statement indicating the decision to revoke, along with the names, addresses, and TINs of each spouse.

Can I claim my non-US citizen spouse as a dependent?

Yes, you can claim a non-US citizen spouse as a dependent on your tax return if they meet the IRS criteria for a “qualifying relative.” This includes providing more than half of their financial support during the year, them not filing a joint tax return with their spouse, if married, except to claim a refund of taxes withheld or estimated taxes paid, and meeting other specific requirements like living with you for more than half the year.

Navigating the tax implications of filing with a nonresident alien spouse involves understanding a complex array of rules and making critical decisions that can affect both your financial well-being and tax compliance. The election to treat your NRA spouse as a U.S. resident is a significant decision with long-term implications on your tax obligations and potential benefits.

At 1040 Abroad, we specialize in providing expert tax advice tailored specifically for US expats. Whether you are grappling with the decision to make an election, understanding state tax obligations, or maximizing your tax credits, our team is here to help. We offer free tax advice via email, ensuring you can make informed decisions without any upfront cost.

If you have any questions or need personalized guidance, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at 1040 Abroad. Let us assist you in making the most out of your tax filings and ensuring you remain compliant with all necessary tax laws as a U.S. expat.

Contact us today to ensure your tax strategy is as efficient and stress-free as possible.

Written by

Kasia Strzelczyk, EA

A certified accountant and IRS enrolled agent with over 8 years of experience working with US expats. With a deep understanding of the unique financial challenges faced by expats, Kasia is dedicated to helping clients navigate complex tax laws and regulations.

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