A Social Security number is the federal government's way of identifying your child. Your child will need a Social Security number in order for you to claim child-related tax breaks -- such as the dependent exemption and the child tax credit--on your income taxes. You will also need the number to add your new baby to your health insurance plan, to set up a college savings plan or bank account for your child, or to apply for government benefits that could help your little one.
Here's how to get a Social Security number for your baby.
The easiest way to apply for a Social Security number for your child is to complete a birth registration form, which has a box you can check to request a number for your child. To complete the form, you will need to provide both parents' Social Security numbers.
For most new parents, it's easy to obtain the birth registration form, because hospitals usually distribute them while the mother is still a patient.
But if you didn't deliver your baby in the hospital or if for some other reason you were never given a birth registration form to complete, you can visit your local Social Security Administration (SSA) office and request a number in person. This process requires you to do three things:
Find the SSA office nearest you by logging on to the SSA's Office Locator at www.socialsecurity.gov/locator. If you'd prefer, you can send in a completed Form SS-5 along with your identification documents to your local SSA office by mail. Most people apply in person, however, because you'll need to provide the SSA with originals or certified copies of all identification documents.
Once you've submitted your application, you should receive a Social Security card in six to 12 weeks. It may take substantially longer to process your application if your child is one year of age or older, because the SSA will contact your state's department of vital statistics to confirm that the birth certificate you have provided is valid.
If the child you are adopting is a United States citizen, your child may have a Social Security number already. But if you are adopting domestically and your child does not have one, you can obtain an Adoption Taxpayer Identification Number (ATIN) to claim child-related tax breaks while your child's adoption is pending. To apply for one, complete IRS Form W-7A, Application for Taxpayer Identification Number for Pending U.S. Adoptions. The ATIN will be valid for only two years, at which point you can extend it if your child's adoption is still not final. Once the adoption is final, you must stop using the ATIN and get a Social Security number for your child following the process described above.
If you are adopting a child from another country, you will have to wait until the adoption is final and your child has entered the United States before you can obtain a Social Security number for your child. Once that happens, you can use the process described above.
To find out more about child-related tax breaks, see Tax Breaks Every Parent Should Know About.
For more information on financial and legal issues of interest to new parents, read Parent Savvy: Straight Answers to Your Family's Financial, Legal & Practical Questions, by Nihara Choudhri (Nolo).