Social Security Number vs Taxpayer Identification Number: Understanding the Difference

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between a Social Security Number (SSN) and an individual Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN), and how it is used when pulling a background screening report?

According to the IRS, a TIN is only available for certain nonresident and resident aliens, their spouses, and dependents who cannot get a SSN and is used for administering tax laws such as filing tax returns and opening a bank account. Depending on the identification number, it is either issued by the IRS directly or by the Social Security Administration (SSA). TINs are a 9-digit number, beginning with the number “9” and formatted like an SSN.

SSNs are issued to U.S. Citizens and those with lawful alien status.  They will not begin with the number "9."

The three major credit bureaus only use the SSN for credit report identification purposes. It is important to remember that these three bureaus are businesses, not government organizations. While there are governmental regulations and oversight – Experian, Equifax and TransUnion have the lead in protecting consumer data and information, along with determining what information is furnished in credit reports.

When accessing a credit report for rental or employment purposes, providing as much information on the applicant will increase the likelihood of returning a record instead of a “no record found.”  Without an SSN, it significantly reduces the return rate.

Can a credit report exist on someone without an SSN?  The answer is yes.  For example a nonresident may have a credit card issued by a U.S. bank who contributes data to the bureau(s).   The credit report may be accessed by including the middle initial and both current and any previous U.S. addresses to help with the matching methodology.  CIC offers its clients to run reports in this manner through their Information Services Dept.

What happens if a TIN is used to access a credit profile?  The bureau(s) do not use a TIN to identify a consumer.  They will return a message that the number provided is not an SSN.  However if there is enough other matching personal identifiers, a credit profile may be returned.

As a result of this system, if the applicant has an SSN that is the most reliable way to verify an individual’s identity and return a complete credit report.  If a “no record found” is returned, conducting an SSN trace will bring to the forefront any other names and addresses associated with the number to verify the individual’s identity and rule out applicant fraud or data entry mistakes.

It is important to protect your investment and organization by utilizing a quality background screening service with extensive consumer ID tools at its disposal which meets industry standards. Data integrity is the foundation of a trustworthy background check. To learn more about how CIC can protect your organization through the nation’s most reliable tenant and employment screening solutions, please visit

By: Laura Mowry