14 May

Applying for an ITIN for a dependent on H4 for Tax Returns

Taxes due April 15

There are few things harder in life than dealing with a Governmental organization. And I was fortunate enough to have to deal with the IRS recently regarding my Tax Returns for the year 2013. Since I got married last year and have my wife here in the US on an H4 Dependent Visa status, I get to file my returns as Married Filing Jointly. I was aware that I will need to apply for an ITIN for her to be able to file my returns successfully. I also knew that it can’t be done preemptively since I need to do my returns and only then send that along with a filled in W-7 form which is the application for an ITIN. That wasn’t any problem to figure out. But my woes only began when I realized that TurboTax Online cannot do it for me. In fact, TurboTax gave up after filling in my 1040. My faithful friend who makes life so easy for millions in the country had given up on my after serving me so well the last two years. Okay so here’s the process for applying for an ITIN and the various options available for anyone wanting to do the same:

  1. Use TurboTax to help you fill your Federal and State Tax Return and generate the forms.
  2. You will not be able to file online so don’t bother paying for any additional services of TurboTax for e-Filing (i.e., if you can avoid it)
  3. Whenever TurboTax asks you for your spouse’s SSN, leave it empty. You will be warned about Errors but that’s OK since you are not going to e-File any way.
  4. Once your forms are completed, TurboTax will tell you that you will have to file by mail because of the errors above. Save all the forms to your computer or print them out if you have a printer available.

Now that you have your Federal Returns (Form 1040, Form 1040EZ) filled in an printed, you will have to mail that to the IRS ITIN Operations Division ( along with other documents. Note that this is not the address TurboTax and the return form tells you to mail the forms to. Amongst the documents you need to send to the IRS, the ORIGINAL Passport (of the H4 dependent) is the one standalone document that is sufficient for most H4 applicants. Other documents are listed here: http://www.irs.gov/Individuals/Revised-Application-Standards-for-ITINs Since I don’t feel comfortable mailing an original passport away, I wanted to find out if there was another way. And in my case, since we were planning to travel around soon, not having a passport in hand was a risk I could not take. So I found I had three options:

  1. File the return and apply for an ITIN at a Local IRS Office. Find one close to you here: http://apps.irs.gov/app/officeLocator/index.jsp
  2. File returns and apply for an ITIN through an acceptance agent. Find them by state here: http://www.irs.gov/Individuals/Acceptance-Agent-Program
  3. Mail a Copy of the Passport (H4 Applicant), endorsed by the issuing authority – The Embassy of the country that issued it – to the IRS ITIN Operations division, along with your returns.

Knowing me, I had to research all three options. Option 1 seemed the safest bet since there was a local IRS office only 20 minutes from my home. IRS offices work 8-30 to 4-30 on weekdays only so I went there one morning before work. I was there at 8-45 and the lady at the reception told me that a limited number of tokens are issued daily for the ITIN processing at that center and that they were out already. She told us that the line forms outside the office as early as 8AM. So we wanted to give it another shot, try come early and get in line. So we arrived another day at 7-30AM and found that we were about the 10th in line. So I figured we would get it done that day. To all my dismay, I later found out that the number of tokens they issue per day is a paltry 8! So the couple in front of me frowned and left and we followed suit, angry that they only process 8 ITIN applications a day. So I gave up Option 1 knowing that I am wasting time and effort on this with no guarantees of getting it done on any day. So I looked up Option 2: File through an acceptance agent. There are a bunch of acceptance agents near where I lived, including some H&R Block offices as well. So I called up a few – some said that their Acceptance Agent was no longer certified to process ITINs, some claimed an exorbitant fee upwards of $200 and few didn’t know the process. Before I settled to shell out a fourth of my returns on fees, I wanted to find out about the feasibility of Option 3: Send an endorsed copy of the passport to IRS by mail. Endorsing has to be done by the issuing authority of the document, which in the case of a passport is the embassy of the country that issued it. Luckily for me, the Embassy of India is in Washington DC and is quite approachable. So I looked up their website for the procedure for endorsing a passport and found that it was about a $13 affair plus the metro fare to and from DC. I asked my wife to visit the embassy and get her passport copy endorsed and she got that done in a day.  So that was easy and I sent across my Federal Returns, Form W-7, Endorsed copy of Passport of ITIN Applicant (with Visa and I-94 pages) to the ITIN Operations Center of IRS. More Links:

  • About ITIN: http://www.irs.gov/Individuals/Individual-Taxpayer-Identification-Number-(ITIN)
  • General ITIN Information: http://www.irs.gov/Individuals/General-ITIN-Information
  • Revised Application Standards 2013: http://www.irs.gov/Individuals/Revised-Application-Standards-for-ITINs
  • Additional ITIN Information: http://www.irs.gov/Individuals/Additional-ITIN-Information
  • IRS Local Office Locator: http://apps.irs.gov/app/officeLocator/index.jsp
  • IRS Acceptance Agents: http://www.irs.gov/Individuals/Acceptance-Agent-Program

Questions? Comment below.

Disclaimer: I’ve gone through this process in 2014 and some of these steps and requirements may have changed. Please look for more updated information if available on the internet. I just don’t want someone to be mis-led by following the instructions I have provided and face any inconvenience. 

17 Apr

The Top 10 Must Haves For Your Shiny New WordPress Website

So you want a website...

Okay so I have been setting up a few WordPress sites for my friends and partners at large. WordPress has come a long way and is my goto answer for many solutions. Years ago, I would have considered Joomla, Drupal or thought about searching for another CMS but today – WordPress is enough. I say – let’s find the right theme and the right plugins to make it do what you need and if it still doesn’t do what you want, let’s find a developer who will build if for us – in WORDPRESS.

Installing a WordPress vanilla site is quite simple but with many hosting providers now providing 1-click installers like Softaculous, that insanely simple install is even simpler.

But after that, you will have this plain site with nothing installed and a base WordPress theme that is quite configurable and you can get started creating content right away. But before you proceed, you’ll need few things to keep your site safe, running, trackable and restorable if something goes wrong. So here’s my list of the top must haves for your WordPress site.


You’ll need a theme that suits your needs on the website and finding one may not be that easy. Most free themes are great and premium themes usually have plugins and functionality built into them that makes some of the plugins listed below redundant. You’ll probably want to try a few out before you get it right – That’s OK. It’s a lot of work – and that’s OK too. Here’s a few places you can go to find some good themes:

Finding and installing a theme is only half the battle. Then you have to go get some images and graphics for your website. If you have photos of your own or want to go click them yourself / have a photographer friend – great. If not, there are tons of stock photo websites out there that publish some amazing stock photos that you can use on your website. Based on what you’re building, you’ll have to find the right images for your site’s branding and identity. A logo and a favicon may also help along the way. You may opt to have a static frontpage and a separate blog page. You may also create other pages and the one you absolutely must have is a Contact Us page with a simple form where users can send you messages. Jetpack allows you to do this if your theme doesn’t have a similar function.

Once you’re done configuring your theme, then come the plugins. Here are some absolute must haves if your theme doesn’t already fulfill that function. And note, don’t install too many plugins and never multiple security or SEO plugins at the same time. People also recommend some performance / cache plugins but I’ve burnt my fingers in the past with them and thus don’t use or recommend them.


  • Security Plugins (Careful – not setting these up correctly can lock you out of your site)
  • Backup Plugins
    • UpdraftPlus – Backup/Restore: Automated backups & restorations that can be uploaded to remote storage locations like Google Drive, Dropbox, AWS S3 buckets etc.
  • Feature Enhancement Plugins
    • Jetpack: Jetpack is my favorite one stop shop for many things WordPress, namely:
      • WordPress.com SSO
      • Fully Customizable Contact Us Forms
      • Site Stats & Analytics
      • Automatic Sharing on Facebook etc.
      • Related Posts
      • Downtime Alerting
      • High Speed CDN for Images
      • Carousels, Slideshows & Galleries (this is usually part of most themes though)
      • Simple Media Embeds
      • Twitter / Facebook page embedding on your sidebar
      • Email Subscriptions
      • Comment Login using G+, FB, Twitter
    • Akismet Anti-Spam
  • Tracking Plugins
  • SEO Plugins
  • Code Plugins / Formatting Plugins

Once you’ve got these plugins installed, you’ll need to spend a few hours configuring them. Some of the plugins require subscription to additional 3rd party services like getting an Akismet API Key, signing up for a Google Analytics account, signing up for a WordPress.com account.

After doing all that, you’ll need to do a few more things to get some visibility to your website:

  • Register your website with Google, Bing etc.
  • Setup Google Search Console (submit your XML sitemap while your here)
  • Setup Bing Webmaster Tools (submit your XML sitemap while your here)
  • Setup SSL for your website (this is a complicated topic with many easy or difficult ways to achieve it so i’ll leave it to another blog post. Psst: my host provides free auto-SSL – read below)
  • Register your business on Google My Business
  • Register your business on Bing Places
  • Setup your Facebook Page, Google+ Page, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest etc. accounts – do this even if you are not going to post or manage these now or later. You don’t want a disgruntled customer or employee or ex-friend to claim these handles that have your business / blog name and start posting  stuff on it that you don’t like.
  • Test your site for errors, crawl-ability from bots, performance etc.. There are many tools to do this and most of them are free.
  • If you care about listening to the internet and what people are saying about your business, you can try Mention.com‘s free plan.


If you are in search for a domain name, I normally recommend Godaddy but since Google has entered the the domain names space, I have been slowly moving my domains over to them for one main reason – Privacy. Google Domains include privacy in the domain price which is a steady $12 for most TLDs. Privacy is usually an additional fee with Godaddy or any anyone else plus there isn’t a flat low price for domains with Godaddy. You can pay retail pricing but there’s almost always a coupon or deal that can get you a domain cheaper, sometimes cheaper than Google.


Also, this article is about self-hosted WordPress (WordPress.org) and not WordPress.com websites in which I don’t have much experience. Depending on your hosting needs, you’ll have a ton of options in that as well. I’ve hosted over a few hosting companies and moved over time to my current one. And moving hosts is not easy but I’ve had to. I’ve been hosting with MDD Hosting for quite a while now. Check out their plans if it interests you – MDDHosting. Great service & support at decent prices and my sites load fast. And now they even provide free auto-SSL which means all my sites hosted on their servers automatically serve content over HTTPs – no configuration needed. How cool is that!

So as you see, buying a domain and setting up a website is just the tip of the iceberg in running a successful website for your personal blog or small business. There’s a lot of unseen effort that goes into configuring it correctly and making sure that search engines and users can find your content and also you need to make sure that it loads quickly without errors in devices of all sizes, keeps running 24×7 and doesn’t get hacked while you are enjoying a vacation on a summer beach.

If you think that the cost of running a website is simply the sum total of the price of a domain and your hosting costs, you are going to find out that your website is not really going to be very successful unless you sweat it out and make it work. If you are not going to have the kind of time to do this yourself, I recommend you to hire someone to do it for you.