How Social Security Numbers Work

Common SSN Questions

In this section, you'll find basic SSN information and instructions on how to get an SSN or a new SSN card.

Does everyone have to have a Social Security number?

According to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS), any U.S. citizen (over age 18) who receives income must have an SSN. Employers are required to use that SSN to report the individual's income to the IRS.


Social Security coverage is mandatory -- you can't drop out. To those who claim their private retirement plans are better, the SSA points to its disability coverage and provisions for survivors, coverage it claims provides greater protection for families than what most private pensions provide.

Do I need a number for my child?

Applying for a number for your child is strictly voluntary. However, if you plan to claim the child as a deduction on your income taxes, you'll need to get him or her a number. Hospitals are making it easy to sign your baby up when you complete his or her name papers, but you can also wait until later and apply directly to the SSA.

It's a good idea to go ahead and get SSNs for your children -- you'll need them if you want to open savings accounts in their names, get them medical coverage, or let them take advantage of government services. Most people today receive their SSNs at birth, and, as a parent, you will certainly encounter many forms asking for your child's SSN.

What happens to my social security number after my death?

According to the SSA, SSNs are not recycled. Upon an individual's death, the number is removed from the active files and is not reused. Recycling numbers might become an issue someday, but not any time soon -- statisticians say that the nine-digit SSN allows for approximately one billion possible combinations.