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How Social Security Numbers Work

By: Patrick J. Kiger  | 

Common SSN Questions

SSN
The local Social Security Administration office is the place to go if you have qustions. Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-3.0)

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?

Essentially, yes. You need a Social Security number to apply for a job or a credit card, and you can't collect Social Security benefits in retirement or obtain some other government services without having one. Some states also require you to provide proof of your Social Security number in order to obtain a driver's license [source: SSA].

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Is There a Fee for Receiving a Social Security Card?

No. Social Security won't charge you anything to apply, and if you lose your card, the agency will replace it for free [source: SSA FAQ].

Do I Need a Number For My Child?

Applying for a number for your child is strictly voluntary. 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.

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 [source: SSA].

Is a Person's SSN Reused After He or She Dies?

No. Social Security doesn't reassign SSNs after a number holder's death. Even though the agency issues 5.5 million new SSNs per year, it still has plenty of number combinations to use and isn't expected to run out for many years [source: SSA FAQ].

Is It Possible to Change My Name Without Causing Confusion About My SSN?

Yes, people do this all the time, whether it's because of marriage, you've transitioned to a different gender, or because you simply want a new name. To do this, you need to contact Social Security and provide proof of your identity, as well as documents showing that you've legally changed your name, such as a court order for a name change, a marriage certificate or divorce decree, or a Certificate of Naturalization showing your new name [source: SSA].

Can I Change My SSN?

It is possible to get Social Security to change your SSN, but the agency says it will do so only in a few specific situations:

  • Members of your family somehow got sequential numbers that are causing confusion.
  • More than one person is using the same number. On its website, Social Security mentions the possibility that it could accidentally assign the same number to two people, though there don't seem to be any reported instances of this occurring.
  • You're a victim of identity theft, and crooks are continuing to use your original number to impersonate you.
  • You're being harassed or abused, or your life is in danger.
  • You have some sort of religious or cultural objection to your current Social Security number. You need written documentation of this reason to get Social Security to consider it.

To get a new number, you can either apply in person at a Social Security office, or complete an online application. Either way, you must provide extensive documentation of your problem, and also original identification documents [sources: Borland, National Center for Transgender Equality].

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