In the United States, having a Social Security number (SSN) is critical. Parents often apply for this nine-digit number for their newborn babies so they can open a bank account in the child’s name to start a college fund. From a young age, Americans learn to safeguard and memorize their number, keeping their Social Security card securely hidden away, never carrying it around in a wallet.
Why a Social Security Number is important
As the Social Security Administration describes it, the SSN is “your first and continuous connection with Social Security.” It helps the SSA identify, maintain and monitor individual income records, which is necessary in order to determine eligibility for Social Security and Medicare benefits. Having your SSN means that you are able to apply for employment and government services. Without it, you would not be able to work legally.
In addition to employment, situations where your SSN would be required include opening a bank account, applying for a driver’s license, taking out a bank loan and enrolling in insurance coverage. Once the SSN application is approved, the Social Security Administration issues a card and mails it to the applicant’s U.S. mailing address. This card is a convenient form of proof when sharing your SSN is appropriate and mandatory. Other acceptable forms of proof include a pay statement, Form W-2 (wage and tax statement) and a SS benefit statement.
If the card is lost, you can apply to the SSA for a replacement card at no cost. In some states, online submission is an option. However, a replacement card for a name change cannot be done online. An application with accompanying mandatory documents would need to be completed and either mailed or hand-delivered to the local Social Security office. Legal name changes may be due to marriage, divorce or court order.
Types of Social Security cards
There are three types of SS cards, which all show the SS holder’s name and SSN. For United States citizens and people lawfully granted admission into the country on a permanent basis, the card validates eligibility to work without restriction.
For people who are lawfully granted entry into the United States temporarily with authorization from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to secure employment, the card will be issued with a restriction. In that case, the card will read, “valid for work only with DHS authorization.” In some cases, an individual does not have DHS authorization to be employed but needs the SSN for a valid non-work reason or to acquire a benefit or service. In that case, a restriction is printed on the card, which reads, “not valid for employment.”
For more information about Social Security numbers and cards, visit the official government Social Security Administration website at ssa.gov/ssnumber/.