WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT YOUR SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER
Lori Z. Bahnmueller
Michigan Credit Union League - Your Money Matters
Social Security numbers (SSNs) aren't simply for contributing to and collecting from your social security retirement fund. They are far more important than that. Without a SSN you couldn't conduct many of your normal financial business transactions. For example, you couldn't file your taxes, obtain credit cards, or receive a paycheck--at least not legally.
In 1935 when the Social Security Administration (SSA) began the social security program it needed a record keeping process to track individuals' earnings and benefits. Names were considered; however due to the fact that many people use more than one name over a lifetime or share the same name with others the idea was rejected. A nine-digit numerical identifier was selected.
What the Numbers Mean:
Divided into three parts, the first three numbers of your SSN identify the state of residence where you applied for your first card. The middle two digits have no special significance and merely serve to break the numbers into convenient sequencing. The final four characters are a straight numerical progression of assigned numbers.
How Social Security Numbers are Used Today:
The numerical identification system is still used by the SSA to track employment earnings and social security benefits such as: Medicare, retirement and disability. It is also used to verify the cardholder's citizenship, date and place of birth, father's name and mother's maiden name.
Various other government agencies also have legal access to SSNs for their tracking purposes. The Internal Revenue Service uses it to track interest earned on financial accounts for tax purposes. And, schools and businesses in the private sector frequently utilize SSNs for identification and tracking purposes specific to their needs.
Types of Social Security Cards:
There are three types of cards issued by the SSA. The most common is issued to U.S. citizens and permanent resident aliens, allowing them to work without restrictions. The second is issued to people from other countries who are in the United States on a temporary basis, but not for work. The third type of card for individuals that have been admitted into the United States on a temporary basis and have been granted employment authorization.
Protect Your Number:
The SSN program is a convenient personal identification system--a system worth protecting. In combination with other personal or account information (driver's license number, checking, savings or credit card account numbers), your SSN is often enough information to apply for additional credit cards or have checks printed. It could even be enough information to allow someone else access to your existing accounts or personal records.
To protect your number, always show your card to your employer when you start a job for your personnel file. Don't rely on your memory. If you give out the wrong number, your earnings may be credited to some other worker. Check the name and SSN on your pay stub and W-2 form to make sure your name and number are correct. Keep your card in a safe place, don't carry it with you. Never use your SSN as a second form of identification when writing checks. Finally, the SSA advises that you send for an earnings statement every three years to make sure your record is right. The statement is available free of charge from the Social Security offices by calling (800) 772-1213.
Privacy of Records:
Although many individuals and agencies may have a record of your SSN, they do not have access to your social security records. This privacy is guaranteed by the SSA. Only when another government agency is required by law, or when the information is needed to conduct Social Security or other government health or welfare programs, are your records accessed.
When Numbers are Misused:
It is illegal to use someone else's number or to alter, buy or sell Social Security cards. If someone else uses your number, intentionally or by accident, contact the SSA at (800) 772-1213 to inform them and have your records corrected.
How do You Get a Social Security Number?
Today all children are recommended to have a SSN assigned to them before they reach the age of two. In fact, many hospitals have the papers available for new parents to complete before they even leave the hospital with their newborn. Otherwise, contact the SSA at the number above to receive a form by mail. The hearing impaired should call (800) 325-0778 for TTY service between 7 a.m. - 7 p.m. business days.