Social Security Number

How Do You Get a Social Security Number?

You and your employer must keep your social security number secure to avoid identity theft.
larryhw/iStockphoto/Getty Images

The social security number is issued by the United States Social Security Administration (SSA). The social security number is a unique identifying number that U.S. citizens and some non-U.S. citizens need for several significant purposes.

You must have a social security number to obtain a job. The social security number is used to identify employees for tax purposes and eventual receipt of social security retirement money.

Your social security number is also used for some other government services and by banks and credit issuers for identification. Historically, before identity theft became so frequent, your social security number was used by everyone from universities as a student ID number to energy companies, telephone service companies, and even, libraries.

How to Apply for a Social Security Number

You can apply for a social security number by following these directions. To apply for a social security number and card, you will need to bring certain documents to your local SSA office. These documents must prove your age and your identity.

  • To prove your age, you will need your birth certificate.
  • You must also establish your identity. The SSA accepts identification documents that are current; that show your name, other identifying information, and a recent photo. These identification documents include:
  • --U.S. driver’s license
    --state-issued, non-driver identification card,
    --U.S. passport
  • If these identification documents are not available, the Social Security Administration will ask to see:

    --Employee ID card;
    --Health insurance card (not a Medicare card);
    --Employee ID card;
    --U.S. military ID card;
    --School ID card;
    --Adoption decree; 
    --Life insurance policy; or
    --Marriage document (only in name change situations).

    The documents that you use to prove your age and identity must be originals or copies that are certified by the agency that issued the document.

    You will receive your social security number and card as soon as the SSA has verified your documents at an issuing office.

    What Does My Employer Do with My SSN?

    Your social security number is supposed to be unique - and as long as no one has stolen it, it is. So, if you change your name, your social security number still stays the same. Your employer will run your number through their database to see if you worked there previously.

    You may think is a silly step, but a lot of companies merge and break apart and are purchased by other firms. You may be applying for a job at a business you've never worked at, but you'll still be in their system because you worked for a small business that this big company purchased years ago.

    If your job involves finances or sensitive information, your potential employer may use your social security number to run a credit check. Legally, you have to sign a release for them to perform the credit check.

    If you've had problems with identity theft, speak up before they run the report. That way, they aren't surprised when it comes back weird, and they should be willing to work with you to determine your actual risk level.

    Legally, your employer has to withhold taxes, and any court mandated deductions. For instance, child support, back taxes, or other judgments against those. Your social security number is what ties all of them together.

    When they withhold taxes from your paycheck, the taxes are attached to your social security number. Your number needs to be accurate for you to receive credit for the work you do. When you retire, your social security payments will come from the money you paid into social security during your working days. You don't want any mistakes there.

    See additional thoughts about having to provide your social security number during a job search. Find more about employers and identity theft from identity theft expert, Jake Stroup. 

    Also Known As: SSN, SS#, Soc