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How to Apply for a Social Security Number (SSN) or Card

Social Security Guide

How to Apply for Social Security Number Get a Social Security Card Application SSN Application Types Cards

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Why Should I Apply for a Social Security Number or Card? What Is a Social Security Card or Number?
A Social Security Card contains a unique number, a Social Security Number (SSN), issued to you by the Social Security Administration (SSA) after you complete an application.

The Social Security Number / SSN is used by government agencies, schools, and businesses to identify people in their computer systems. It is a very important piece of identification in the United States, and the Social Security Number and Social Security Card should stay with you for the rest of your life.

Every working person and taxpayer in the United States must have a Social Security Number / SSN. You need a Social Security Number to get a job, collect Social Security benefits and receive some other government services. Many other businesses, such as banks and credit companies, also ask for your Social Security Number, and in some cases ask to see your Social Security Card. If you become authorized to work in the US, you want to get a Social Security Card immediately (see below for how to apply for a Social Security Card / Social Security Number with the correct Social Security application form).

The nine-digit Social Security Number is divided into three parts. The first three numbers generally indicate the state of residence at the time a person applies for his or her first card. The middle two digits of a Social Security Number have no special significance, but merely serve to break the numbers into blocks of convenient size. The last four characters represent a straight numerical progression of assigned numbers.

Types of Social Security Cards Issued

When you receive a Social Security Card, it will be one of three types of Social Security Cards:

  • The first type of Social Security Card is the card most people have, and has been issued since 1935. It shows the person's name and Social Security Number / SSN, and it lets the person work without restriction. The Social Security Administration issues it to U.S. citizens and permanent resident aliens.

  • The second type of Social Security Card bears the legend "NOT VALID FOR EMPLOYMENT." The Social Security Administration issues it to people from other countries who are lawfully admitted to the United States without U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) work authorization, but who need a Social Security Number / SSN because of a federal, state or local law requiring a Social Security Number to get a benefit or service.

  • The Social Security Administration began issuing the third type of Social Security Card in 1992. It bears the legend "VALID FOR WORK ONLY WITH DHS AUTHORIZATION." It is issued to people who are admitted to the United States on a temporary basis with authorization to work from USCIS (an agency within the Department of Homeland Security).

The Social Security Card Application Process

If you need a Social Security Number / SSN, want to replace your lost or stolen Social Security Card, or want a card showing your new name, you may apply by filing Form SS-5 (Application for a Social Security Card) with your nearest Social Security office. This service is free. Forms are available online, or at your nearest Social Security office, or by calling Social Security's national toll free number: 1-800-772-1213.

Read the instructions on the Social Security application form carefully. You will need to provide original supporting documents, including proof of your lawful alien status, along with the Social Security application. If you are age 18 or older and have never been assigned a Social Security Number before, you must apply in person. Otherwise, you have a choice to send your Social Security / SSN application and supporting documents by mail. In this case, the Social Security office will return your documents to you. If you do not want to mail your original documents, take them to the nearest Social Security office.

If you do not have permission to work in the U.S., you will need to provide a letter, on letterhead stationery (no form letters or photocopies), from the government agency requiring you to get a Social Security Number / SSN. The letter must specifically identify you as the applicant, cite the law requiring you to have a Social Security Number, and indicate that you meet all the agency's requirements except having the Social Security Number.

If you are assigned a Social Security Number / SSN for non-work purposes, you cannot use it to work. If you use it to work, the Social Security Administration may inform the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

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