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What is a Social Security Card?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Jan 22, 2024
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In the United States most people are required to have a social security number, and for taxation purposes even children might need to get a number within the first year or two of life, so this number can serve as proof of the child’s existence. People obtain this number by applying for a social security card. The card is a simple blue paper card that has name and social security number of the front and a place for a signature. When ordering the cards for children, the signature space should be left blank.

People apply for a social security card through a local branch of the social security department, and unless the applicant is under the age 12, an in person application is expected. To make this process easier, people may download online forms from the social security website. There are specific requirements toward confirming identity, and these usually include requests to see a birth certificate and identification card from a state or a driver’s license. The agency may accept alternatives.

For children under 12, the only requirement in obtaining a social security card could be a birth certificate. Many hospitals also allow parents to fill out card paperwork right after a child is born, and there is usually no need to provide additional documents. Different requirements for getting a card can exist if people were born somewhere else and/or are not US citizens.

There are a number of circumstances where people might be required to show their card. They are especially important when applying for jobs, and they made be used in other ways. On their own, they aren’t a source of identification, and while people are used to carrying around cards like driver’s licenses, the social security card should only be carried when absolutely needed. Many applications, such as for loans, don’t require showing the card, and only ask people to provide their social security number.

What this means for most people is that once a card is received, it should be put in a safe place, and the nine-digit number should be memorized. Carrying around the card is ill advised — if it is accidentally lost or stolen, someone else could use the number to commit identity theft.

When people do lose a social security card, the website does have instructions for replacing it. If it has been stolen, this should be duly noted when application is made. The card is not the only means by which people gain access to other’s social security numbers. Since these numbers are frequently used to apply for jobs, credit, or to confirm identify, they may be heard and written down quite easily. The best way of preventing this may be to only give the number out in secure settings and when it is deemed necessary.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon206163 — On Aug 15, 2011

Keeping your social security card stored in a safe place does make better sense than carrying it around in a wallet or purse, but the problem is that many places ask to copy your driver's license and social security card as proof of identification. I've been asked to produce both items when filling out a job application, waiting in a doctor's office or applying for any kind of benefit.

It's hard to know when to take your social security card with you and when to leave it at home. You're not supposed to laminate the card, either, so it is bound to wear out over a few years. I think it would be good to print those things out on a more durable material if they're meant to last the lifetime of the holder.

I remember when most driver's licenses had the driver's social security number printed on them. I believe it's optional now, but most people ask that it not be shown. It seems to me that the current number system is going to run out eventually, so we may all get issued a different kind of number in the future, maybe with more numbers or letters to avoid duplication.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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