Your Social Security number is probably one of the few long numbers you can recite off the top of your head. Most of us are assigned one at birth and keep it our whole lives.
But can you change your Social Security number?
Generally, the Social Security Administration discourages people from changing their numbers, because it creates confusion with tabulating and distributing benefits.
You can't change your Social Security number simply because you want to, or because your card has been lost or stolen. But the agency makes exceptions in a small number of circumstances -- like if you're a victim of domestic abuse or identity theft -- and can prove that using your existing number is causing you harm.
Changing your Social Security number doesn't automatically mean an abuser won't be able to find you or a criminal will no longer be able to steal your identity. So it's worth thinking seriously before applying for a new one.
Here's what you need to know about getting a new Social Security number, including the reasons it's allowed, the process involved and other available options.
When can you change your Social Security number?
The Social Security Administration will assign a new number if:
- More than one person is assigned or using the same number.
- Sequential numbers assigned to members of the same family are causing problems.
- You are a victim of ongoing identity theft by someone using the original number.
- You are being harassed or abused or your life is in danger.
- There is a religious or cultural objection to digits in the original number. (In this case, written documentation in support of the objection from the religious group you have an established relationship with must accompany your application.)
How do I apply for a new Social Security number?
You can't do it online -- you must submit a new Form SS-5 in person at the nearest Social Security office. (Check this site for a list of Social Security Administration field offices.)
Applicants are asked to provide a statement explaining the reasons for needing a new number as well as "current, credible, third-party evidence documenting the reasons for needing a new number," according to the Social Security Administration.
If you're a US citizen, you'll also have to bring two original documents establishing your age, identity and citizenship status -- like a passport, birth certificate or driver's license -- as well as evidence of a legal name change, if appropriate. (Photocopies or notarized copies aren't accepted.)
Noncitizens must show current immigration documents, which could include an I-94, Arrival/Departure Record or Employment Authorization Document (EAD).
Check with the Social Security Administration about adequate documentation before heading in. You can visit the agency website or call 800-772-1213.
Victims of domestic abuse must submit documentation
If you've been subject to abuse or harassment, you must complete a statement explaining why you need a new number and provide supporting documentation of the abuse -- such as police reports, restraining orders, medical records and letters from shelters, counselors or others with direct knowledge of the situation. (Social Security can help you gather evidence.)
"Sometimes, the best way to evade an abuser and reduce the risk of further violence may be to relocate and establish a new identity," according to the Social Security pamphlet New Numbers for Domestic Violence Victims.
"Although we don't routinely assign new numbers, we'll do so when evidence shows you are being harassed or abused, or your life is endangered."
If you're changing your name as part of your new identity, Social Security recommends doing that first, so you can present court approval of the name change. The agency will also need to see custody documentation for any children you're also requesting new numbers for.
In cases of identity theft, you'll need to prove ongoing fraud
In addition to proving ongoing fraud, you'll also need to prove you're suffering continued harm, like repeated hits to your credit rating, and that you've tried every other method to resolve the problem.
That includes reporting the situation to the Federal Trade Commission, contacting the IRS and filing a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center.
Even if you get a new Social Security number, your old one isn't 'erased'
The new number is cross-referenced with the original to ensure all earnings under both numbers are credited to the same account. So getting a new number may not resolve whatever situation you're in.
"Applying for a new number is a big decision. Your ability to interact with federal and state agencies, employers, and others may be affected," according to the Social Security website. "If you change your name, financial, medical, employment, and other records will be under your former SSN and name."
Are there other options instead of getting a new Social Security number?
As an alternative, you can put a "block" on your existing number. That prevents anyone -- including you -- from accessing your information online or by phone.
If you want a block lifted, you'll have to contact Social Security and confirm your identity.