Most of us were given Social Security numbers as newborns. Over the years, you (or your parents) may have lost the physical card that displays the number. You'd be hard-pressed to get a credit card, house or even a job without a Social Security number.
But do you need your physical Social Security card?
The first Social Security cards, issued in 1936, were made of cardboard. In 1983, the Social Security Administration switched to banknote paper to make it harder to alter them or create counterfeit cards.
According to the Social Security Administration, there are now 47 valid versions of the Social Security card in circulation, many of which predate counterfeit-resistant and tamper-proof security features.
Here's what you need to know about your Social Security card, including when you need to show it, how to keep it safe and how to replace it.
For more on Social Security, learn what to do if your number has been stolen and whether you can request a new one.
Do I need a physical Social Security card?
While your Social Security card may be requested by a government agency or employer, there is almost always another document you can provide.
In most cases, knowing your number is what's critical.
"You'll rarely need the card itself -- perhaps only when you get a new job and have to show it to your employer," according to the Social Security Administration website.
Pennsylvania is the only state that requires individuals applying for a driver's license or non-driving ID to present a Social Security card.
Do I have to show my Social Security card when I get a new job?
The Internal Revenue Service says employers should ask new hires for their Social Security card. And, according to the agency's Employer Tax Guide, "the employee may show the card if it is available."
If you don't have your card, your employer can use the free Social Security Number Verification Service, which allows registered employers to verify whether a person's name and Social Security number match Social Security Administration records.
Read On: When Is it OK to Share My Social Security Number?
New hires must complete an I-9 form, which verifies their identity and employment eligibility, but there is a whole list of accepted documents.
At the end of the day, though, your boss can require you to present a Social Security card "for payroll purposes separate from when the employee completes the I-9 form," according to the Society for Human Resources Management.
How do I replace a lost Social Security card?
You can typically order a new card online, in person or through the mail. You'll need documentation that verifies your identity, citizenship status and work eligibility -- typically a driver's license or passport and birth certificate.
if you ordered it online, it takes about seven to 10 business days for a new card. If you submitted a request through the mail, it could take between two and four weeks.
You're limited to three replacement cards in a year, and 10 cards in your lifetime. (Legal name changes don't count toward these limits, and changes in immigration status don't either.)
Guarding your card
While you could easily go your whole life without having to produce your Social Security card, it's a good thing to keep on hand. There are some simple steps to keep it secure.
Don't carry it in your wallet. It's not considered a valid ID and could easily get lost or stolen. If someone has both your driver's license and Social Security card, they could gain access to your credit card accounts, bank account balances and other information.
Don't laminate your card. You might think that will keep your card from being damaged, but it can make it harder to detect security features -- like the yellow, pink and blue discs randomly placed on the paper stock.
You can keep your card inside a plastic cover so long as it's removable.
Keep it in a safe place. Store your card in a secure drawer or safe with other valuable documents like your birth certificate.
Don't present your card if you don't have to. Except for government agencies like the Department of Motor Vehicles and the IRS, even sharing your Social Security number is voluntary.
Banks, schools, doctor's offices and stores are legally allowed to ask for your number, but you don't have to do business with them. And most will accept a driver's license number or other identification as an alternative.