Your Social Security number is a unique identifier issued by the Social Security Administration (SSA). It is a set of nine numbers that was originally used to track individuals' Social Security accounts in the late 1930s but has since become a way to identify people for taxation and other purposes.

Applying for a Social Security card is free and requires an application, including with two documents proving age and identity, along with citizenship or immigration status. Your SSN is meant to stay with you for your entire life, and therefore, is never meant to change. But there may be instances where the administration makes certain exceptions. Learn more about these circumstances and when they may apply to you.

Key Takeaways

  • The Social Security Administration generally does not encourage or allow citizens to change their Social Security numbers, except under certain circumstances.
  • You can change your SSN if you can prove that using your existing number will cause you harm, such as in cases of abuse or harassment. 
  • Identify theft may also qualify you for a new Social Security number.
  • You cannot change your SSN to avoid bankruptcy or if you're evading the law.

Rules on Changing an SSN

The SSA generally does not encourage or allow citizens to change their Social Security numbers. But like every other rule, there may be mitigating circumstances in your life that require a change in the number.

The SSA may issue a new SSN if you are able to prove that using your existing number will cause you harm, such as in cases of abuse or harassment. The agency also reissues Social Security numbers when someone is a victim of identity theft.

One thing to keep in mind, though, is that even if you get a brand new SSN, it doesn't mean you get a fresh start. The administration normally keeps records under the original SSN, which means other government agencies such as the DMV and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) follow suit. Financial corporations and other credit-granting companies may also keep these records, so your credit file may still remain the same.

A brand new SSN doesn't mean a fresh start, as the administration and other government agencies keep records under your previous number.

Harassment and Abuse

Although the SSA does not normally issue new SSNs, it does so to assist those whose safety is in danger. Sometimes it becomes necessary for a person escaping a violent relationship or other life-threatening situation to shed their previous identity for protection. Domestic violence and stalking victims, or those who are under threat of physical harm, often must choose between the stress of starting over and the fear of staying put.

Identity Theft

Identity theft is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the United States. In addition to combing the Internet for unguarded information, thieves can obtain your SSN and other personal details by going through your trash, stealing your wallet, or contacting you by phone or email posing as an employer, bank employee, or insurance agent. These people often sell your information on the dark web or black market.

Once your identity is stolen, it may not be possible to truly get it back. If someone manages to steal your SSN, they can easily use it to obtain other information about you, such as your name, birthday, and credit information. Armed with this knowledge, a criminal can simply open up any number of new credit cards under your name, use them until the credit limits are met, and never repay the debts.

A person often does not know their identity has been stolen until they begin receiving calls from creditors or are turned down for a loan because of a bad credit score. In some cases, the damage is irreparable.

Other Reasons

Of course, there are other reasons a person may want to change their SSN that are much less serious. The SSA may approve a change if similar numbers within a family unit cause confusion or if two identical numbers have been issued in error. If you have a religious objection to a certain number or sequence of numbers within your current SSN, you may also qualify for a change.

Not so Fast

The SSA does not provide replacement numbers for those who want to avoid the consequences of bankruptcy or are evading the law. In addition, you will not be issued a new number if you lose your Social Security card, and there is no evidence that your number is being used by someone else.

Changing Your SSN

To change your SSN for any reason, you must apply in person at any Social Security office. After providing a statement explaining why you need a new number, you must provide credible, third-party documentation of your reason, including medical, legal, or police documents regarding identity theft, abuse, or harassment.

In addition, you must provide documentation of your U.S. citizenship or legal residency, age, identity, and current SSN. If you have custody of any children or changed your name in the past, supporting documentation must also be provided. Specific guidelines apply regarding acceptable sources and types of documentation.