Your Social Security number, a unique identifier issued by the Social Security Administration (SSA), is meant to stay with you for life and never change, but there are instances where the SSA makes exceptions. These include times when your safety is endangered or you are a victim of identity theft.

The SSN is a set of nine numbers that was originally used to track individuals' Social Security accounts in the late 1930s. But it has since become a way to identify people for taxation and other purposes. Learn more about the circumstances that might lead to changing your SSN and when they may apply to you.

Key Takeaways

  • The Social Security Administration generally does not encourage or allow you to change your Social Security number, 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.

Rules on Changing Your Social Security Number

Applying for a Social Security card is free and requires an application, including two documents proving age and identity, along with citizenship or immigration status. 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 department of motor vehicles (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. 

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.

Harassment and Abuse

Although the SSA does not normally issue new SSNs, it does so to assist those whose safety is endangered. 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 while posing as an employer, bank employee, or insurance agent. Identity thieves 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 for Changing Your SSN

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.

How to Change 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. 

The Bottom Line

In addition to Social Security, the SSN is now also used for a wide range of purposes including taxes, obtaining credit, opening a bank account, and buying a home or a car.

The Social Security Administration does allow you to change your number, but only under certain circumstances, such as identity theft or if your safety is in danger. In either of these situations you'll need proof. Specific guidelines apply regarding acceptable sources and types of documentation. A good place to start to find out what you must submit is the SSA's website.