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Getting a Social Security Card

Posted on January 10, 2006 | Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service

Bernie H Herskovets/For the Times-Standard

Every year millions of people apply for a Social Security number (SSN) or replacement card. It is important to know the rules for getting a new or replacement Social Security card before you apply. Here is a brief primer on what you need to know:

Proof of citizenship and identity:

There are strict requirements on what documents Social Security can accept to prove your citizenship and identity when you apply for a Social Security number. For example, only certain documents can be accepted as proof of U.S. citizenship. These include your U.S. birth certificate, a U.S. passport, a Certificate of Naturalization or a Certificate of Citizenship.

In addition, if you were born in the United States and have never had an SSN, Social Security will need to verify your birth record before you can be issued a card. Today the parents of most newborns apply for an SSN before taking the child home from the hospital. If that is the case, Social Security will not need to verify the birth record.

If you are a U.S. citizen who is applying for a replacement Social Security card, Social Security will ask you to prove your identity by providing an acceptable document that shows your name, identifying information about you and preferably a recent photograph. Examples of acceptable identity documents include your U.S. driver's license, state-issued non-driver identification card or U.S. passport.

The rules for issuing SSNs and cards to non-citizens are also strict. Acceptable documents for proof of identity for non-citizens include current U.S. immigration documents such as Form I-551, I-94 with an unexpired foreign passport or a work permit card from the Department of Homeland Security (I-766 or I-688B).

Anyone age 12 or older requesting a Social Security number for the first time must appear for an in-person interview at a Social Security office.

Name changes for brides and others:

Each year millions of people change their names. Whether due to a marriage, divorce or any other situation, reporting a name change to Social Security helps ensure that you will receive proper credit for your earnings and, one day, the Social Security benefits based on those earnings.

If you need to change your name on your Social Security card, you must show proof of your legal name change. Acceptable documents include a marriage license or certificate, a divorce decree stating that you may change your name or a court order for a name change. If the documents that you provide do not give enough identifying information about you, Social Security will ask that you also provide a document showing your old name and a second document with your new name.

Limits on replacement cards:

There are limits on the number of Social Security replacement cards you can get. You are limited to three replacement cards in a year and 10 during your lifetime. But name changes, such as might occur when you get married, do not count toward these limits. And changes in citizenship status that require card updates may not count toward these limits. Also, you may not be subject to these limits if you can prove you need the card to prevent a significant hardship.

Why Social Security has these rules:

These rules, prescribed by law, help ensure that only those who should receive an SSN do so. They make SSNs less accessible to those with criminal intent and prevent individuals from using false or stolen birth records or immigration documents to obtain an SSN.

To find out more about the rules for getting a Social Security number and card, visit our website at http://www.socialsecurity.gov or call our toll-free number at (800) 772-1213.

2006 brings Social Security benefit changes:

Here is a brief rundown of important Social Security changes in 2006. Beginning in January 2006, a 4.1 percent cost-of-living adjustment will be applied to all Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments. This means that the average monthly benefit for a retired worker in 2006 is $1,002 (up from $963 in 2005); the average monthly benefit for a disabled worker in 2006 is $939 (up from $902); and the average monthly benefit for a widowed parent and two children in 2006 is $2,074 (up from $1,992).

Other Social Security changes in 2006 also are worth noting. For example, a worker now pays Social Security tax on up to $94,200 of annual income (up from $90,000). Of course, the Medicare tax of 1.45 percent applies to all earnings. A worker earns one credit of coverage after paying taxes on $970 in earnings (up from $920). As always, four credits may be earned each year and a person generally needs 40 credits to be eligible for retirement benefits.

Beneficiaries who are under their full retirement age can now earn up to $12,480 annually (up from $12,000) without any reduction in their benefits. There is no earnings test once you reach your full retirement age. To determine your full retirement age, or to learn about other changes the New Year has ushered in, visit http://www.socialsecurity.gov.

Bernie H. Herskovets is the Social Security district manager for Humboldt and Del Norte counties.

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