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What is a Social Security Card?

Along with other legal documents like your birth certificate, passport, ID card or driver’s license, power of attorney, and will, your social security card is one of the most important things you own.

But you might be wondering: what is a social security card, exactly?

In short, it’s the card version of your social security number(SSN), your nine-digit identification that’s one of your first and longest connections to the US government. Now, for the longer answer, this guide will walk you through everything you need to know about your social security card.

Your social security card is the physical home of your nine-digit social security number. That SS number is your first point of contact (and identity) with the Social Security Administration (SSA), a government agency devoted to what its name implies: security for our society.

Your SS number and card are your key to earning income through a job and to locking in retirement benefits, especially for the later stages of your life.

It’s also how you access a whole suite of government benefits, including but not limited to:

  • Retirement
  • Disability
  • Medicare
  • Survivors
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

Social security is intimately tied to your status as a US citizen or resident. That’s why one of the most common ways people get an SS card is right after they are born, at around the same time their birth certificate is produced.

However, an SS card received at birth by a US-born baby is not the only kind of SS card. People also need to get a new social security card after marriage to confirm their name change. With that said, there are also other kinds of SS cards to consider.

Types of Social Security Cards

There are three types of SS cards issued by the SSA. Each SS card designates your legal name and SS number. However, the specifics of what it says and allows depend on your citizenship and resident status.

Per the SSA, here’s how the three types of SS cards break down:

  • For US Citizens and Permanent Residents: The cardholder’s name and SS number appear on the card, and it authorizes you to work without any restrictions.
  • For Temporary Residents Authorized to Work: The cardholder’s name and SS number appear on the card, along with the words: “VALID FOR WORK ONLY WITH DHS AUTHORIZATION.”
  • For Non-residents Not Authorized to Work: The cardholder’s name and SS number appear, along with the words: “NOT VALID FOR EMPLOYMENT.”

Being that almost all citizens, permanent residents, and even some non-residents have SS cards, it’s clearly an extremely important identity document.

But how important is this document, exactly? And do you need a Social Security card?

Why You Need a Social Security Card

First, it bears repeating: you absolutely do need a SS card. Your SS number and card are the keys that unlock so many doors in your life, from work to banking to transportation to financial security when you retire or get hurt.

But what is a social security card needed for, exactly?

You Need it to Work

On a base level, you need a SS card to officially gain employment. Your employer needs to be sure that you are who you say you are. They also need to verify that you’re authorized to work and pay taxes.

Your SS card is your physical proof for work authorization. You can think of it as your ID card for employment authorization.

It also enables you to rack up Social Security credits. As you work and pay taxes, you contribute toward the Social Security trust fund, earning credits that you’ll need in order to cash in on SS benefits down the road.

Those credits are needed to cash in on certain Social Security benefits, which are the main purpose for Social Security.

You Need it for Social Security Benefits

The money you contribute toward Social Security, through your tax payments, supports a fund from which the government pulls when it distributes benefits.

The main benefits available, and their qualifications and details, include the following:

Retirement Benefits

When you retire, Social Security replaces a portion of your pre-retirement income with regular retirement benefit checks. The amount of money you receive and your eligibility to receive benefits depend upon a few key factors:

  • Lifetime earnings – Your benefits are calculated based on your lifetime earnings. The more money you earn over your years working, the more you’ll receive in retirement.
  • Credits – Those born after 1929 need 40 credits to qualify for retirement benefits, which is the equivalent of about 10 years of work. Credits are calculated based on earnings, scaling with average earnings per year. You can earn a maximum of four per year. In 2020, you accumulated one credit per $1410 in earnings.
  • Retirement age – When you decide to retire can impact what your benefits look like. Retiring the first year of eligibility (62) results in reductions (up to about 30%) of total earnings at full retirement age (67 for those born after 1960). Waiting to retire also adds to the raw total of lifetime earnings, meaning a higher benefit. In addition, delaying retirement to age 70 can add a Delayed Retirement Bonus.

Besides retirement, another major benefit is Disability.

Disability Benefits

Social Security’s disability benefits are a safety net intended to help workers who’ve experienced a major injury. Unlike some other public and private programs, it only applies to workers who:

  • Are 18 or older
  • Experienced an injury rendering them unable to work for a year
  • Suffered an injury expected to result in death

The amount of money you receive per month is calculated based on your lifetime income. It is the equivalent of your retirement benefit, minus any reductions for early retirement. However, if you receive other payments from other programs, the amount of SS disability you receive can be reduced.

Disability also synergizes with Medicare in that anyone on disability for 2 years is automatically enrolled.

Medicare Benefits

The health insurance solution for all Americans over age 65, Medicare, simplifies and makes coverage accessible for aging Americans.

Although Medicare is governed by the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS), the SSA enrolls US citizens in Medicare at age 65. It also enrolls some younger individuals, such as those with qualifying disabilities (see above).

Survivors Benefits

The SSA version of life insurance, Survivors Benefits exist to provide for your family in the event of your death. They are earned on a similar credit system to the one used for retirement.

If you qualify, and you were to pass, your survivors would be eligible to collect:

  • Up to 100% of your retirement for a widow(er) at full retirement age; a lower % for lower ages.
  • 75% for each surviving dependent parent if both are alive, or 82.5% for one such parent.
  • 75% for a child under the age of 18

Finally, the last major benefit is SSI.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Benefits

Supplemental security income helps disadvantaged individuals with low income and few resources, including assets and property. To be eligible for SSI, you must meet income and resource requirements and prove some combination of:

  • That you’re at least 65 years of age
  • Blindness or impaired vision
  • Disability

While SSA manages the SSI program, it’s actually funded by US Treasury general funds, not the Social Security trust fund.

You Need it for Identification and Banking

Aside from enabling you to receive the benefits you deserve after a hard-worked career, a SS card is also needed for establishing other forms of identification—such as a REAL ID—as well as setting up a checking account.

Since the REAL ID Act was passed in 2005, there are stricter regulations than there used to be for what IDs are federally certified.

Some things to consider:

  • REAL IDs have signature logos in the top right corner
  • They’re required for domestic air travel
  • You need one to access secure federal facilities

While the SS card itself is not required for a REAL ID, confirmation of your SS number is. And many of the documents that would confirm your SS number (a W2, a pay stub) would require you to have a SS card as acceptable proof. For banking purposes, you also need to have proof of an SS number or Taxpayer Identification number in order to open up a checking account.

So, you clearly do need an SS card. But do you have one?

If not, you’ll need to apply for a new card. And If you want to save time and make this process as quick and easy as possible, you’ve come to the right place. Not sure how to get a new card? Check out our guide on how to apply for a social security card. We'll walk you through the SSN application process.

Save Time with NotYourSocialSecurity

Here at NotYourSocialSecurity, our mission is to save you headaches with all things related to your social security number, card, and benefits. While the SSA offers resources and accessible applications, a lot of time and effort is required, no matter what kind of question you want answered or application you need filed. Wondering can I order a social security card online?

Well, that’s where we come in.

Our tools help you avoid long online and in-person wait-times at the social security office, so you can stop worrying about Social Security and get back to what you do best: living your life.

Skip the trip to your local SSA office and file with us to see how easy getting a social security card can be. Curious about the social security process? Check out our blog to learn how long it is to get a social security card.


Department of Homeland Security. REAL ID.

Social Security Administration. Disability Benefits.

Social Security Administration. How You Earn Credits 2020.

Social Security Administration. Medicare Benefits.

Social Security Administration. Retirement Benefits.

Social Security Administration. Social Security Number and Card.

Social Security Administration. Supplemental Security Income.

Social Security Administration. Survivors Benefits.

Social Security Administration. Types of Social Security Cards.