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Social Security Number: When Are You Required To Provide It?

August 27, 2011

Social Security Number: When Are You Required To Provide It?

Originally created as a means of recording a person’s revenue in order to calculate the Social Security benefits they were entitled to, the Social Security number (SSN) was never intended to be a personal identifier. Even so, over time the role of the SSN in the U.S. has developed into the standard form of identification for various types of record keeping. This shift in function can be partly attributed to businesses and government agencies replacing paper-filing structures with computer systems. In a world where millions of people share the same name, it is more efficient (for retrieval purposes) to enter a unique number instead of a name into a computer. During an average day, people are asked numerous times for their SSN: in doctor’s offices, at the dentist, at school, car dealerships, pawnshops, drugstores, retail stores, or the airport. Moreover, it is customary for potential landlords and employers to ask for your SSN, as well as anyone else who may wish to perform a credit or background check.
However, fulfilling noncredit-related requests, even medical related requests, is purely optional. Such optional requests include, but are not limited to, those made by: supermarkets, drugstores, preschools, airlines, and doctor and dentist intake forms. Be that as it may, there are certain organizations and situations in which you are required by law to disclose your SSN to. The following is a list, although not comprehensive, of such organizations and situations.
for tax returns and federal loans
for wage and tax reporting purposes
also if the employer is enrolled in E-Verify
for the school lunch program
to administer any tax, general public assistance, motor vehicle or drivers license law within its jurisdiction
for child support enforcement
for Food Stamps
for Medicaid/Medicare
for Unemployment Compensation
for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families
for monetary transactions
Veterans Administration
as a hospital admission number
Department of Labor
for workers’ compensation
Department of Education
for student loans
U.S. Treasury
for U.S. Savings Bonds
Social Security Administration
any type of contact
Applications for a hunting, fishing, or other recreational license
Credit reporting agencies
Credit applications
Cash transactions over $10,000
Military paperwork
Department of Motor Vehicles
Although you aren’t legally required to give your SSN to businesses, there is no federal law preventing businesses from discriminating against you or not doing business with you, if you don’t comply. So as you have the right to refuse to provide your SSN, businesses have the right to refuse to do business with you. For example, a utility company or other service provider might ask that you provide your SSN, but in reality do not need it; there are alternative means at their disposal for performing a credit check or identifying the person in their records. Some state law (Alaska, Kansas, Maine, New Mexico, and Rhode Island) does exist however, that either restricts the solicitation of SSNs or prohibits the denial of goods and services to someone who decline to give their SSN. Likewise, other state laws prohibit publicly posting or displaying an individual’s SSN or printing an individual’s SSN on any card required for the individual to access products or services provided by the person or entity.
In addition, certain federal laws exist that regulate SSNs. The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Act of 2004 prohibits states from displaying your SSN on your drivers license, although they are still allowed to collect this information. Moreover, government agencies that require individuals to provide their SSNs are regulated on the federal, states, and local level by The Privacy Act. Under the statute, when a person is compelled to give their SSN by a government agency, the agency, if asked, is obligated to: state the authority for requesting the information; whether disclosure is mandatory or voluntary; what uses will be made of the information; and the consequences, if any, of failure to provide the information.
To boot, the Code of Federal Regulations, section 16, furthers states that you can’t be denied a government benefit or service if you refuse to disclose your SSN, unless the disclosure is required by law or the disclosure is to an agency that has been using SSN before the Privacy Act went into effect (January 1975). Other exceptions, such as the Act not applying to businesses and only government agencies, are outlined in the statute as well.
Accordingly, the decision to provide your SSN is voluntary in many situations, even if asked directly. If requested, you should ask why your SSN is needed, how will your number be used, is it mandatory or voluntary that you provide your number, what law requires you to give your number and what are the consequences if you refuse. Your SSN is extremely valuable to your financial health and hence, it must be protected in situations that do not legally demand its disclosure.
Legal requirements to provide your SSN
The Privacy Act of 1974
Code of Federal Regulations
When you should, shouldn’t give out your Social Security number
When are Social Security numbers required?
Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004
Posted By: Eston Whiteside