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How do Social Security numbers work?

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Quick Answer

A Social Security number is a unique sequence of digits that tracks government benefits, employment records and financial information of American citizens with different parts of an SSN denoting three separate facets of the numbering system. The primary purpose of the SSN is to submit accurate reports of employees who eventually receive Social Security benefits.

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How do Social Security numbers work?
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Full Answer

A master database known as the Numerical Index File, or Numident, maintains information regarding SSNs. One record exists in the database for every SSN issued, and information updates whenever Numident receives such data as a new employer, new loan or new benefit.

As of October 2014, a SSN is required for federal loan applications, military service, bank accounts and tax return filings. These nine-digit number sequences were required for driver's licenses and birth certificates until Congress repealed certain laws.

The first three digits, or the area number, denote from what state or territory a particular SSN originates. For instance, the number sequences 001 through 003 are SSNs from New Hampshire and 575 to 576 are from Hawaii. The next two digits are the group number. The group number goes from 01 to 99 as new groups of numbers get assigned. The last four digits delineate the serial number from 0001 to 9999. The lowest possible SSN is 001-01-0001. Because there are nine digits, nearly a billion number combinations are possible.

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