Allworth Co-CEO Scott Hanson shares some lesser-known Social Security facts.
We have been hosting financial education workshops for 30 years, but the ones that involve Social Security are by far our most popular.
Maximizing benefits. Blending other income. Lowering taxes. People are always hungry for information about the program.
In keeping with the spirit of this ever-popular topic, I’ve decided to share a little research into 7 lesser-known facts about Social Security.
#1. Your nine-digit number is yours and will never be used again
Now, if you read that headline closely, you might automatically think: What about fraud?
Okay, you got me.
There was once a replica Social Security card, used as a prop inside a popular wallet sold at Woolworth’s at the start of WWII, that … whoops … turned out to be a number that belonged to an actual person.
Over the next three decades, sales of this wallet resulted in more than 40,000 fraudulent Social Security claims and incorrect earnings reports attributed to #078-05-1120, which belonged to one Hilda Whitcher.
But it wasn’t all fraud. In fact, many of those claims were honest mistakes, resulting from people who purchased a wallet and then later got their own card or number mixed up with Hilda’s. (The last reported mix up occurred in 1977.)
But, in theory, Social Security numbers are only supposed to be assigned once and then retired (when we die). Since its inception in 1936, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has created over 470 million nine-digit numbers.
You will be relieved to know that the SSA has said that there are still enough unused numbers to last for several decades.
#2. The first Social Security check was issued in Vermont
The land of maple rivers, Vermont produced almost three million gallons of maple syrup in 2022, easily making it the United States’ top producer.
Ida May Fuller, referred to affectionately as “Aunt Ida” by everyone in her hometown of Battleboro, Vermont, retired in 1940 as a legal secretary and received the first check ever issued by the Social Security Administration ($22.54) a few months later. (She reportedly celebrated with a short stack of pancakes.)
#3. You can lose your card … often
I was surprised to learn that you can lose your card up to 10 times over the course of your life, and even three times in a single year, and still get a new card, free of charge.
#4. Hackers and thieves love Social Security numbers
Many people wonder why we even still use Social Security numbers. (Someday soon, for better or for worse, we will all use biometric identifiers such as fingerprints and iris scans as our primary form of identification.)
Social Security numbers are incredibly easy to use for a broad range of fraudulent intentions.
The fact is that between 1973 and 2011 (they have since changed the process) a part of the SS number you were assigned was derived directly from your mailing address ZIP code.
Yes. And that gave hackers a straightforward way to calculate what your number might be.
So, what can hackers do with your Social Security number?
- Get a credit card
- Get a phone in your name
- File a phony tax return
- Receive emergency medical care
- Get a fraudulent driver’s license
- Open a bank account
- Set up utility accounts
You get the idea. Your Social Security number remains the key to your legal and financial identity, so protecting it is important.
#5. You can change your mind after you apply for Social Security
Because 40% of people who apply for Social Security before their full retirement age later come to regret it, the SSA offers applicants a one-year window after you begin taking benefits to rescind your application.1
One of the main stipulations is that you will have to repay any money you have received.
#6. Most private creditors can’t touch your Social Security
While I certainly hope you are never in this situation, typically, only Uncle Sam (and not private creditors) can garnish your Social Security to pay things like back alimony, child support, student loans, and back taxes.
However, IF your Social Security income is mingled in the same bank account as your other monies (and whose wouldn’t be?), the bank could conspire with the court to freeze all the money in your account until the process (usually a private lawsuit or debt) is figured out.
#7. Social Security sometimes pays Parent’s Benefits
Many people have heard of survivor’s benefits. They are typically granted to a spouse whose eligible partner has died.
But under certain circumstances, a parent or parents may be eligible for benefits through a child.
There are other factors, but among the rules are that the parent must be at least 62 years of age and receiving at least half of their support/income from their deceased child (who had accumulated enough work credits to qualify for benefits at the time of their death).
Over the last 30 years, we have hosted hundreds of retirement- and investment-related workshops, but as stated above, those focused on Social Security remain our most popular.
Considering that married couples have 81 different options for applying, and as it is a program most of us have paid into throughout our lives, some of the reasons for the popularity of these workshops are obvious.
That said, do your best to keep abreast of any changes coming to the program, and today and always, make certain you take every precaution to keep your Social Security number safe.