Many job seekers are concerned about providing their Social Security numbers (SSN) when completing job applications. State laws vary on what information can be collected from applicants, and most states don't prohibit companies from asking for Social Security numbers.
However, you have the right to decide whether or not you feel comfortable giving out your Social Security number—just keep in mind that it may impact your chance of getting hired.
Why Do Employers Ask for Social Security Numbers on Applications?
Some employers (including state hiring agencies and the federal government) require applicants to list their Social Security number (SSN) when completing job applications. Employers may want your Social Security number to conduct a background check or credit check.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act regulates the use of background checks for employment. Employers must get your written permission before running a background check and must notify you about what they discover.
In addition, several states have prohibited or limited the use of credit checks for job applicants. Most employers that do conduct these checks do not do so until you are further along in the hiring process than the initial application.
When Can Employers Ask for Your Social Security Number?
Employers are permitted to ask applicants for their Social Security numbers in all states. Several states, including New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, require employers to put safeguards like encryption in place to protect the privacy of job seekers.
However, the Society for Human Resource Management advises employers to request Social Security numbers “only when absolutely necessary.” In practice, this means that many employers may choose to delay the request until later in the process.
Check with your State Department of Labor to learn about any restrictions for local employers requesting your Social Security number.
Your Options for Filling Out the Application
Just because you are asked for your Social Security number, does not mean you are obligated to give it out. It is important for job seekers to know that they are not legally required to provide their Social Security numbers to employers, with the exception of government and national security-related jobs or jobs that require a credit check.
With the rise of identity theft, it makes sense to be cautious when giving out your Social Security number. If the employer says giving your Social Security number is optional, you can simply choose not to give it. If it is required on the application, you can still choose not to list it if that's possible.
- Add an explanation. You may be able to explain in your application that you do not feel comfortable giving them your Social Security number at this point in the job application process. However, keep in mind that if any job listing requires your Social Security number and you do not list it, your application may not be considered.
- You may be able to leave it blank. If you are filling out a job application, you may be able to skip the section where they ask for your SSN. Or make a notation that you would be willing to share your Social Security number once you are being seriously considered for employment.
- You could edit what you list. Another option is to list the last four digits as 0000. Of course, employers might choose to screen out applicants who do not comply with their request for information.
When You Have to List Your Social Security Number
If giving your Social Security number is a required field on an online application, leaving the answer blank may not be an option. Before filling in your Social Security number, make sure you are on the company’s legitimate site. If you are applying for the job through a job search site, consider researching or calling the company before applying to confirm that the posting is legitimate.
Tips for Avoiding Scammers
Scammers often ask for Social Security numbers as part of a fake job application or as part of the hiring process for a job that doesn't exist.
- Real employers will never ask you to send them money as part of a job application. You will not be asked to buy a kit, software, or materials for a job.
- If an employer you have never worked with or never heard of gives you a check, it is likely also a scam. Tear up the check and cease communication with the company.
- Definitely do not email your Social Security number to any prospective employer—or to anyone.
- Avoid sharing any personal information beyond your contact information. Do not include, for example, your driver’s license number and/or credit card information.
The information contained in this article is not tax or legal advice and is not a substitute for such advice. State and federal laws change frequently, and the information in this article may not reflect your own state’s laws or the most recent changes to the law. For current tax or legal advice, please consult with an accountant or an attorney.