It can be frustrating searching for your Social Security card, coming up empty and realizing you need to get a new one.
Even with the Social Security Administration offices mostly closed to the public right now because of COVID-19, getting a card replacement can be fairly straightforward. But you need to have the right documentation for the agency to issue you a new one.
You Can Apply for a Social Security Card Replacement Online
Applying for a card replacement online through your my Social Security account is usually the most convenient option. But you can only use the online application if you don’t need to make any changes, such as updating your name. You also have to be an adult with a driver’s license or a non-driver ID card and live in one of the more than 40 states and Washington, D.C., that verify state-issued documents for the Social Security Administration. (Residents in West Virginia, New Hampshire, Nevada, Minnesota and Oklahoma can’t apply for a card online, and those who live in Alaska, Delaware and Wisconsin can only use a driver’s license as proof of identity.)
Generally your card will arrive within two weeks if you apply online. The online application can be found here.
You Can Apply for a Social Security Replacement Card by Mail
To apply for a new card through the mail, you will need to mail an application along with proof of your identity, such as a non-driver ID, driver’s license or passport, to the Social Security Administration. These are “primary” evidence of your identity.
Right now the Social Security Administration is accepting “secondary proofs” of identity since going without a primary form of identification is a hardship for some. The types of secondary documents accepted include health insurance card (though a Medicare card doesn’t count), employee or school ID or a military identification card.
For the documentation to work, it must be current, show your name and birth date or age, and be an original or a certified copy. Social Security will return any documents you send them. The agency is experiencing slight delays for processing mail-in applications for a Social Security card. Because of that, it could take two to four weeks for your application to be processed and your documents returned.
Getting a New Social Security Card Because of a Name Change
To change your name on a Social Security card, you must submit proof of your identity -- this can be either a primary or secondary document described above -- and documentation showing your name change. This can include a marriage certificate, a court order approving the name change, a divorce decree or a Certificate of Naturalization.
You may be able to get away with sending the Social Security Administration just one document if it shows your previous name and your age, birth date or your parents’ names. This information then must match your Social Security records.
Again, any documents you mail to the Social Security Administration will be sent back to you.
Getting Help Over the Phone or In Person
The Social Security offices have mostly been closed to the public since March 2020 and it isn't clear when they will fully reopen. Right now they are making limited in-person appointments but those are reserved for critical services that can’t be completed online or over the phone.
In-person help for Social Security numbers are being limited to people who are at least 12 years old and are applying for their first Social Security number card and to those who need to update or correct information, such as their name, citizenship or date of birth, so they can apply for benefits or earn an income. If you believe you qualify for an in-person appointment, you can reach out to your local Social Security office. You can find the Social Security location nearest to you here. You will generally get your Social Security card replacement in about two weeks with an in-person visit.
You can also speak with someone over the phone if you have a question about getting a replacement card. The office locator provides the phone number for each office. Otherwise, you can call the national phone number at 1-800-772-1213.
Jackie Stewart is the senior retirement editor for Kiplinger.com and the senior editor for Kiplinger's Retirement Report.