Lane V. Erickson/ShutterstockIf you were born after 1935, you’ve probably had a Social Security Number (SSN) for your entire life, and you’ve probably had it memorized since the first time you ever wrote it out (when opening a bank account, applying for a job, or obtaining a driver’s license). For anyone born before 1935, either you or your parents likely applied for a social security card in person at a local Social Security Office, following President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s passage of the Social Security Act of 1935 (which was designed to provide a safety net for the elderly and disabled in the form of an annuity funded through income taxes specifically earmarked for that purpose—and here are eight smart strategies for stretching that annuity to the max).
Since its inception, the number has always been made up of the following three parts:
- The first three digits, which comprise the “Area Number”
- The next two digits, which comprise the “Group Number”
- The last four digits, which comprise the “Serial Number”
Given that the social security number format was designed to track unique and sensitive personal records of every American, the first five digits are amazingly transparent and can reliably reveal certain information about most cardholders. Here is what they can reveal about you:
The Area Number prior to June 25, 2011
If you were issued a social security card before 1972, your Area Number was tied to the state where your card was applied for. In the early days of card issuance, many adults applied for their social security at social security offices near where they worked. If not, then they tended to apply for them near their homes. Children tended to have their applications made on their behalf by their guardian(s). In 1972, Social Security centralized its operations, and until June 25, 2011, the Area Number tied to the zip code of the mailing address on the card application. (By the way, this is what ZIP code actually means.)
Accordingly, for anyone born between 1936 and 2011, the Area Number could fairly reliably indicate, at the very least, the person’s birth state. And if you were born prior to June 25, 2011, you can see how your Area Number probably ties to where you were living as a baby, by checking this listing.
The Area Number from June 25, 2011 to the present
On June 25, 2011, Social Security changed the numerical assignment process to one of “randomization” for the purpose of protecting the integrity of the SSN and freeing up more numbers, thus extending the longevity of the nine-digit format. As such, all cards issued after that date have an Area Number that does not actually correspond to any location at all.
The Group Number
The Group Number is a subset of the Area Number and ranges from 01 to 99. For each Area Number, there are 99 possible combinations (from 01 to 99), and although they’re not issued in consecutive order, there is a method to the madness, and it’s based on the order in which card numbers are applied for within a particular Area Number. Here’s how it works:
The first two-digit number issued is 01, followed by 03, 05, 07 and 09, then every even number from 10 through 98.
Then the even numbers between 02 and 08 are issued, followed by odd groups numbers from 11 through 99.
What this means is that someone whose Group Number is 01 will be older than someone whose Group Number is 99.
Accordingly, the Group Number will fairly reliably indicate, at the very least, how old you are in relation to anyone else within the Area Number.
The Serial Number
The Serial Number ranges from 0001 to 9999 and is assigned consecutively within each Group Number, within each Area Number. The Serial Number, itself, doesn’t say anything about your location or age that the Group Number and Area Number don’t already say, although since they are assigned consecutively, they could potentially reveal your relative age within a Group and an Area.
Your Nine Digits
Because your Social Security Number follows you from birth to death, tracking information personal to you, the nine digits taken together can reveal a great deal about you, from where you bank to whether you’ve been arrested. Therefore, as we’re sure you already know, it’s of paramount importance to keep your number safe, secure, and confidential. Here are the five times you should never give our your social security number, and while you’re at it, check out these 26 secrets identity thieves don’t want you to know.