Sign up for PrimePay blog updates!

How to Determine a Valid Social Security Number

How to Determine a Valid Social Security Number

In our previous blog post, we mentioned some preparation tips to help alleviate the headache that comes with year-end payroll. One of our recommendations is to ensure all of your employees’ Social Security numbers are accurate.


Related Products

PrimePay's All-Inclusive Payroll bundle increases business efficiency by pairing our payroll, tax, HR, time tracking, and workers’ comp solutions.

Learn more


Every year, you’re required to send Copy A of Form W-2 to Social Security so they can match the name and Social Security number (SSN) against its database.  When Social Security finds a match, the earnings information from the W-2 is recorded with the employee’s earnings history.

So it’s crucial all of your numbers are accurate so you save yourself from the hassle later down the line. Here are some tips to determine if that Social Security number you keyed in is actually valid.

How Social Security Numbers are Issued

Did you know? The Social Security Administration (SSA) began assigning the nine-digit Social Security number (SSN) in 1936 in order to track workers’ earnings over the course of their lifetimes to pay benefits.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) changed the way they issue numbers back in June of 2011. The change is referred to as randomization and its goal is to help protect the integrity of the SSN.

The SSN has always been comprised of a three-digit area number, a two-digit group number and ending with a four-digit serial number. Since 1972, the SSA issued Social Security cards centrally and the area number reflected the state, determined by the ZIP code in the mailing address of the application.

Because that had limitations, the new randomization change affected the assignment process by eliminating geographical significance and importance of the highest group number.

What an Invalid SSN Looks Like

An invalid SSN is one that the SSA never assigned. In case you’re wondering, a valid SSN will never look like this:

  • The first three digits as “000,” “666,” or in the 900 series.
  • The second group that consists of two digits as “00.”
  • The third group consisting of four digits as “0000.”

Tips to Ensure Accuracy

Depending on how many employees you have, you could simply get them to verify their name and SSN before you close out your books to prepare W-2s.

  • Name Change: If their name has changed, continue to use the old name and have your employee contact Social Security to get an updated card. Using the new name before the employee updates his or her Social Security records may prevent the posting of earnings to the employee’s earnings history.
  • Name Accuracy: Enter the name on the W-2 as shown exactly on the employee's Social Security card. Avoid misspelling names, using nicknames or shortened names, and titles before or after the name.

How to Verify

There are a few options to choose from to verify Social Security numbers for wage reporting purposes.

  • The Social Security Number Verification Service: This is a free online service that allows registered users to verify the names and SSN of hired employees match Social Security’s records.
  • The Consent Based Social Security Number Verification Service: For a fee, this service is available to enrolled private companies and state and local agencies to provide instant automated verification. This service can also handle large volume requests.
  • Extra:  E-Verify: This free, online system is operated by the Department of Homeland Security in partnership with the SSA. It allows employers to electronically verify that their new hires are authorized to work in the U.S. by comparing details on Form I-9 with Federal government databases. (Different that the first two, this just validates that your new hire is legally eligible to work in the U.S.)

As you continue to gather information needed to prepare for year-end and your W-2s, keep these tips in mind for validating the Social Security numbers of your employees (and yourself)!

Please note that this is not all inclusive. Our guidance is designed only to give general information on the issues actually covered. It is not intended to be a comprehensive summary of all laws which may be applicable to your situation, treat exhaustively the subjects covered, provide legal advice, or render a legal opinion.  Consult your own legal advisor regarding specific application of the information to your own plan.