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Your Social Security number (SSN) serves many purposes. You supply it to your employer when you get hired for a new job. It goes on your tax returns each year when you submit them to the IRS. Because you give your Social Security number to lenders and credit card issuers when you apply for most new types of financing too, it’s also tied to your credit reports.
If you’ve ever struggled with bad credit in the past, at some point you’ve probably wished for a magic wand to erase your past mistakes and boost your credit score. You might have even heard that a new Social Security number can solve your credit problems and help you start fresh.
Unfortunately, this idea is a myth. There’s no way to erase your credit and start from scratch — not even with a new Social Security number.
A new SSN won’t affect your credit scores
A new SSN won’t cause a new credit report to be created for you, nor will it typically improve your credit scores. According to Experian, a SSN is only one of many elements used to create your credit report.
While your SSN is important — and a useful way for the credit reporting agencies to identify you — the bureaus don’t need it to create your credit report.
“The issuance of a SSN isn’t what causes a credit report to be created,” credit expert John Ulzheimer, formerly of FICO and Equifax, explained. “Credit reports are created the first time you apply for credit. It’s called an ‘inquiry only’ credit report and it’s added to over time as you apply for credit and open accounts.”
Beware of scams promising a new credit identity
You might come across companies that claim the ability to help you create a fresh start for your credit history. However, if a company advertises a “new credit identity” or a “CPN” (“credit privacy number” or “credit profile number”) program, it should be an immediate red flag.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, a company like this is really just offering you a straight up scam. If you fall for the trick and use something other than a Social Security number issued by the Social Security Administration to apply for credit, you could personally face fines or even jail time.
“Simply put, knowingly falsifying information on a credit application is a crime,” said Ulzheimer. “It is a ‘False Statement in a Loan and Credit Application,’ in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1014. So, if you choose to submit an application for credit using a fake SSN or a so called ‘Credit Privacy Number’ in lieu of a SSN, you have committed a Federal crime punishable by up to 5 years in prison.”
How to get a new Social Security number
Under certain circumstances, the SSA may be willing to assign you a new SSN if you’ve been a victim of serious fraud or abuse. To qualify for a new SSN, you’ll need to prove that one of the following has happened to you:
- Your SSN is being used fraudulently in a way that’s causing you “significant, continuing” harm.
- Using your SSN subjects you to harassment, abuse, or grave danger (such as domestic violence).
- Similar numbers within the same family are causing issues.
- You object to the digits in your original SSN for cultural or religious reasons. (You’ll need to provide supporting documents from a religious group with which you’re personally affiliated.)
To apply for a new Social Security number, the SSA will make you complete the following:
- Schedule an in-person appointment at your local Social Security office.
- Fill out an application.
- Make a statement explaining why you need a new SSN.
- Supply current evidence from a reputable third-party source that documents the reason you need a new SSN.
- Bring original documents with you to prove:
- You’re a U.S. citizen (or a work-authorized immigrant)
- Your age
- Your identity
- Your legal name change (if this applies to you)
Victims of domestic violence who need to request a new SSN for their protection can also find more information about the process on the SSA website.
3 steps to take after getting a new SSN
Getting a new SSN might help to prevent future fraud if someone has been misusing your old number. But it won’t solve all of your problems.
For example, a new SSN won’t fix credit damage or financial problems caused by identity theft. A new SSN can’t keep you safe from future identity theft either.
Once your application for a new SSN is approved, your work isn’t done yet. Here are three steps you need to take after receiving your new number.
1. Inform your creditors of your new SSN
Sometimes, a new SSN can cause more problems for identity theft victims. It can make old, positive accounts go missing from your credit reports. Since the age of your credit history and proof that you’ve handled credit well in the past are important components of your credit score, it can be bad for your score if an old account doesn’t show up on your credit report.
It’s important to let your lenders and creditors know when you change your SSN. Informing the credit bureaus themselves — Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian — probably isn’t a bad idea either.
When you give your lender a heads up about your new SSN, it’s able to update the information on your account. This should help the credit bureaus connect the dots and include the account on any future credit reports issued with your new number.
2. Watch (and fix) your credit reports
If fraudulent accounts appear on your credit reports from previous identity theft, you should inform the lender and the credit bureaus of the fraud and dispute the accounts. First, you’ll need to fill out an identity theft report with the Federal Trade Commission. Next, send a copy of the report to both the creditor who issued the fraudulent account in your name and to each credit reporting agency involved.
You should also monitor your three credit reports moving forward. Make sure that your new SSN is tied to each report. Additionally, watch for signs of new credit reporting mistakes and fraud so that you can react quickly with a dispute if any such problems happen to you again.
3. Protect your credit and personal information
A new SSN won’t prevent identity thieves from trying to use your personal information without your permission. Just because you have a new SSN doesn’t mean you can let your guard down.
If you’ve been a victim of identity theft in the past, it’s a good idea to place a free credit freeze on all three of your credit reports — Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. A credit freeze takes your report out of circulation so that no lender will be able to access your credit file unless you “thaw” it first.
A credit freeze can stop fraudulent applications cold. If a lender can’t access your credit report, a phony credit application in your name won’t be approved.
You should protect the privacy of your new SSN by locking your card up in a safe place and shredding sensitive documents. It’s also wise to follow best practices to prevent identity theft online.
The condition of your credit affects your life in many ways. Whether you’re seeking new employment, applying for a loan or taking out a new insurance policy, your credit could be the difference between a good outcome and a bad one.
If you want to improve your credit, a new Social Security number isn’t the answer. Instead, you’ll be better off learning how credit scores work. From there, you can work to follow credit score best practices, like paying every bill on time and keeping a low credit utilization rate on your credit cards.
Change may not happen overnight when it comes to your credit scores, but that doesn’t mean change is impossible. If you arm yourself with the right knowledge and follow through on what you learn, your credit scores can improve over time.