So you’ve arrived in the US and if you followed my Starter Guide you’d be well on your way to having a Social Security Number (or “SSN”), great work! Fast forward and you’re now holding the little please of “cardboard” (read: paper) and you’re wondering: Who should I (and more importantly SHOULDN’T I) be giving these digits to?

You’ll find that almost everyone wants to get their hands on them, and with the recent Equifax breach, you’ll know that they’re incredibly important.

So I thought I’d lay out a simple guide on who you should expect to ask you for them and who you should and should not be handing them over to at the first question:

Who you should give your social security number to

This list isn’t necessarily exhaustive, but it should give you a good idea.

  • Credit bureaus — Transunion, Experian, and Equifax;
  • Internal Revenue Service (e.g. filing our taxes or making payroll);
  • Insurance companies;
  • Credit companies;
  • Banks;
  • Any company that sells products or services that require notification to the IRS (such as a car dealer);
  • Mortgage companies;
  • Utility companies;
  • State tax authorities;
  • Departments of Motor Vehicles;
  • Entitlement programs like welfare;
  • Other governmental agencies (please note: There is a Federal law requiring that they tell you if it’s absolutely required or not, so take a look for those words);
  • Cash transactions over $10,000.

Who you shouldn’t give your social security number to

By “shouldn’t” I really mean “don’t have to” but use caution.

  • Doctors;
  • Hospitals;
  • University and other schools;
  • People on the street;
  • Volunteer and charity organizations;
  • Airports and airlines;
  • Anything via email;
  • Little league, summer camp and other camps;
  • Supermarkets;
  • Anyone else.

Basically, use discretion and be careful because it’s actually only a limited few who will legally require these numbers!


The trick, he says, to withholding your Social Security number is to know when it’s legally required and, when it’s discretionary, as well as how to phrase a refusal in a positive way. Don’t just say no, he cautions, but explain why you’re reluctant. “Because I’m concerned about my privacy, I choose to keep that information to myself,” he’ll say, followed up with, “What else can I do to complete the transaction?” Or ask, in your nice voice, “Why do you need my number? Is there a law that requires you to ask?”