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How To Obtain a U.S. SSN and Increase Your Credit Score

Wondering how to obtain a U.S. SSN and increase your credit score?

A social security number (SSN) is an important identification in the U.S. Every citizen has one, and foreigners who want to work in the U.S are eligible to get their own. Your SSN is an important part of opening bank accounts and credit accounts, including car loans and mortgages. It can also be important when applying for certain government benefits or insurance.

If you want to establish your credit in the U.S. as a recent immigrant and establish a foothold, getting your SSN is one of the first steps. After that, you can increase your credit score, opening up the path to owning a home and a car, among other things.

Let’s go over how it works.

Who Needs an SSN?

A non-citizen who wants to work in the U.S. will need an SSN.

SSNs are needed to report employee wages to the IRS and be eligible for social benefits. So, you will need an

SSN if you want to:

  • Work
  • Collect Social Security benefits
  • Receive government services
  • Apply to certain financial institutions

If you don’t want to work and live in the U.S., you probably don’t need one.

How to Get an SSN

To get an SSN, you will need to contact your local Social Security Administration (SSA) office. You can apply online on the official SSA website. Alternatively, you can go to the local SSA office and fill out an application in person.

After you complete your application, the SSA will send you a social security card in the mail. You can then use the number for all the applicable uses listed above.

Requirements for U.S. Citizens

To get an SSA, you need to either be a citizen or be authorized to work in the U.S. by the Department of Homeland Security. For citizens, proof of citizenship is required, including a birth certificate if one exists. If you lack a birth certificate, you can use:

  • A religious record made before you were 5 years old
  • A U.S. hospital record of birth
  • A Passport

You will also need additional proof of identity. That means a non-expired, government-issued document that displays your name, information (such as date of birth) and a photograph. A U.S. driver’s license meets these requirements.

Requirements for Non-citizens Working in the U.S.

Non-citizens can apply for an SSN in their home country when filing an application for a U.S. visa with the Department of State. In this case, you don’t need to visit an SSA office after arriving in the U.S. If you did not apply from your home country, you will need to go to your local SSA office.

At the SSA office, you will need to present proof of your identity and work authorization:

  • Current U.S. immigration documents
  • Your non-expired foreign passport

Other acceptable documents include:

  • Form I-551
  • Form I-94
  • Form I-766

You will need to complete a Form SS-5, which is the application for a social security card. Applying at an SSA office or online is free.

How to Build Credit

Building credit (raising your credit score) is a simple process. In general, responsible use of credit is the main determinant of your credit score.

Let’s look at the specific, major factors that go into your credit score.

Payment History

This is the most important factor driving your credit score and has the greatest impact on it. On its own, it won’t maximize your credit score, but it’s the most important place to start.

Your “payment history” covers:

  • Whether you made your repayments on time
  • If you were late, the amount of time you were late by
  • How long ago each payment was made from the present (recent history is more important)
  • How often you pay late

A single late payment is nothing to panic about. But multiple late repayments will certainly have a major impact.

Amount Owed

The more money you owe to debtors and creditors, the worse your credit score. This is true in terms of total debts owed, and the number of accounts you have debts on.

You can improve your credit score by paying down your debts and not maintaining too many balances.

Account Lifetime(s)

The length of your credit history is important as well. The longer you maintain your credit accounts on average, the better your credit score will be. This includes:

  • The ages of your newest and oldest accounts
  • Average account age
  • The last time each account was active

How Many Accounts You Open

Opening too many new accounts in a short time can negatively impact your credit score. Too many credit applications has a similar, slight negative effect.

Credit Diversity

Using different types of credit can have a positive effect on your credit score.

About the author:

Jemima Owen-Jones

Jemima helps international startups and their teams navigate the work visa process so they can get approved fast and focus on what they do best.