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Names and Social Security Numbers

Each year employers send Copy A of Forms W-2 to SSA. SSA matches the name and Social Security number (SSN) on each W-2 against its database of all SSNs issued. When a match is found, the earnings information from the W-2 is recorded in the employee's lifelong earnings history.

The earnings history is the basis for determining an employee's future eligibility and benefit amount for SSA's retirement, disability, and survivors programs. That's why it is critical that each employee's name and SSN as shown on their Social Security card match your payroll records and year-end Forms W-2.

The Internal Revenue Service's Publication 15 (Circular E, Employer's Tax Guide) contains instructions for recording employees' names and SSNs. The tax guide states that after an employee is hired, you should ask to see his/her Social Security card. The employee is required to show you the card if it is available. You may, but are not required to, photocopy the card.

How to Make the Critical Link

Update Your Payroll Records - Ask employees to verify their name and SSN before you close out your books and prepare Forms W-2. If a name has changed, continue to use the old name and tell the employee to contact Social Security to obtain an updated card. Using a new name before the employee updates Social Security's records may prevent the posting of earnings. Change your payroll records only when the employee obtains an updated Social Security card with the new name.

Avoid These Common Errors - Incorrect name or SSN; misspelled names; using nicknames or shortened names, using titles before or after the name; and name changes not reported to Social Security.

Verify Names/SSNs with Social Security - Use Social Security's free Internet service to match employees' names and SSNs with Social Security's records at the time of hire or before you prepare and submit Forms W-2. There are two Internet verification options. You can:

  • Verify up to 10 names and SSNs (per screen) and receive immediate results. This option is ideal to verify new hires.


  • Upload overnight files of up to 250,000 names and SSNs and usually receive results the next government business day. This option is ideal if you want to verify an entire payroll database or if you hire a large number of workers at a time.
While the service is available to all employers and third-party submitters, it can only be used to verify current or former employees and only for wage reporting (Form W-2) purposes. You must register to use the service. To register:

  1. Go to and complete the registration form. You will be asked to select your own password. When you complete the registration process, a User ID will be displayed. Make a note of your password, User ID and the expiration date.
  2. Return to, login in with your User ID and password and select "Request Access and Activation Code."
  3. An activation code will be mailed to your employer. The activation code, along with your User ID and password, allows you access to the service.
  4. Go to, select Login, input your User ID, password and your activation code and you will be able to use the service.
For more information or to find out about other verification options, go to

If you discover that an employee's SSN is incorrect, you should ask to see the employee's Social Security card to assure that the SSN and name are shown correctly in your payroll records. If the information matches, ask the employee to check with any Social Security Office to determine and correct the problem. Document the action you take to obtain the correct SSN and continue to report using the SSN given to you by the employee. If you get a corrected name and/or SSN from the employee after you filed Form W-2, submit a Form W-2c to make the correction.

Helpful Hints

Use the Correct Name Format
Enter the name on Form W-2 as shown on the employee's Social Security card. Compound names no longer require a hyphen. Connect parts of a compound name with either a hyphen or a blank space. Do not join them into a single word. If an employee has a compound name, include all of the parts in the appropriate name field. For example, the name John R Smith-Jones: Enter Smith Jones in the last name field.

It's especially important to know the exact last name. If an employee provides a name with apparent compound or multiple last names, carefully question them to determine which name is the beginning of the surname and which (if any) is the middle name.

You can also call Social Security at 1-800-772-6270 to verify that the name and SSN match our records.

Paper Forms W-2 Submitted to Social Security
Do not show titles or academic degrees, such as Dr., RN, or Esq., at the beginning or end of the worker's name. If the Social Security card contains a middle name, always complete the W-2 using just the middle initial (with no punctuation).

Specifications for Filing Forms W-2 Electronically (EFW2)
May enter a suffix, e.g., Jr., Sr., in location 62-65 of the Code RW, Employee Wage Record. The field for the middle name/initial is 15 spaces. You may enter either the middle initial or the full middle name.
It is acceptable to use the Specifications for Filing Forms W-2 Electronically format for employee copies of W-2s even though it may contain suffixes, middle names, etc. Paper instructions refer only to Copy A of the W-2 that is submitted to SSA.

Use the Correct SSN

Enter the SSN shown on the employee's Social Security card. No SSN can begin with an 8 or a 9. The SSN cannot be all 1s or all 3s and cannot be in the sequential order of 123-45-6789. If you hire someone who does not have a Social Security card, ask him/her to obtain one as soon as possible. If you've already submitted a W-2 when the employee obtains a card, complete and submit a Form W-2c to make the correction.

Forms W-2 Submitted to Social Security on Paper
If you still don't have an SSN when your W-2 report is due, complete the SSN field by entering "Applied For" in Box "d" of the paper Form W-2.

Specifications for Filing Forms W-2 Electronically (EFW2)
If you still don't have an SSN when your W-2 report is due, complete the SSN field by entering all zeros (0) in locations 3-11 of the RW, Employee Wage Record. The paper W-2 you give to employees may have all zeros in block "d," Employee SSN.

SSA Publication 20-005, ICN# 437010N
Revised December 2007
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