En español | Q. Do Social Security numbers get reassigned once a person dies?
A. No. The Social Security Administration does not reuse numbers. Since the program started in 1935, more than 450 million numbers have been assigned. That's about 5.5 million per year.
The SSA says it has enough to last several generations without reuse or changing the number of digits.
If you want to know exactly what the digits on your card mean, see this page on the Social Security website.
One famous instance of people using the same number began in 1938 when the E.H. Ferree Co. printed mock-up cards to show how they would fit into its wallets, which were sold in department stores across America. The number on the cards actually belonged to a secretary at the company, Hilda Schrader Whitcher.
Even though the fake cards were printed in red, were half the size of real cards and were marked "Specimen," more than 40,000 people claimed the number as their own.
Whitcher was issued a new number.
Also of interest: 10 things you should know about Social Security. >>
Stan Hinden, a former columnist for the Washington Post, wrote How to Retire Happy: The 12 Most Important Decisions You Must Make Before You Retire. Have a question for the Social Security Mailbox? Check out the archive. If you don't find your answer there, send a query.