Q: I received my Medicare card recently. It has my Social Security number, plus a "W6" after the number. What does that mean?
A: Social Security pays benefits to some 56 million people. They include retirees, widows and widowers, families who've lost their breadwinners, divorced spouses and people with disabilities. In order to keep track of such huge numbers, Social Security uses a series of codes to identify which individuals are receiving what types of benefits. The codes are assigned to people when they apply for benefits.
The codes do not appear on Social Security cards. However, they do appear on the Medicare cards that are issued for use when seeking care at doctors' offices and hospitals. The card carries the person's Social Security number followed by his or her assigned code. The most common code is the letter "A," meaning that the applicant is a wage earner seeking normal retirement benefits.
In your case, the code "W6" indicates that you are receiving benefits as a woman who is disabled and was divorced from a spouse who is now deceased. As you can see, the codes can convey quite specialized information.
The Social Security website lists 34 frequently used codes, including the following:
- B2 — a young wife with a child in her care.
- D1 — widower, aged 60 and over.
- F6 — an adopting mother.
- HB — wife of a disabled claimant, age 62 or over.
A full list of the 34 frequently used codes can be found on the Social Security website.
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? Check out the AARP Social Security Question and Answer Tool.