It used to be that there was really no urgency about getting a minor a Social Security number unless they were going to be working at a job and earning income, or were going to have investments in their name.
It’s still optional to get a minor a Social Security number, but due to changes in the law, it is now highly advisable in most cases to do so.
The most significant such change in the law is that in order now to claim someone as a dependent on your tax return, it is not enough to identify them by name. You must also include their Social Security number. Also, there are various federal and state programs – medical assistance programs, for example – that require a Social Security number for all recipients, including minors.
Prior to this change, one of the easier ways people found to cheat on their taxes was to invent additional dependents. There was always a small risk that an in-person audit would require one to produce all of these alleged children with their birth certificates or other documentation, but many people ran this risk. (A fictional depiction of such an audit occurs in the 1978 Richard Pryor movie “Blue Collar,” as Pryor sends his kids scrambling around the neighborhood to grab anyone they know to role play as their brothers and sisters while he stalls the auditor.)
After this change in the tax code, the number of claimed dependents did indeed drop dramatically. Hmm.
Since normally parents will want to claim their child as a dependent from the very first year, it makes sense to apply for a Social Security number as soon as your child is born. When you provide information at the hospital for your child’s birth certificate, you will be asked whether you want to apply for the child’s Social Security number at the same time. It’s best to take care of it then, but if you don’t, you can still apply for a number later by providing original documents proving your child’s U.S. citizenship, age and identity, as well as your identity.
If you wait until the child is 12 or more, in addition to the documentation, the child must appear in person at a Social Security office for an interview.
By the way, all of this is free. There is no charge to be assigned a Social Security number, or issued a Social Security card.
For more information on this and other Social Security matters, see www.ssa.gov.