Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Excel versions: 2007, 2010, and 2013. If you are using an earlier version (Excel 2003 or earlier), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for earlier versions of Excel, click here: Partially Blocking Social Security Numbers.

Partially Blocking Social Security Numbers

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated April 3, 2019)

1

If you have a worksheet that includes Social Security Numbers in it, you may be looking for a way to protect the numbers by only displaying the last four digits. So, instead of displaying 278-53-6128, you would only want to display ***-**-6128.

The way to accomplish this depends, in large part, on whether the Social Security Number is stored in the cell as a number or as text. If the SSN is entered with its dashes (as in 278-53-6128), then Excel stores it as text. If the SSN is entered without dashes (as in 278536128), then Excel stores it as a number.

If the SSN is stored as a number, you may be tempted to create a custom format that hides the first part of the number. Unfortunately, there is no way to do this with a custom format. You could create a custom format that would hide all except the first digits, as in this manner:

000,,"-**-****"

As you can surmise from this example, custom formats don't allow you to mask out anything except the last portion of any value. Another drawback to this approach, however, is that Excel "rounds" the SSN, such that 278536128 is displayed as 279-**-****.

The best solution to displaying only the last part of a Social Security Number is to use a second column for the actual display. Instead of trying to format the number (or text) itself, it is best to use a formula that refers to the number and creates the desired result. For instance, if the SSN is in cell B7, then you would place the following formula in a different cell:

="***-****-" & RIGHT(B7,4)

This formula will work with any SSN, regardless of whether it is stored as a number or as text. The other big benefit to this approach is that it allows you to completely hide the original numbers. Even if you were able to use a custom format to hide the first portion of the number (which you can't), someone could still see the SSN in the Formula bar if the cell containing the number is selected.

Using the formula approach, however, allows you to hide the source column, or use sheet protection to hide the contents of the column. This is a big benefit if your goal is to really protect the Social Security Number from prying eyes.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (10941) applies to Microsoft Excel 2007, 2010, and 2013. You can find a version of this tip for the older menu interface of Excel here: Partially Blocking Social Security Numbers.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...

MORE FROM ALLEN

Pasting Text with Track Changes

Track Changes is a great tool for developing documents. If you want to copy text from one document to another, with ...

Discover More

Turning Off Screen Updating

Want a quick way to speed up your macros? All you need to do is to stop Excel from updating the screen while the macro is ...

Discover More

Two Page Numbering Schemes in the Same Document

Word is great at numbering pages if you only need a single, consistent numbering scheme through the document. If you need ...

Discover More

Save Time and Supercharge Excel! Automate virtually any routine task and save yourself hours, days, maybe even weeks. Then, learn how to make Excel do things you thought were simply impossible! Mastering advanced Excel macros has never been easier. Check out Excel 2010 VBA and Macros today!

More ExcelTips (ribbon)

Automatically Formatting for Decimal Places

Cell contents and cell formatting are, in Excel, largely independent of each other. You can enter something in a cell and ...

Discover More

Wrapping Text in Merged Cells

When you are formatting your worksheet, Excel lets you easily merge adjacent cells together. If you want to wrap the text ...

Discover More

Changing Font Sizes

Want to change the size of the font within a worksheet? Excel allows you to choose from a list of sizes, as well as ...

Discover More
Subscribe

FREE SERVICE: Get tips like this every week in ExcelTips, a free productivity newsletter. Enter your address and click "Subscribe."

View most recent newsletter.

Comments

If you would like to add an image to your comment (not an avatar, but an image to help in making the point of your comment), include the characters [{fig}] in your comment text. You’ll be prompted to upload your image when you submit the comment. Maximum image size is 6Mpixels. Images larger than 600px wide or 1000px tall will be reduced. Up to three images may be included in a comment. All images are subject to review. Commenting privileges may be curtailed if inappropriate images are posted.

What is three minus 0?

2019-04-03 08:16:55

Mike

I am rather surprised by this solution. Excel Spreadsheet Protection is incredibly weak and easily circumvented. If you have data that you do not want seen by "Prying Eyes", just ensure that it is not in the spreadsheet that they can access in the first place.

There are probably several ways that this problem can be resolved, but perhaps the easiest would be to have the sensitive data, with the required output held in a separate, encrypted file, with links from the user file, perhaps with an index system. Then turn off links in the user file to stop Excel pop-up messages when opening the file. Only when updated information is available (e.g. new employee) would the encrypted file need to be decrypted temporarily, while the links were updated. A little more work perhaps because you now have two files to update, but more secure.


This Site

Got a version of Excel that uses the ribbon interface (Excel 2007 or later)? This site is for you! If you use an earlier version of Excel, visit our ExcelTips site focusing on the menu interface.

Newest Tips
Subscribe

FREE SERVICE: Get tips like this every week in ExcelTips, a free productivity newsletter. Enter your address and click "Subscribe."

(Your e-mail address is not shared with anyone, ever.)

View the most recent newsletter.