Social Security Your guide to knowing more from the
Your online account is a few keystrokes away By Sonja Canchola Social Security title service representative
Useful information about your Social Security earnings and benefits is just a few keystrokes away when you create your online My Social Security account. My Social Security is a personalized online account people can use during their working years and throughout the time they receive Social Security benefits. If you are 18 or older, you can create a My Social Security account to access your Social Security statement — a great planning tool to check your earnings record and view estimates of the retirement, disability and survivor benefits you and your family may receive. In addition, from your account, you will find links to information about other
online services, such as applications for retirement, disability and Medicare. If you are receiving Social Security benefits, you can use your My Social Security account to access services that usually require a phone call or a trip to a local office. For instance, if you need a letter from Social Security verifying the amount of your monthly benefit, you can print that letter from your account. In addition, if you want to let Social Security know about a change to your address or phone number, or if you want to start or change direct deposit of your benefits, you can do that online using your account. Visit www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount, and create your account. Once there, you will be asked to provide information about yourself and answers to questions that only you are likely to know. After
completing the secure verification process, you can create your account with a unique user name and password, which will allow you to access your information. We also want you to know that when you decide to retire, the easiest and most convenient way to do it is right from the comfort of your personal computer. At www.socialsecurity.gov you can apply for retirement benefits in as little as 15 minutes. In most cases, there are no forms to sign or documents to send. The Social Security Administration is proud to have been an important part of American life for more than 75 years and will continue to be for years to come. However you choose to conduct business with us, our commitment to you is courteous, accurate and compassionate service.
Rocking retirement By Shelly Tripp
be called his “Up There” tour. The former Beatle is now 70. Willie Nelson is “On the Road Generations ago, retirement was Again.” The music icon is 79 and thought of as a time to take it easy — a seems to be on nonstop tour. time of rocking on porch chairs and Aretha Franklin is 71. Carlos reminiscing about the good old days. Santana is 65. Carly Simon is 67. Mick But that’s not the case with the current Jagger and Keith Richards are both generation of retirees. In fact, many 69, as is Joni Mitchell. Leonard Cohen older people today continue to rock is 78. B.B. King is 87. They’re all still on. Just look at some of the superstars performing their music. touring and performing concerts this Of course, some of these well-known year who are old enough to collect musicians may not be eligible to Social Security retirement payments. receive Social Security benefits. But They’re still rocking, but not in chairs. all of them are of retirement age. So Bob Dylan is on tour, as he usually where are their rocking chairs and is during summer months. Dylan is 71 knitting needles? years old. But with a recent album and It’s hard to believe, looking at all of new tour dates, you’d never know he these mature stars, that retirement was of retirement age. used to be associated with bridge and Neil Young is touring with Crazy shuffleboard. It’s not just musicians. Horse to support a new album. The In fact, many people decide to put off “godfather of grunge” is 67 years applying for retirement benefits. And young. He’s become the “Old Man” he even after they do begin collecting sang about in his “Harvest” days. benefits, many “retirees” prefer to Paul McCartney’s current “Out keep working — or at least moving There” tour may more appropriately and shaking. Social Security claims representative
Social Security Guide
Most people know that you can begin collecting early Social Security benefits at age 62, with a reduction in the monthly amount. The full retirement age gradually is going up from 66 for people born between 1943 and 1954, to 67 for people born in 1960 and later. You can delay retirement even more and receive a higher payment when you retire, up until you reach age 70. And another thing that has changed since the past generation: You can continue to work and still receive retirement benefits. Learn more about Social Security retirement benefits by reading our publication on the subject at www. socialsecurity.gov/pubs. When you’re ready to retire, the best place to apply is from the comfort of your home computer, with some of your favorite music blaring in the background. Begin the process with our Retirement Planner at www. socialsecurity.gov/retirement. Crank up the tunes, and start planning before you head out to your next concert.
Safety net for aged, blind, disabled with limited income and resources By JOAN MAXWELL Social Security claims representative in St. Joseph
There’s a safety net out there for those who might otherwise slip through the cracks. It’s called Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Administered by Social Security, SSI makes payments to people with limited income and few resources who are age 65 or older, blind or have a disability. Funding for the SSI program comes from the general revenues of the U.S. Treasury, not from Social Security payroll taxes. When we consider people’s income, we count things such as wages, Social Security benefits and pensions. However, Social Security does not count all of your income when it decides whether you qualify for SSI. For example, it doesn’t count food stamps or most home energy assistance. Resources counted in deciding whether you qualify for SSI include real estate (other than the home you live in), bank accounts, cash, stocks and bonds. A person with resources worth no more than $2,000 may be able to get SSI. That resource limit is $3,000 for couples.
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Facebook is a great place to stay in the know when it comes to useful information about Social Security. “Like” Social Security at www.face book.com/socialsecurity. Twitter is another place to get regular updates in short bursts. We promise to be brief as we keep you up to date in 140 characters or less. Select “Follow” at www.twitter.com/socialsecurity. Prefer watching videos? We’ve got those too. The third part to our social media “Triple Crown” is our YouTube page, where you can find everything from informative webinars to short messages from Social Security. You can view fun public service announcements starring George Takei, Don Francisco, Chubby Checker and the reunited cast of “The Patty Duke Show.”
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To qualify for SSI, you must live in the United States or the Northern Mariana Islands and be a U.S. citizen or national. In rare cases, noncitizen residents can qualify for SSI. If you live in certain types of institutions or live in a shelter for the homeless, you may qualify for SSI. People with blindness or disability who apply for SSI may be able to get free special services to help them work. These services may include counseling, job training and help finding work. The monthly maximum federal SSI payment is the same nationwide and amounts to $710 for a person and $1,066 for a married couple. However, the amount you receive depends on factors such as where you live, your living arrangements and income. Some states also supplement or add money to the federal payment. To learn more about SSI, read the online publication You May Be Able To Get Supplemental Security Income (SSI) at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/11069.html or visit the SSI page at www.socialsecurity.gov/ssi. You also can call toll-free (800) 772-1213 (TTY, (800) 325-0778). If you’re too disabled to work but haven’t paid enough into Social Security to qualify for benefits on your record, SSI may be the program to help you.
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questions answers I need proof of my Social Security income. Can I get verification online? Yes! And the best way to get a benefit verification letter is by using a My Social Security account. Your personal My Social Security account is a convenient and secure way for you to check your benefit and payment information, change your address, phone number and direct deposit information and to get your benefit verification letter. You can use your benefit verification letter to verify your income, retirement or disability status, Medicare eligibility and age. When you use My Social Security to get it, you can request which information you would like included in the letter. Learn more, use my Social Security and get your benefit verification letter now at www.socialsecurity. gov/myaccount. Can I apply for retirement benefits online? Yes, you can and it is quick, convenient and easy. You’ll find the application information at www.socialse curity.gov/applyonline. You also can calculate your estimated benefits by using our Retirement Estimator at www.socialsecurity.gov/estimator. Apply online and save a trip to the office and a wait in line. For more information, visit our website at www. socialsecurity.gov. I worked the first half of the year, but plan to retire this month. Will Social Security count the amount I earn for this year when I retire? Yes. If you retire mid-year, we count your earnings for the entire year. We have a special “earnings test” rule we apply to annual earnings, usually in the first year of retirement. Under this rule, you get a full payment for any
Social Security Guide
whole month we consider you retired regardless of your yearly earnings. We consider you retired during any month your earnings are $1,260 or less, or if you have not performed substantial services in self-employment. We do not consider income earned, beginning with the month you reach full retirement age. Learn more about the earnings test rule at www.socialsecu rity.gov/retire2/rule.htm. I miss working. If I go back to work, will I automatically lose my Social Security disability benefits?
No. Social Security has several work incentives to help you ease back into the work force. You may be able to continue receiving benefits during a “trial work period,” and in most cases your medical coverage will continue after you begin working. We may be able to help you return to work without losing your benefits. These work incentives are like a safety net for people who want to go to work but aren’t sure they can. For information about Social Security’s work incentives, visit our website, the Work Site, at www. socialsecurity.gov/work or read the online Red Book on Work Incentives at www.socialsecurity.gov/redbook. For additional information, visit our website at www.socialsecurity.gov or call us toll-free at (800) 772-1213 (TTY (800) 325-0778). If I receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability, what is the effect on my benefits when I take seasonal work? Even a small amount of earned wages can cause a deduction in your SSI payment. However, it takes substantial work to make your benefits stop. In 2013, a person who receives SSI can earn up to $1,505 a month and still continue receiving some SSI pay-
ments. In many cases, we will deduct approved work expenses to determine your SSI payment amount. In most cases, you can continue to receive your medical coverage for up to two years after you begin working. We have several publications on SSI, including Reporting Your Wages When You Receive Supplemental Security Income, available at www.socialsecu rity.gov/pubs. For more information, call us toll-free at (800) 772-1213 (TTY (800) 325-0778) or visit our website at www.socialsecurity.gov.
• Next, take (or mail) your completed application and documents to your local Social Security office. All documents must be either originals or copies certified by the issuing agency. We cannot accept photocopies or notarized copies of documents. For more information, visit www.socialse curity.gov/ssnumber. My spouse and I are both entitled to our own Social Security benefits. Will Social Security reduce our combined benefits because we are married?
No. When each member of a married couple works in employment covered under Social Security and both meet all other eligibility requireSince numbers were first issued ments to receive retirement benefits, in November 1936, we have assigned we calculate their lifetime earnings about 460 million numbers. There are independently to determine their benabout one billion possible combinaefit amounts. Therefore, each spouse tions of the nine-digit Social Security receives a monthly benefit amount number. Visit www.socialsecurity. based on his or her own earnings. If gov/history/ssn/ssncards.html for a one spouse earned low wages or did complete history of the Social Securinot earn enough Social Security credty number. its (40) to be insured for retirement benefits, he or she may be eligible to receive benefits as a spouse. To learn How do I change my citizenship status more about retirement, visit www. on Social Security’s records? socialsecurity.gov/retirement. How many Social Security numbers have been issued since the program started?
To change your citizenship status shown in Social Security records: • Complete an application for a Social Security card (Form SS-5), which you can find online at www.socialse curity.gov/online/ss-5.html. • Provide documents proving your: • New or revised citizenship status (We can only accept certain documents as proof of citizenship. These include your U.S. passport, a Certificate of Naturalization or a Certificate of Citizenship. If you are not a U.S. citizen, Social Security will ask to see your current immigration documents). • Age. • Identity.
I have never worked but my spouse has. What will my benefits be? You could be entitled to as much as one-half of your spouse’s benefit amount when you reach full retirement age. If you want to get Social Security retirement benefits before you reach full retirement age, the amount of your benefit is reduced. The amount of reduction depends on when you will reach full retirement age. For example, if your full retirement age is 66, you can get 35 percent of your spouse’s unreduced benefit at age 62 (a permanent reduction); if your full retirement age is 67, you can get 32.5 percent of
your spouse’s unreduced benefit at age 62 (a permanent reduction). The amount of your benefit increases if your entitlement begins at a later age, up to the maximum of 50 percent at full retirement age. However, if you are taking care of a child who is under age 16 or who gets Social Security disability benefits on your spouse’s record, you get the full spouse’s benefits, regardless of your age. Learn more about retirement benefits at www. socialsecurity.gov/retirement.
facts in your case. They use the medical evidence from your doctors and hospitals, clinics or institutions where you have been treated and all other information. The state agency staff may need more medical information before they can decide if you are disabled. If more information is not available from your current medical sources, the state agency may ask you to go for a special examination. We prefer to ask your own doctor, but sometimes the exam may have to be done by someone else. Social Security will pay for the exam and for some of the related travel costs. Learn more about disability benefits at www.socialsecurity.gov/ disability.
Can I receive Social Security benefits and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits at the same time? You may be able to receive SSI in addition to monthly Social Security benefits if your Social Security benefit is low enough for you to qualify for SSI. Whether you can get SSI depends on your income and resources (the things you own). If you have low income and few resources, you may be able to supplement your Social Security benefit with an SSI payment. You can find out more about SSI by going to www.socialsecurity.gov and selecting the “SSI” tab at the top of the page. What are the limits on what I can own to be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI)? Can I have money in the bank, a car and a furnished house? We count real estate, bank accounts, cash, stocks and bonds toward the resource limits on what you can own. You may be able to get SSI if your resources are worth no more than $2,000. A couple may be able to get SSI if they have resources worth no more than $3,000. Keep in mind that we usually don’t count the house
you live in, personal items such as furniture and clothing or the car you drive. If you own valuable property you are trying to sell, you may be able to get SSI while trying to sell it. You can find out more about SSI by going to www.socialsecurity.gov and selecting the “SSI” tab at the top of the page. How do I apply for Social Security disability benefits? There are two ways that you can apply for disability benefits. You can: 1. Apply online at www.socialsecu rity.gov. 2. Call our toll-free number, (800) 772-1213 (TTY (800) 325-0778), to make an appointment to file a disability claim at your local Social Security office or to set up an appointment for someone to take your claim over the telephone. If you schedule an appointment, we will mail a Disability Starter Kit to
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you. The kit will help you get ready for your disability claim interview. If you are applying online or want to get started on the kit right away, it is available online at www.socialsecuri ty.gov/disability. My doctor said he thinks I’m disabled. Who decides if I meet the requirements for Social Security disability benefits? We first will review your application to make sure you meet some basic requirements for Social Security disability benefits, such as whether you worked enough years to qualify. Then we will send your application to the disability determination services office in your state, often called the “DDS” or “state agency.” Your state agency completes the disability decision for us. Doctors and disability specialists in the state agency ask your doctors for information about your condition. They consider all the
If you receive Medicare and have limited income and resources, you may be eligible for Extra Help — Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage — to pay for the costs (monthly premiums, annual deductibles and prescription co-payments) related to a Medicare prescription drug plan. To qualify for Extra Help, you must reside in one of the 50 states or the District of Columbia. Your resources must be limited to $13,300 for an individual or $26,580 for a married couple living together. Resources include such things as bank accounts, stocks and bonds. We do not count your house and car as resources. Your annual income must be limited to $17,235 for an individual or $23,265 for a married couple living together. Even if your annual income is higher, you still may be able to get some help. Learn more at www.socialsecurity.gov/prescription help.
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Social Security Guide
Retire on your own terms By David Twombly Social Security claims representative
Most Americans are aware that they need to save for retirement. It is a topic that is easy to brush aside to a later date because although the subject is important, it may not seem urgent. But the longer you put off some basic retirement planning, the harder it will be to catch up later. These are a few important things about Social Security retirement benefits. When you decide to retire, the easiest and most convenient way to apply for benefits is right from the comfort of your home or office computer. Go to www.socialsecurity.gov, where you can apply for retirement benefits in as little as 15 minutes. In most cases, there are no forms to sign or documents to send; once you submit your electronic application, that’s it. In addition to using our award-winning website, you can call us toll-free at (800) 772-1213 (TTY (800) 325-0778) or visit the Social Security office nearest you. Either way you choose to apply, be sure to have your bank account information handy so we can set up your payments to be deposited directly into your account. Your age when you start to receive Social Security makes a difference in your benefit amount. The full retirement age (the age at which 100 percent of retirement benefits are payable) has gradually been rising from 65 to 67. You can retire as early as
62, but if benefits start before you reach your full retirement age, your monthly payment is reduced. Find out what your full retirement age is by typing in your year of birth at www.socialsecurity.gov/ pubs/ageincrease.htm. You also can choose to keep working beyond your full retirement age to take advantage of a larger payment. Your benefit will increase automatically each year from the time you reach your full retirement age until you start receiving your benefits or until you reach age 70. The decision of when to retire is personal and depends on a number of factors. To help, we suggest you read our online fact sheet When To Start Receiving Retirement Benefits, available at www.
socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10147. html. You may want to consider your options by using our Retirement Estimator to get instant, personalized estimates of future benefits. You can plug in different retirement ages and scenarios to help you make a more informed retirement decision. Try it out at www. socialsecurity.gov/estimator. You’ll also want to take advantage of our latest popular service by setting up an online My Social Security account. You can use My Social Security to obtain a copy of your Social Security statement to check your earnings record and see estimates of the retirement, disability and survivor benefits you and your family may receive. Visit www.socialsecu rity.gov/myaccount. Another great website for financial planning — whether for retirement or other financial goals — can be found at www.mymoney.gov. The website features information about how to plan for a host of life events, such as the birth or adoption of a child, home ownership or retirement. The site also provides money management tools, including a financial savings calculator. To learn more about Social Security retirement benefits and options, please read our publication Retirement Benefits at www.socialsecurity.gov/ pubs/10035.html. You can retire on your own terms, and we’re here to help.
Social Security and women By Helen Chaffin Social Security district manager in St. Joseph
Aug. 26 is known as Women’s Equality Day. On that date in 1920, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was signed, giving women the right to vote. Social Security treats men and women equally. Men and women with identical earnings histories are treated exactly the same. However, there are things women in particular should know about Social Security. Al-
Social Security Guide
though treated equally by Social Security, there are trends and differences in lifestyle that can affect benefits. For example, women tend to care for many people: spouses, children and parents. Taking time away from the workplace to care for a newborn child or aging parent can have an impact on your future Social Security benefits. Also, despite significant strides through the years, women are more likely to earn less over a lifetime than men. Women are covered less often by private retirement plans, and they are
more dependent on Social Security in their retirement years. Women tend to live about five years longer than men, which means more years depending on Social Security and other retirement income or savings. If a woman is married to a man who earns significantly more than she does, it is likely she will qualify for a larger benefit amount on his record than on her own. Want to learn more? Visit our Women’s page at www.socialsecurity.gov/
women. Follow the link on that page to our publication What Every Woman Should Know. You can read it online, print a copy or listen to it on audio. We provide alternate media as well to reach as many women as possible and to provide the information the way you’d like to receive it. Learning about your future Social Security benefits and how men and women are treated just the same in the eyes of Social Security — what better way to celebrate Women’s Equality Day?
The wrong kind of fishing How not to be the catch of the day By DENISE ESTENSON Social Security service representative in St. Joseph
These days, all people need to be cautious of scams — Internet, mail and even phone scams — which can damage your credit score and wallet. Scam artists have become shrewd. If someone asks for your personal information, you should be wary. Particularly cruel are swindlers who target Social Security beneficiaries. As a rule of thumb, Social Security will not call or e-mail you for personal information such as your Social Security number or banking information. If someone contacts you and asks for this kind of information and claims to be from Social Security, do not give out your personal information without first contacting Social Security to verify the validity of the person contacting you. It could be an identity thief on the other end phishing for your personal information. Just call the local Social Security office or Social Security’s toll-free number at (800) 772-1213 (TTY (800) 325-0778). If you receive a suspicious call, please report it to the fraud hotline. Reports may be made online at www.socialsecurity.gov/fraudreport/oig/public_fraud_ reporting/form.htm or by telephone at (800) 269-0271 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Please include the following details:
❯ The alleged suspect(s) and victim(s) names, addresses, phone numbers, dates of birth and Social Security numbers. ❯ Description of the fraud and the location
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where the fraud took place. ❯ When and how the fraud was committed. ❯ Why the person committed the fraud (if known). ❯ Who else has knowledge of the potential violation.
a fee, even though the same services are available directly from Social Security free of charge. Especially upsetting are such ads that make it
Identity theft is one of the fastest-growing crimes in America. If you, your parents or anyone you know has been the victim of an identity thief, the place to contact is the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at www. idtheft.gov. You also can call (877) IDTHEFT, (877) 438-4338 (TTY (866) 653-4261. Some people who receive Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits are victimized by misleading advertisers. Such companies offer Social Security services for
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appear as though the ad has come directly from Social Security. By law, such advertisements must indicate that the company is not affiliated with Social Security. If you see what you believe is misleading advertising for Social Security services from a company that does not admit it is not affiliated with Social Security, send the complete mailing, including the envelope, to: Office of the Inspector General, Fraud Hotline, Social Security Administration, P.O. Box 17768, Baltimore, MD 21235. Also, advise your state’s attorney general or consumer affairs office and the Better Business Bureau. You can visit the Office of the Inspector General online at http://oig.ssa.gov and select the “Fraud, Waste, or Abuse” link. Learn more about identity theft at www. socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10064.html.
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