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Social Security 2012 Timely information about your Social Security Benefits In partnership with the Social Security Administration Written by Kirk Larson, Social Security Western Washington Public Affairs Specialist

A Supplement to the Skagit Valley Herald and Anacortes American


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table of

contents 3 Doing Business With Social Security The Safety Net for Aged, Blind, Disabled People with Limited Income and Resources

4 Figuring Out Retirement 5 Don’t Fall Victim to a Scam or Identity Theft 6 Help Mom Save $4,000 a Year 7 Women & Social Security 8 In Your Time of Need Social Security Can Help 9 Listen & Learn About Social Security 10 Social Secuity Board of Trustees: The Future of SSA 11 Fast Medicare Coverage Even When You’re Not Retired


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DOING BUSINESS WITH SOCIAL SECURITY – GO ONLINE AT SOCIALSECURITY.GOV left column under “What you can do online,” expand the “If you get • Use our Retirement Estimator to benefits” section, and select the get a quick and accurate estimate of Americans love their computers. “Request a Proof of Income letter” link. your future Social Security retirement In fact, a recent study shows that the The letter can be used for any reason benefits. www.socialsecurity.gov/ number of Americans who use the that someone requires proof of your Internet has more than doubled over the estimator income. In addition to offering proof past 10 years, reaching nearly three • Prepare for your retirement by visiting of your income, the letter is an official quarters of the U.S. population. Nearly our Benefits Planner where you can get document that verifies your Medicare half of all Americans have a highall your ducks in a row. You can also go coverage, retirement or disability speed Internet connection at home. The here to use the disability and survivors status, and age. From the time that you study indicates that Internet use is even planners to find out how much you or complete the online request, it will take beginning to outpace traditional media. your family might qualify for if the need about 10 days for you to receive the Younger Americans spend more time arises. www.socialsecurity.gov/planners proof of income letter in the mail. online than in front of a television. • Retire online! You can complete and There’s even more you can do at But as most people know, the submit your retirement application in www.socialsecurity.gov. So whether Internet is a gateway to more than as little as 15 minutes. People in the you’re interested in planning your media and entertainment. It is a Northwest lead the nation in using highly accepted way to do business. the online application. Two out of As Americans become increasingly five people file online and never walk comfortable with the security and into a Social Security Office. www. convenience of doing things on the socialsecurity.gov/retireonline Internet, online business is becoming • Benefit Verification! Social Security more and more popular. makes it easy for you to get the You can do so much at Social Security’s website from the convenience written verification you need at www. socialsecurity.gov. Just look in the of your home or office. Here are some By Kirk Larson

of our best online services:

Social Security Public Affairs Specialist

retirement or applying for disability, learning about Social Security’s history or finding out about how the system works, our online office is the most convenient one to visit.

The Safety Net

For Aged, Blind, Disabled People With Limited Income And Resources By Kirk Larson

Social Security Western Washington Public Affairs Specialist

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, we don’t count food stamps or most home energy assistance. Resources we count 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. 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 $674 for a person and $1,011 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. Or call us toll-free at 1-800-7721213 (TTY, 1-800-325-0778). 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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Figuring Out Retirement By Kirk Larson

Social Security Western Washington Public Affairs Specialist

For almost every American worker, Social Security is “part of the plan” for a secure retirement. If you are among the roughly 95 percent of workers in the United States who are covered under Social Security, here’s a primer on retirement coverage.

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oday there are over 35 million people receiving Social Security Retirement payments. In the next 25 years, that number will almost double. For the average worker Social Security represents about 40% of their retirement income. However, one out of every three people rely on Social Security for about 90% of their retirement income. It is very important to consider when to start your retirement benefits. When you work and pay Social Security taxes, you earn “credits” toward Social Security benefits. If you were born in 1929, or later, you need 40 credits or 10 years of work to qualify for retirement benefits. No retirement benefits can be paid until you have the required number of credits. If you stop working before you have enough credits to qualify for benefits, the credits will remain on your Social Security record. If you return to work later, you can add more credits so that you qualify. Your benefit amount is based on how much you earned during your working career. Higher lifetime earnings result in higher benefits. Social Security was never intended to be your only source of income when you retire. You also will need other savings, investments, pensions, or retirement accounts to make sure

you have enough money to live comfortably when you retire. Your benefit payment also is affected by the age at which you decide to retire and begin receiving benefits. If you were born in 1942 or earlier, you already are eligible for your full Social Security benefit. If you were born from 1943 to 1960, the age at which full retirement benefits are payable increases gradually to age 67. You can get Social Security retirement benefits as early as age 62, but if you retire before your full retirement age, your benefits will be reduced, based on your age. For every month you start your benefits before reaching your full retirement age, your payment is reduced by about one-half of one percent. You may choose to keep working even beyond your

full retirement age. If you do, you can increase your future Social Security benefits — up until age 70. Choosing when to retire is an important decision, but it’s also a personal choice and one you should carefully consider. When’s the best time? There is no one-size-fitsall answer. Social Security offers a list of factors to consider in the publication When to Start Receiving Retirement Benefits at www.socialsecurity. gov/pubs/10147.html. In addition, Social Security provides an online Retirement Estimator to get immediate and personalized retirement benefit estimates to help you plan for your retirement. The Retirement Estimator is a convenient and secure financial planning tool, allowing you to create “what if” scenarios. For instance, you can change your “stop work” dates or expected future earnings to create and compare different retirement options. If you have a few minutes, you have time to check it out at www.socialsecurity.gov/estimator. When you’re ready, you can apply online for retirement benefits at www.socialsecurity. gov or call our toll-free number, 1-800-7721213 (TTY: 1-800-325-0778). Alternatively, you can make an appointment to visit any Social Security office to apply in person.


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Don’t Fall Victim To A Scam Or Identity Theft By Kirk Larson

• Social Security Statement; and • Social Security number for a child.

Social Security Western Washington Public Affairs Specialist You may think you’re safe simply by not carrying your Social Security card with you and not providing your personal information over the Internet or by email. Nevertheless, scam artists have become shrewd. Never reply to an email claiming to be from Social Security and asking for your Social Security number or personal information. Identity theft is one of the fastestgrowing crimes in America. If you think you’ve been the victim of an identity thief, you should contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/ idtheft. Or, you can call 1-877-IDTHEFT (1-877-4384338); TTY 1-866-653-4261. Misleading advertisers often victimize some people who receive Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. Often, these companies offer Social Security services for a fee, even

though the same services are available directly from Social Security free of charge. These services include getting a: • corrected Social Security card showing a bride's married name; • Social Security card to replace a lost card;

Some direct scammers suggest that Social Security is in dire financial shape and that people risk losing their Social Security or Medicare benefits unless they send a contribution or membership fee to the advertiser. If you receive or see what you believe is misleading advertising for Social Security services, 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. Learn more about identity theft at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10064.html. Read about misleading advertising at www. socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10005.html. Don’t let a scam artist or identity thief trick you out of your hard-earned money.

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June 2012

By Kirk Larson

Social Security Western Washington Public Affairs Specialist

Buying a nice gift for your mother’s birthday is always a good idea. But people across the nation are discovering that the best gifts are often free. You can show Mom how to save an estimated $4,000 a year on her Medicare prescription drug costs. Here’s how. If your mother is covered by Medicare and has limited income and resources, she may be eligible for Extra Help — available through Social Security — to pay part of her monthly premiums, annual deductibles, and prescription co-payments. The Extra Help is estimated to be worth about $4,000 per year. To figure out whether your mother is eligible, Social Security needs to know her income and the value of her savings, investments and real estate (other than the home she lives in). To qualify for the extra help, she must be receiving Medicare and have: • Income limited to $16,755 for an individual or $22,695 for a married couple living together. Even if her annual income is higher, she still may be able to get some help with monthly premiums, annual deductibles, and prescription co-payments. Some examples where income may be higher include if she and, if married, her husband: —Support other family members who live with them; —Have earnings from work; or —Live in Alaska or Hawaii. • Resources limited to $13,070 for an individual or $26,120 for a married couple living together. Resources include such things as bank accounts, stocks, and bonds. We do not count her house or car as resources. Social Security has an easy-to-use online application that you can help complete for your mom. You can find it at www.socialsecurity.gov/prescriptionhelp. To apply by phone or have an application mailed to you, call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) and ask for the Application for Help with Medicare Prescription Drug Plan Costs (SSA-1020). Or go to the nearest Social Security office. To learn more about the Medicare prescription drug plans and special enrollment periods, visit www. medicare.gov or call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227; TTY 1-877-486-2048). Mom will be grateful when you give her a useful gift this year: help her save an estimated $4,000 a year on Medicare prescription drugs. It won’t cost you anything more than a little bit of quality time with her — something you and Mom both want anyway. And don’t forget, these rules apply to Dad as well.

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No More

Fear of Falling SOCIAL SECURITY Thanks to Bath Fitter By Kirk Larson

Social Security Western Washington Public Affairs Specialist

Social Security plays a vital role in the lives of women. With longer life expectancies than men, women tend to live more years in retirement and have a greater chance of exhausting other sources of income. With the national average life expectancy for women in the United States rising, many women will have decades to enjoy retirement. Women represent 57 percent of all Social Security beneficiaries age 62 and older and approximately 68 percent of beneficiaries age 85 and older. Today the average life expectancy of a 65 year old woman is age 85. As a result, experts generally agree that if women want to ensure that their retirement years are comfortable, they need to plan early and wisely. In 2010, for unmarried women – including widows – age 65 and older, Social Security comprises 49 percent of their total income. In contrast, Social Security benefits comprise only 37 percent of unmarried elderly men’s income and only 32 percent of elderly couples’ income. What you can do The best place to begin is by knowing what you can expect to receive from Social Security, and how much more you are likely to need. You can start with a visit to Social Security’s Retirement Estimator. There, in just a few minutes, you can get a personalized, instant estimate of your retirement benefits. You can find it at www.socialsecurity.gov/estimator. You should also visit Social Security’s financial planning website at www. socialsecurity.gov/planners. It provides detailed information about how marriage, widowhood, divorce, self-employment, government service, and other life or career events can affect your Social Security. If you want more information about the role of Social Security in women’s lives today, Social Security also has a booklet that you may find useful. It is called Social Security: What Every Woman Should Know. You can find it online at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10127.html.

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In Your Time of Need Social Security Can Help – Survivors Benefits Explained By Kirk Larson

Social Security Western Washington Public Affairs Specialist

T

he loss of a loved one can be painful. The death of a wage-earner upon whom a family depends also can be financially devastating.

If you’re like most young or middle-aged workers, you probably think of Social Security only as a retirement program. However, some of the Social Security taxes you pay go toward providing survivors insurance for workers and their families. Think of it as a life insurance policy you never knew you had — paid for by the same taxes that cover you for retirement or disability. When you die, certain members of your family may be eligible for survivors benefits. These include widows, widowers, children, and even dependent parents. In many cases, there also is a one-time lump-sum payment of $255 that can be made to a surviving spouse or minor children who meet certain requirements. You may not think it will happen to you, but the stunning truth is that one in eight of today’s 20-year-olds will die before reaching their full retirement age of 67. In fact, 98 of every 100 children could get benefits if a working parent dies. More than 6.4 million survivors receive benefits. The average Survivors benefit is $1,140 a month. It is also important to remember that we pay divorced widows and widowers. If you are unmarried or remarried after age 60 and had a marriage that lasted over 10 years then ended in divorce, you could qualify for benefits. Many divorced spouse don’t even know their former spouse has passed on and could be giving up hundreds of dollars each month. If you are a survivor, you should apply for survivors benefit right away. You can apply by telephone or at any Social Security office. Call us toll-free at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY: 1-800-325-0778). To help prepare you, here is the information we will need: Proof of death — either from a funeral home or a death certificate; Your Social Security number, as well as the deceased worker’s; Your birth certificate; Your marriage certificate, if you are a widow or widower; Your divorce papers, if you are applying as a divorced widow or widower; To learn more about survivors benefits, please read the online publication at www.socialsecurity.gov/ pubs/10084.html. Visit the Survivors page at www.socialsecurity.gov/pgm/survivors.htm.


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June 2012

LISTEN AND LEARN ABOUT SOCIAL SECURITY REVIEW SSA’S AUDIO LIBRARY AND RECEIVE FREE AUDIO PUBLICATIONS By Kirk Larson

Social Security Public Affairs Specialist

Perhaps you’ve been planning to read up on Social Security benefits for some time now, but you never seem to find the time. If only you could listen to an audio version, just as you might listen to the latest novel by your favorite author on audio book. Now you can. Social Security offers more than a hundred publications in audio format, in both English and Spanish. You can find them at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/ pubs/alt-pubs.html or you can call (800) 7721213 for assistance. At Social Security, we want to make sure you can get the information you need. That is why we offer our publications in print, online in both Internet and PDF versions, and some in audio format. You also can get publications in Braille, in enlarged print and even cassette or CD. If you are blind or visually impaired and are having trouble reading a notice we sent you in the mail, you can ask a Social Security representative to read it and explain it to you. You can contact

us as many times as you want to get an explanation. Social Security is committed to using technology to improve the customer service experience. Learning about any aspect of Social Security’s programs is easier than ever, in the format that works best for you. These days, you can even get a personalized estimate of your future benefits and apply for those benefits online. From the comfort of your home, you can access information about Social Security. You can access our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) section to get answers to over 700 questions. Even if you know very little about Social Security the FAQ section can give you a great review of all our programs. You can also adjust the size of the font at our webpage to make it easier to read. It’s never been easier to learn about Social Security. Just visit www.socialsecurity. gov and select the “Forms and Publications” link on the left side of the page. Welcome to our online library. Whatever your preferred format, we’re here for you.

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Social Security Board of Trustees:

Projected Trust Fund Exhaustion Three Years Sooner Than Last Year By Kirk Larson

Social Security Western Washington Public Affairs Specialist

The Social Security Board of Trustees released its annual report on the financial health of the Social Security Trust Funds. The combined assets of the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) Trust Funds will be exhausted in 2033, three years sooner than projected last year. In the 2012 Annual Report to Congress, the Trustees announced: • The projected point at which the combined Trust Funds will be exhausted comes in 2033 – three years sooner than projected last year. At that time, there will be sufficient non-interest income coming in to pay about 75 percent of scheduled benefits. • Over the 75-year period, the Trust Funds would require additional revenue equivalent to $8.6 trillion in present value dollars to pay all scheduled benefits. “This year’s Trustees Report contains troubling, but not unexpected, projections about Social Security’s finances. It once again emphasizes that Congress needs to act to ensure the long-term solvency of this important program, and needs to act within four years to avoid automatic cuts to people receiving disability benefits,” said Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security.

Other highlights of the Trustees Report include: • Non-interest income fell below program costs in 2010 for the first time since 1983. • Income including interest to the combined OASDI Trust Funds amounted to $805 billion Program costs are projected to exceed noninterest income throughout the remainder of in 2011. ($564 billion in net contributions, the 75-year period. $24 billion from taxation of benefits, $114 billion in interest, and $103 billion in reimbursements from the General Fund of the Treasury—almost exclusively resulting from the 2011 payroll tax legislation) • Total expenditures from the combined OASDI Trust Funds amounted to $736 billion in 2011.

• The assets of the combined OASDI Trust Funds increased by $69 billion in 2011 to a total of $2.7 trillion. • During 2011, an estimated 158 million people had earnings covered by Social Security and paid payroll taxes.

in calendar year 2011. There were about 55 million beneficiaries at the end of the calendar year. • The cost of $6.4 billion to administer the program in 2011 was a very low 0.9 percent of total expenditures. • The combined Trust Fund assets earned interest at an effective annual rate of 4.4 percent in 2011.

To read the full report go to www. socialsecurity.gov/OACT/TR/2012/. • Social Security paid benefits of $725 billion


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June 2012

Fast Medicare Coverage Even When You’re Not Retired By Kirk Larson

Social Security Western Washington Public Affairs Specialist

You’ve made your decision: although you’re eligible to collect Social Security payments, you’re going to keep working and delay receiving your retirement benefits. But don’t forget about Medicare. Even if you decide to wait until after you are age 65 to apply for retirement benefits, most people should apply for Medicare coverage at age 65. If you’d like to begin your Medicare coverage, you should apply within four months of reaching age 65. There’s a fast, convenient, and simple way to apply online for Medicare in as little as 10 minutes — even if you’re not ready to receive retirement benefits. Just visit www.socialsecurity.gov/ medicareonly. At the website, you’ll find more than just the online Medicare application. You’ll also find information about Medicare, and have the opportunity to watch a short, fun video reuniting the cast of The Patty Duke Show to tell you about the ease and convenience of filing for Medicare online. It’s important to note that people who already receive Social Security retirement or disability benefits do not need to apply for Medicare; they will be automatically enrolled. There is no additional charge for Medicare hospital insurance (Part A) since you already paid for it by working and paying Medicare tax. However, there is a monthly premium for medical insurance (Part B). If you already have other health insurance when you become eligible for Medicare, you should consider whether you want to apply for the medical insurance. You may want to consult with an insurance specialist. To learn more about this and other Medicare considerations, read our online publication, Medicare, at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10043.html.

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Social Security | June 2012  

Timely information about your Social Security Benefits. In partnership with the Social Security Administration.

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