Social Security Column
By Karyl Richson
Social Security Public Affairs Specialist in Milwaukee, WI
A NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION TO KEEP
Many Americans begin each new year with a list of resolutions and goals. You may want to go on a diet, shed a little weight, do a bit
more exercising, or clean out the long-neglected attic. The trouble is these well-intended goals often melt away long before winter’s
So why not make a resolution that’s easier to keep? If applying for retirement benefits is on your list of things to do this year, resolve
to do it online. To get started, visit www.socialsecurity.gov/applyonline.
As we enter 2010, visiting a Social Security office to apply for benefits is no longer necessary. You’ll save time, energy, and
resources by filing your application from the comfort and convenience of your home or office computer. In fact, it can take as little as
15 minutes to complete your retirement application. How’s that for an easy resolution to keep?
Of course, not everyone is ready to retire. So here is another resolution that is easy to keep. If you’re only dreaming of retirement
now, why not turn those daydreams into concrete plans for your future retirement goals? Just use our online Retirement Estimator.
Plug in some basic information and you’ll instantly get a personalized estimate of your future retirement benefits. It’s another easy
resolution to keep and will take only a few minutes. Try it out now at www.socialsecurity.gov/estimator.
Whether you’re already getting Social Security retirement benefits or just beginning to work, Social Security offers a number of
services and a wealth of information online at www.socialsecurity.gov. For a specific list of online services available, visit www.
So as we enter the new decade, make a resolution to set goals you can keep. Apply online for Social Security benefits or plan your
retirement at www.socialsecurity.gov.
Now, if only you could get your diet plan or exercise regimen to work in as little as 15 minutes.
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SOCIAL SECURITY CAN BENEFIT SURVIVING
HUSBANDS OR WIVES (AND KIDS)
At the start of a new year, many folks like to take stock of their situation in life — work, health, finances, etc. But most of us avoid
doing much thinking about death — or what it might mean for surviving loved ones. Still, wouldn't you feel better knowing that, if you
were no longer living, your family wouldn’t have to depend only on any life insurance or savings you might have? Of course you
So here are some basic facts that may interest you about Social Security survivors insurance.
If you are working and paying into Social Security, some of your Social Security taxes go toward survivors insurance. In fact, for most
workers, the value of the survivors insurance under Social Security may be more than the value of any life insurance policy owned.
Who can receive survivors benefits based on your work? Your surviving husband or wife may be able to receive full benefits at his
or her full retirement age. They also can choose to take reduced Survivors benefits as early as age 60. And, if your surviving
spouse is disabled, benefits can begin as early as age 50.
Your minor children also can receive benefits if they are living with you and depend on you for income — as long as they are under
age 18 or disabled. And if your widow or widower is taking care of your child or children under age 16, then she or he may be
eligible for benefits at any age.
So, the best life insurance plan may be one you already have but perhaps didn’t know about. Now that you do know, it’s easy to
For more information on widows, widowers, and other survivors benefits, and to get an idea of just how much those survivors benefits
might be, visit www.socialsecurity.gov and select “Survivors” at the top of the page.
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LOWER INCOME MIGHT MEAN LOWER MEDICARE PART B PREMIUM
If you have Medicare coverage and you pay a higher Part B premium due to your higher income, here’s some news that may be
comforting during these troubling economic times.
If you have experienced a significant reduction in your overall income, Social Security might be able to reduce the amount of your
Medicare Part B premium as well.
The significant reduction in income can be as a result of a number of changes: marriage, divorce or annulment, death of a spouse,
work reduction, work stoppage, reduction of income due to a loss of income-producing property, and loss or reduction of certain
forms of pension income.
If any one of these events has happened to you, just provide Social Security evidence of the event and tell us how it has reduced your
income. Evidence could be a death certificate, letter from your employer about your loss of work, or something of that nature. If you
filed a federal income tax return for the year in question, we’ll need to see your signed copy of the tax return. If your income will not
change until the following year, you can give us an estimate of what you think your income will be.
Once you show us evidence of the event and provide proof or an estimate of your reduced income, Social Security will update the
records and, if appropriate, adjust your Medicare Part B premium. You can request a new decision and ask that we use more
accurate tax return information if:
• You amended your tax return for the year we used to determine your premium and it changes the income we count;
• You provide proof from IRS of an error in the tax return information we used to make our decision; or
• Your tax filing status for the year we used to determine your premium was “married filing separately” and you did not live with
your spouse at any time during that year.
If you wish to report a significant reduction in your income so we can adjust your Medicare Part B premium, visit the Social Security
website at www.socialsecurity.gov/mediinfo.htm, or call us toll-free at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) or visit your local Social
To learn more about Medicare Part B coverage, visit www.medicare.gov or call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227; TTY 1-877-486-
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TAX TIPS FROM SOCIAL SECURITY
The holidays are over, the gift-giving (and spending) is done, and you’re almost finished returning all of the things you don’t want or
need. You’ve even jotted down your New Year’s resolutions and plan to stick to them.
Time to relax? Maybe not right away — it’s time to start thinking about your taxes.
Here are Social Security’s top three tips for making tax time a lot easier.
1) Don’t forget the children. Make sure the kids (and all the dependents) you list on your annual tax forms have Social Security
numbers. Yes, children do need Social Security numbers. There once was a time when a child did not require a Social Security card
until later in life, but in 2010, that day is long gone. If you want to claim your child as a dependent on your tax return, your child will
need a Social Security number. For many families, it’s not only the kids who will need a number. All dependents listed on your
federal tax returns will need Social Security numbers, including a dependent parent who lives with you and receives support from
you. If any of your dependents needs a Social Security number, you can get an application at www.socialsecurity.gov.
2) Check the names and numbers. It’s not enough for everyone on your tax return to have a Social Security number — they also
must be the correct numbers, and they must match your names exactly. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) checks all the names
and Social Security numbers on your tax return against Social Security's records. If the names and numbers do not match Social
Security's records, you will receive a letter from IRS asking you to explain the discrepancy. You cannot receive a tax refund until the
discrepancy is resolved — which could mean an unnecessarily long delay.
3) Social Security tax on Social Security benefits. If you receive Social Security benefits and your total income, including benefits
and any other income such as wages, pensions, or investment income is high enough, you may have to pay taxes on a portion of
your benefits. So plan accordingly as you work out your budget. You may have to pay taxes on your Social Security benefits if:
• you file as an individual and have a total annual income of $25,000 or more; or
• you file a joint return and have a combined total annual income of $32,000 or more.
These simple tips can move taxes from monumental to manageable when the time comes to file your tax return.
Learn more about Social Security at www.socialsecurity.gov.
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QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
I usually get a raise the first month of the year, but this year my Social Security check was the same. Did you forget to make the
No. For 2010, there is no cost-of-living adjustment (COLA). With consumer prices down over the past year, monthly Social Security
and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits are not automatically going up. By law, benefits go up only if there is an increase
in the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers from the third quarter of the
last year to the third quarter of the current year. To learn more, visit www.socialsecurity.gov/cola.
What is the census and why is it necessary? Will someone be coming to our house to count us?
The U.S. Constitution mandates that a census of the population be conducted every 10 years, and the next Census Day is April 1,
2010. You can expect to receive your census form and a return envelope in the mail between March 15 and March 17 in areas where
the U.S. Postal Service delivers forms for the Census Bureau. If you mail back the completed form, you probably won’t need a
personal visit from a census worker. The census is more than just counting people. Census results determine the number of seats
each state will have in the U.S. House of Representatives and help determine the allocation of federal funds for such things as
school lunch programs, senior citizen centers, highway construction, and hospitals. More important, every year, the federal
government distributes more than $400 billion to local, state, and tribal governments based on census data. To learn more, visit
My cousin and I are both retired and get Social Security. We worked for the same employer for years, but he gets a higher Social
Security benefit. Why is that?
Your payments are based on your earnings over your lifetime -- generally your highest 35 years. In order to get the same benefit as
your cousin, you and he must have had identical earnings, be the same age, and retire at the same time. To learn more about
Social Security retirement benefits, visit www.socialsecurity.gov and select the “Retirement” link.
I’m 49 years old and have had two heart surgeries. I’m recuperating now and plan to go back to work in another year or so. But I’m
worried I may not be able to. Should I go ahead and apply for disability benefits?
Yes. If you have a disabling condition that keeps you from working and is expected to last a year or more, you should apply for
benefits now. You can learn more and get started online by visiting www.socialsecurity.gov/disability. Or you can get the ball rolling
by calling 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778). Apply as soon as you can because disability claims can take several months to
process. Be prepared to give us the names, addresses, and phone numbers of all the doctors, clinics, hospitals, etc., where you
received treatment. Make a list of all the medications you take, and make a separate list of all the jobs you’ve held in the last 15
years, together with a summary of your job duties.
My 4-year old girl is autistic. Another parent at her daycare told me that she might be eligible for disability benefits from Social
Security. My husband and I both work full time and pay Social Security taxes. Could she really qualify?
If you and your husband are both working, then probably not. The only way your daughter would qualify for Social Security now is as
a dependent on your or your husband’s Social Security record. In other words, one of you would have to be getting Social Security
retirement or disability benefits before she could be eligible. We do run another program that pays disability benefits for children. It’
s called Supplemental Security Income (SSI). But it’s a program for people with limited income and resources. So if your family is
having a hard time making ends meet, your daughter might qualify for a monthly SSI payment. And if she gets SSI, she might also
get Medicaid coverage. Learn more by visiting www.socialsecurity.gov and selecting the “Supplemental Security Income” link.
SUPPLEMENTAL SECURITY INCOME
What’s the difference between “SSID” and “SSDI”?
SSID, or SSI, is the way some people refer to “Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability” benefits. SSI disability benefits are
paid to people who have limited incomes and resources. SSDI is the way some people refer to “Social Security disability insurance
benefits.” Social Security disability benefits go to people who have worked and paid Social Security taxes for a long enough time to
be covered for Social Security. Some people qualify for both “SSI” and “SSDI” if their Social Security benefit is low enough for them
to receive SSI. To learn more about Social Security and SSI, visit www.socialsecurity.gov.
I get both Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. I recently was switched from a benefit based on my
own earnings to a higher widow’s benefit on my husband’s work record. But then my SSI check was reduced. Why did you give me
money with one hand and take it away with the other?
SSI is a needs-based program. In other words, the amount of your SSI is based, in part, on your income and resources. So if your
income goes up and your financial need decreases, your SSI payment also will decrease. When you started getting the higher widow’
s benefit from Social Security, your other income went up, so your SSI payment had to go down. For more information, you can visit
our webpage about SSI at www.socialsecurity.gov/ssi. Or you can call Social Security’s toll-free number at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-
800-325-0778) and ask for the publication, Supplemental Security Income.