Social Security Column
February 2010
By Karyl Richson
Social Security Public Affairs Specialist in Milwaukee, WI


On Groundhog Day, the world’s most famous forecaster, Punxsutawney Phil, briefly emerges from his burrow to forecast an early spring or six more weeks
of winter.  
Whether or not the groundhog sees his shadow, you may want to consider staying inside where it’s warm and cozy.  Winter weather or not, it’s easy to
conduct your Social Security business online by visiting
There are so many things you can do online, even Bill Murray’s character from the movie Groundhog Day could find new things to do.  For example, you
•        Get an instant, personalized estimate of future benefits with the Retirement Estimator at;
•        Apply for Social Security retirement, spouse’s, survivors, or disability benefits at;
•        Learn about extra help with Medicare prescription drug costs at, where you can find a link to apply; and
•        Request a replacement Medicare card at

Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, has been putting on the largest celebration of Groundhog Day since around 1886, with crowds reaching 40,000 people.  
Of the 112 recorded predictions, Punxsutawney Phil has called for six more weeks of winter 87 percent of the time.  We suspect he just likes to stay in.  
Whatever the weather, learn all about the things you can do online at  

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If you’ve been thinking about applying for extra help with your Medicare prescription drug costs, then now’s the time to get on the dance floor and hop to
it. Chubby Checker, the Grammy Award winning rock and roll legend most known for his hit, “The Twist,” has teamed up with Michael J. Astrue,
Commissioner of Social Security, to tell people about a new “twist” in the law.  The change in the law makes it easier for people with Medicare to qualify
for extra help with their prescription drug costs.
“The changes in the Medicare law will allow hundreds of thousands of Americans who are struggling to pay their prescription drug costs to get extra help
during these tough economic times,” said Commissioner Astrue.  “I am thrilled that Chubby Checker has volunteered to help us spread this important
message through a new television, radio, and Internet spot as well as pamphlets and posters.”
“Listen up, America!  For 50 years, people of all ages and backgrounds have danced the Twist,” Chubby Checker said.  “Now it’s important everyone learn
about this new twist in the law.  Check it out at”
There are income and resource limits a person needs to meet to qualify for the extra help.  But the new Medicare law eases those requirements in two
•        The cash value of life insurance no longer counts as a resource; and
•        Assistance people receive from others to pay for household expenses, such as food, rent, mortgage, or utilities, no longer counts as income.
A bonus “twist” is that the application you file for extra help can now start the application process for Medicare Savings Programs as well — state
programs that provide help with other Medicare costs.  These programs help pay Medicare Part B (medical insurance) premiums.  For some people, the
Medicare Savings Programs also pay Medicare Part A (hospital insurance) premiums, if any, and Part A and B deductibles and co-payments.
To learn more about the extra help program and to view the new television spot featuring Chubby Checker, visit Social Security online at

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Valentine’s Day is just around the corner.  We at Social Security have a romantic story we’d like to share with older couples out there who are thinking
about applying for retirement benefits.
There was a husband and wife getting ready to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary.  The two of them did everything together.  They became
friends when they were still in school.  They were sweethearts before they even graduated.  Their courtship lasted for years and they tied the knot at what
they considered then to be the “ripe old age” of 26.
When the kids were young, they enjoyed family vacations, road trips, and amusement park visits.  As empty nesters, they shopped together, ate together,
went to the movies together, and paid their bills together.  They even began emailing their grandchildren together.  
So when they both reached full retirement age in the same month, we were glad they could do something else together:  apply online for Social
Security retirement and spouse’s benefits at
They were thrilled to learn how easy it was to file their applications from the comfort and convenience of their own home.  His application for retirement
benefits and her application for spouse’s benefits were both done in no time.  Not having to spend time driving to their local Social Security office or
waiting in line once they got there gave them more time to do other things together.
Their first payments have already arrived by direct deposit.  In fact, they plan to use part of their first benefit payments for a romantic getaway this
Valentine’s Day.
So if you and your spouse are thinking about applying for benefits, why not do it together online?  Applying online for retirement takes less time than a
walk in the park.  
To apply online for Social Security benefits, visit

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When it comes to Social Security benefits, you may be wondering who must pay taxes on them and who does not.  Let’s look at the numbers.
If you file a federal tax return as an "individual" and your total income is more than $25,000, then the answer for you is yes:  you’ll have to pay federal
taxes on your benefits.  If you file a joint return and you and your spouse have a total income more than $32,000, you’ll be expected to pay federal taxes
as well.  If your taxable income is below those thresholds, there is no need to pay taxes on your Social Security benefits.
If you need to pay taxes on a portion of your benefits, you will need your SSA-1099.  This form shows the total amount of benefits received in the
previous year and is used to find out whether any benefits are subject to tax.  You will need to submit it when you complete your federal income tax
You already should have received your SSA-1099 for tax year 2009 in the mail — they were automatically mailed to all beneficiaries by January 31,
2010.  If you receive Social Security and have not yet received a Form SSA-1099 for 2009, you can request a replacement online at www.socialsecurity.
gov/onlineservices.  Or you can call Social Security’s toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213 (TTY, 1-800-325-0778) and ask for a replacement SSA-1099 to
be mailed to you.  
If you would like more information about paying taxes on your Social Security benefits, visit and read Publication Number 915, Social
Security and Equivalent Railroad Retirement Benefits.  You also can call the Internal Revenue Service toll-free at 1-800-829-3676 (TTY, 1-800-829-
So if you’ve been wondering whether or not you’ll need to pay taxes on your Social Security benefits and what forms you may need, now you know the
simple facts.  

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What you may not have realized when you rang in 2010 was that you also were ringing in the 75th anniversary of Social Security.
On August 14, 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law. Since then, Social Security has been a cornerstone of our
nation, touching the lives of almost every American at one time or another — for 75 years.
When President Roosevelt signed Social Security into law, he said, “The civilization of the past hundred years, with its startling industrial changes, has
tended more and more to make life insecure.  Young people have come to wonder what would be their lot when they came to old age.  The man with a
job has wondered how long the job would last.  This law, too, represents a cornerstone in a structure which is being built but is by no means complete.  It
is, in short, a law that will take care of human needs and at the same time provide the United States an economic structure of vastly greater soundness.”
Change and economic insecurity were regular parts of everyday life in those days, just as they are today.  Social Security is our nation’s most successful
domestic program and has a rich history.  We will be commemorating the anniversary throughout the year by showcasing milestones in Social Security’s
75-year history on our website.  We encourage you to learn more by visiting Social Security’s History Page at

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I recently applied for a replacement Social Security card, but I might be moving before it arrives in the mail.  What do I do if I move before I get it?

Once we have verified all your documents and processed your application, it takes approximately 10 to 14 days to receive your replacement Social
Security card.  If you move after applying for your new card, notify the post office of your change of address and the post office will forward your card to
your new address.  If you do not receive your card, please contact your local Social Security office.  To get another replacement, you will have to
resubmit your evidence of identity and U.S. citizenship, or your lawful immigration status and authority to work.  You can learn more at www.

What's the average monthly Social Security benefit for a retired worker?

The current average monthly Social Security benefit for a retired worker is about $1,164.  Social Security benefits are based on earnings averaged over
most of a worker's lifetime.  To learn more about how retirement benefits are calculated, or to get an immediate and personalized estimate based on your
earnings record, visit us online at


What is “full retirement age” and what happens if I apply for Social Security benefits before then?

Full retirement age is the age when you are eligible to receive Social Security retirement benefits without a reduction in your benefits.  If you were born
before 1938, your full retirement age is 65.  If you were born in 1938 or after, your full retirement age will be higher, depending on the year you were
born.  You can find your full retirement age at
If you decide to apply for retirement benefits before your full retirement age (as early as age 62), your benefits will be reduced.  For example, here's how
it would work if your full retirement age is 66.
•        If you start your retirement benefits at age 62, your monthly benefit amount is reduced by about 25 percent.  The reduction for starting benefits at
o        63 is about 20 percent;
o        64 is about 13.3 percent; and
o        65 is about 6.7 percent.
You can learn more by visiting

I am nearing my full retirement age, but I plan to keep working after I apply for Social Security benefits.  Will my benefits be reduced because of my

No.  If you apply for benefits once you’ve reached your full retirement age, you can work while you receive Social Security and your current benefit will
not be reduced because of the earned income.  If you keep working, it could mean a higher benefit for you in the future.  Higher benefits can be
important to you later in life and increase the future benefit amounts your survivors could receive.  If you receive benefits before your full retirement age,
your earnings could reduce your monthly benefit amount.  After you reach full retirement age, we recalculate your benefit amount to leave out the
months when we reduced or withheld benefits due to your excess earnings.  You can learn more by reading our publication, How Work Affects Your
Benefits, at   


How does Social Security decide if I am disabled?

For an adult to be considered disabled, Social Security must determine that you are unable to do the work you did before and unable to adjust to any
other work which exists in significant numbers in the national economy.  Also, your disability must last or be expected to last for at least one year or to
result in death.  Social Security pays only for total disability.  No benefits are payable for partial disability or short-term disability (less than a year).  For
more information, we recommend you read Disability Benefits (SSA Publication No. 05-10029), available online at

What is the earliest age that I can receive Social Security disability benefits?

There is no minimum age as long as you meet the strict Social Security definition of disability.  To qualify for disability benefits, you must have worked
long enough under Social Security to earn the required number of work credits and some of the work must be recent.  You can earn up to a maximum of
four work credits each year.  The amount of earnings required for a credit increases each year as general wage levels go up and is currently $1,120.  The
number of work credits you need for disability benefits depends on your age when you become disabled.  For example, if you are under age 24, you may
qualify with as little as six credits of coverage.  But people disabled at age 31 or older generally need between 20 and 40 credits, and some of the work
must have been recent.  For example, you may need to have worked five out of the past 10 years.  Learn more at  


I get Supplemental Security Income (SSI) because I am elderly and have no income.  My sister recently died and left me the money she had in a
savings account.  Will this extra money affect my SSI benefits?  

The money inherited from your sister is considered income for the month you receive it and could make you ineligible for that month, depending on the
amount of the inheritance.  If you keep the money into the next month, it then becomes a part of your resources.  You cannot have more than $2,000 in
resources to remain eligible for SSI benefits.  Call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY, 1-800-325-0778) to report the inheritance.  A representative
will tell you how your eligibility and payment amount might be affected.  Learn more by visiting us online at

My parents recently moved into a retirement community and they are signing their house over to me.  Can I still get Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
or will home ownership make me ineligible?

You can own a home and still receive SSI as long as you live in the home you own.  In most cases, when determining SSI eligibility we don’t count as
resources the home you own and live in or the car you use.  For more information about SSI and Social Security, visit Social Security’s website at www., or call us toll-free at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778).


What’s this I hear about a new “twist” in the law?

You may have seen our new public service campaign featuring Grammy winner and rock and roll legend Chubby Checker — best known for his enduring
hit, “the Twist.”  He’s volunteering his time to help us spread the word about a new “twist” in the law that helps more people qualify for extra help with their
prescription drug costs.  If you have limited income and resources and have Medicare, you might be able to qualify for extra help with your prescription
drug costs.  Thanks to changes in the law, more people than ever before can qualify.  To learn more, visit  While you’re
at the website, be sure to check out Chubby Checker’s public service announcement.  He’s still twisting!