By Bob Trotter Social Security Public Affairs Specialist in Milwaukee, WI
CURL UP WITH OUR LIBRARY ON WORLD BOOK DAY
More than 100 countries will participate in World Book Day on April 23, encouraging people to explore the pleasures of reading.
At Social Security, we invite you to explore our online library anytime to curl up for a good read with our electronic publications.
In our virtual library, you can learn more about Social Security, our programs, and what our programs mean to you and your family. Browse through our collection of publications at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs. Search our online catalog by typing a title or topic in the library’s search box, and sort your results by a publication’s date, number, or title. Many of our publications are available in up to 17 different languages.
Our library also gives you access to audio recordings of our publications.
While the fastest and most convenient way to get one of our publications is by visiting www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs, if you prefer a good, old-fashioned printed copy, you can call us at 410-965-2039 and ask us to mail you a copy.
Social Security has been serving the American public since 1935, the same year that paperback pioneer Penguin Books released its first title. The difference is that, now, the publications we provide are available in more than just paper form. Whether you prefer print, electronic, audio, or an alternative format, Social Security has a good read for you.
Don’t have a lot of time for reading? Don’t worry. Our publications are a much easier read than Tolstoy’s classic, War and Peace. We write in plain language so that the information is easy to understand.
When you’re going through a life-changing event and need our services, having access to information on every one of our benefit programs will help make your next chapter one for the books!
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SPRING INTO A STRESS-FREE RETIREMENT
April has arrived, and spring is here! As we say “goodbye” to winter weather hardships and “hello” to gardens budding with vibrant color, we welcome the season by celebrating Stress Awareness Month.
Did you know that stress, also called the “silent killer,” could cause heart disease and high blood pressure? Recognizing the sources of stress is the best way to understand how you can start eliminating factors in your life that put unnecessary strain on your body and mind.
Social Security wants to make your retirement planning as stress-free as possible, which is why we have a number of online tools available for you. You can create your own secure, personal my Social Security account from the comfort of your living room and avoid unpleasant traffic and a possible long wait in one of our field offices. Once you have a my Social Security account, you can view your Social Security Statement, verify your earnings record, and find out what to expect in monthly benefits if you retire at ages 62, 67, or 70. Once you begin receiving Social Security benefits, you can use my Social Security to check your benefit information, change your address and phone number, change your electronic payment method, and obtain an instant benefit verification letter and replacement SSA-1099/1042S.
If you’re thinking about retiring at an age not shown on your Statement, reduce the stress of the unknown by using our Retirement Estimator. The Retirement Estimator allows you to calculate your potential future Social Security benefits by changing variables such as retirement dates and future earnings. You may discover that you’d rather wait another year or two before you retire to earn a higher benefit. Or, you might see that this is the season for you to kiss that work stress goodbye and retire right now. To get instant, personalized estimates of your future benefits, go to www.socialsecurity.gov/estimator.
When you decide it’s time to start receiving your retirement benefits, the application process is far less stressful now that you’re prepared. You can securely apply online without picking up the phone or leaving your house. Simply go to www. socialsecurity.gov/applyonline, and, in as little as 15 minutes, you can breeze through our online retirement application.
Our website and online tools are always available. You can enjoy Social Security’s stress-free retirement planning tools any time of the year, giving you more time to enjoy these warmer months. Doesn’t that put a spring in your step?
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A GREENER WAY TO DO BUSINESS
April 22 is Earth Day, a great time to recommit to going green. More than one billion people will celebrate Earth Day this year. Saving energy, conserving water, and using less gas are just a few ways to go green (and save the earth).
At Social Security, we strive to have a positive impact on the environment and community. By visiting www.socialsecurity.gov, you can handle much of your Social Security business quickly and securely from your home or office.
Whether you want to get an estimate of your future retirement benefits, request a replacement Medicare card, report a change of address, or take charge of your retirement planning, our online services help meet your Social Security needs while saving you time. The best part is there’s no need for paper, printing, and postage.
Visiting www.socialsecurity.gov is also the cleanest and greenest way to do business with Social Security. Going online saves you a trip to our office and reduces emissions.
If the time comes, however, when you need to come into one of our offices, we have locations across the nation.
At Social Security, we have buildings that use high-efficiency lighting, high-performance windows, solar hot water heating systems, chilled water system improvements, and improved heating and air conditioning systems. Efficient solar lighting even illuminates some of our parking lots. Simply put, we serve the earth while serving you.
Do you need to make a call instead? If so, you can reach us toll-free at 1-800-772-1213. All calls are confidential. Our helpful and knowledgeable staff is available to answer specific questions from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. We provide information by automated phone service 24 hours a day. And, if you are deaf or hard of hearing, you can call our TTY number, 1-800-325-0778.
If you prefer to communicate by social media, we can meet you there, too. At the bottom of www.socialsecurity.gov, you’ll find icons to Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, YouTube, and Pinterest. If you have a question, you may first want to see our Frequently Asked Questions page at www.socialsecurity.gov/faq. No matter how you choose to contact us, Social Security is here to assist you. Commit to go green! You can start by viewing a complete list of our online services at www.socialsecurity.gov/onlineservices.
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LET SOCIAL SECURITY HELP JAZZ UP YOUR RETIREMENT PLAN
April is Jazz Appreciation Month, a perfect time to move your feet and revel in the smooth beats of one of America’s most beloved musical genres.
Ella Fitzgerald, the “Queen of Jazz,” known for her scatting style, had a vocal range spanning three octaves. Other great jazz icons include Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong, Herbie Hancock, and Wynton Marsalis.
These jazz greats not only have music in common, but they either received, receive, or will be eligible to receive Social Security retirement benefits. Wynton Marsalis, at age 53, is approaching retirement. Herbie Hancock, at age 74, is already old enough to receive full Social Security retirement benefits. A lot of planning and preparation made these artists successful. If you want to be successful in your retirement years, financial planning is important for hitting all the high notes.
You don’t have to scat like Ella, or blow your horn like Wynton, Dizzy, and Louis, to plan for retirement. If you’re making retirement plans, you’ll want to visit Social Security’s website to use our retirement planner at www.socialsecurity.gov/retire. You’ll find detailed information about your Social Security retirement and what you may want to consider as you prepare for your future.
Creating a secure my Social Security account at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount is another way to fine tune your retirement. Your account will allow you to verify your posted earnings and get retirement estimates for ages 62, 67, and 70. Opening a my Social Security account is safe, easy, and only takes a few minutes.
Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” may come to mind as you visit our website at www.socialsecurity.gov to jazz up your retirement planning!
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TAXES, EX-SPOUSE BENEFITS, AND YOU
April 14 is both Ex-Spouse Day and the eve of tax day. These two observances are doubly important if you are an ex-spouse, because Social Security pays benefits to eligible former spouses, and you may need to claim this income on your tax forms.
If you are age 62, unmarried, and divorced from someone entitled to Social Security retirement or disability benefits, you may be eligible to receive benefits based on his or her record. To be eligible, you must have been married to your ex-spouse for 10 years or more. If you have since remarried, you can’t collect benefits on your former spouse’s record unless your later marriage ended by annulment, divorce, or death. Also, if you’re entitled to benefits on your own record, your benefit amount must be less than you would receive based on your ex-spouse's work. In other words, we’ll pay the higher of the two benefits for which you’re eligible, but not both.
You can apply for benefits on your former spouse’s record even if he or she hasn’t retired, as long as you divorced at least two years before applying. You can also elect to receive only the divorced spouse benefits and delay benefits on your own record until your full retirement age, which may translate to a higher monthly amount for you. If, however, you decide to wait until full retirement age to apply as a divorced spouse, your benefit will be equal to half of your ex-spouse's full retirement amount or disability benefit. The same rules apply for a deceased former spouse.
The amount of benefits you get has no effect on the benefits of your ex-spouse’s and his or her current spouse. Visit “Retirement Planner: If You Are Divorced” at www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2/divspouse.htm to find all the eligibility requirements you must meet to apply as a divorced spouse. Our benefits planner gives you an idea of your monthly benefit amount. If your ex- spouse died after you divorced, you can still quality for widow’s benefits. You’ll find information about that in a note at the bottom of the website.
Question: Someone stole my Social Security number, and it’s being used repeatedly. Does Social Security issue new Social Security numbers to victims of repeated identity theft? Answer: Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in America, so you aren’t alone. If you’ve done all you can to identify and fix the problem, including contacting the Federal Trade Commission, but someone is still using your number, Social Security may assign you a new number. If you decide to apply for a new number, you’ll need to prove your identity, age, and U.S. citizenship or immigration status. You’ll also need to provide evidence you’re having ongoing problems because of the misuse of your current Social Security number. You can read more about identity theft at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs.
Question: Now that my husband and I have a large family, we’ve hired a housekeeper that comes once a week. Do we have to withhold Social Security taxes from our housekeeper’s earnings? Answer: It depends on how much you’re paying the housekeeper. If you pay a housekeeper or other household worker $1,900 or more in cash wages throughout the year, you must deduct Social Security and Medicare taxes. This holds true for a cleaning person, cook, gardener, babysitter, or anyone else who provides services for you. In addition, you must report these wages once a year. There are exceptions, for example, when you are hiring a company or independent contractor and paying them a fee for services instead of wages to an individual. You can learn more about household workers and tax deductions by reading our publication, Household Workers, at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs.
Question: Although I stopped working a few years ago, I had additional seasonal earnings after my retirement. Will my monthly Social Security retirement benefit increase? Answer: Possibly. And, you can get Social Security retirement or survivors benefits and work at the same time. Each year, we review the records for all working Social Security recipients to see if additional earnings may increase their monthly benefit amounts. If an increase is due, we calculate a new benefit amount and pay the increase retroactive to January following the year of earnings. You can learn more about how work affects your benefits by reading our publication, How Work Affects Your Benefits, at www. socialsecurity.gov/pubs.
Question: I served in the military, and I’ll receive a military pension when I retire. Will that affect my Social Security benefits? Answer: You can get both Social Security retirement benefits and military retirement at the same time. Generally, we don’t reduce your Social Security benefits because of your military benefits. When you’re ready to apply for Social Security retirement benefits, go to www.socialsecurity.gov/applyonline. This is the fastest and easiest way to apply. For your convenience, you can always save your progress during your application and complete it later. And thank you for your military service!
Question: I have been collecting disability benefits for a few years, but I’m getting healthy enough to work again. Can I return to work while getting Social Security disability benefits? Answer: Yes, you can return to work while receiving Social Security disability benefits. We have special rules to help you get back to work without lowering your initial benefits. You may be able to have a trial work period for nine months to test whether you can work. If you get disability benefits and your condition improves or you return to work, you must report these changes to us. Call us at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) or contact your local Social Security office. You can find your local office by visiting www.socialsecurity.gov/locator.
Question: My father collects disability benefits, but he is interested in trying working again. Is there a program that helps disabled people find work while they’re collecting Social Security disability benefits? Answer: Social Security’s Ticket to Work program can help beneficiaries go to work, get a good job that may lead to a career, save more money, and become financially independent. This program doesn’t affect your disability benefits—you can keep collecting your benefits while participating. Ticket to Work is a free and voluntary program that gives beneficiaries real choices to help them create and lead better lives. You can learn more about our Ticket to Work program atwww.socialsecurity.gov/work or www. socialsecurity.gov/work/home.html.
SUPPLEMENTAL SECURITY INCOME
Question: My father receives Supplemental Security Income. He recently moved, but he hasn’t reported his new address to Social Security yet. What’s the easiest way to do that? Answer: You can check your address online by using your personal my Social Security account at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount. It is very important that Social Security has your father’s most up-to-date information, including any change in income, resources, or living arrangements. This will guarantee that he is getting the benefit amount to which he is entitled. You can learn more about the rights and responsibilities of Supplemental Security Income recipients at www.socialsecurity.gov/ssi.
Question: I am about to get married, and I currently receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Will getting married affect my payments? Answer: Yes, getting married can change your SSI benefits, and you need to report it to us. If you marry, your spouse's income and resources may change your SSI benefit. If you and your spouse both get SSI, your benefit amount will change from an individual rate to a couple’s rate. Although getting married won’t usually affect your Social Security disability or retirement benefits, that is not the case if you receive SSI payments. Learn more by reading our publication, Supplemental Security Income, at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs.
Question: I need proof that I receive Medicare benefits. Where can I get a letter proving that? Answer: If you need proof that you get Social Security benefits, Supplemental Security Income, or Medicare, get an instant benefit verification letter online by using your personal my Social Security account. If you don’t receive benefits, your letter will serve as proof that you don’t receive benefits. If you recently applied for benefits, the letter will make that clear as well. The information on your benefit verification letter will include information that applies to your situation. You can set up your secure, personal my Social Security account at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount.