Social Security Column
July 2009
By Karyl Richson
Social Security Public Affairs Specialist in Milwaukee, WI


There’s a lot you can do at Social Security’s website, and it’s easy to locate — just go to   You can estimate your retirement
benefits, find out what kinds of government benefits you might qualify for and even apply for benefits online.
But did you know that you can check the status of your benefit application online — even if you applied the “old fashioned” way, in person at a Social
Security office or over the phone?
That’s right — you can check the status of your pending Social Security application on our website,, from the convenience of your
home or office.  It doesn’t matter whether you applied for benefits online, in person, or on the phone.  And it doesn’t matter whether the application is for
retirement, disability, survivors or spouse’s benefits.  You can get instant status on your claim at any computer with Internet access.  It’s quick, easy, and
Just visit and select the “Check the status of your application” link on the upper, left-hand side.  Then enter the Social Security
number and the confirmation number, given to you when you applied.  It’s that easy — instant status.  
While you’re online, there are other things you can do.  Learn how Social Security works, research Social Security’s history and visit the “Questions” link
for answers to hundreds of the most frequently asked Social Security questions.  You also can read our online publications about benefits, which may
come in handy as the processing of your application comes near.  Wherever you are, you can find us online at     
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The idea of someone being “retired with children” may seem like the seed of another television sit-com or reality show.  But the fact is that it’s becoming
more and more common for older people to have minor children in their care — whether by bringing new children into the world, taking over the care of
grandchildren or adopting children who need nurturing parents.  

So it’s important to know that if you receive Social Security benefits and have minor children who depend on you, you might be able to receive benefits for
them, too.  This is true whether you receive benefits as a retiree or you receive Social Security disability or survivors benefits.  
To get benefits, a child must have a parent (or in some cases a grandparent) who:
•        is disabled or retired and entitled to Social Security benefits; or
•        died after having worked long enough in a job where he or she paid Social Security taxes.
The child also must be:
•        Unmarried; and
•        Younger than age 18; or
•        18-19 years old and a full-time student (no higher than grade 12); or
•        18 or older and disabled. (The disability must have started before age 22.)
Within a family, a child may receive up to one-half of the parent’s full retirement or disability benefit, or 75 percent of the deceased parent’s basic Social
Security benefit.  However, there is a limit to the amount of money that can be paid to a family.  The maximum family payment can be from 150 to 180
percent of the parent’s full benefit amount.  If the total amount payable to all family members exceeds this limit, each child’s benefit is reduced
proportionately until the total equals the maximum allowable amount.
For example, if you are retired with a minor child and your benefit payment is $1,000 a month, your minor child could get up to half of that each month, or
$500.  However, if you had two minor children in your care, the maximum your entire family could receive would be between $1,500 and $1,800 — that’s
$1,000 for you and between $250 and $400 per child.
Whether you receive Social Security benefits because you have a disabling condition, due to the death of a spouse or because you’ve reached retirement,
if you have minor children, you’ll want to read Social Security’s online publication, Benefits for Children at

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It’s been only a year since Social Security’s Retirement Estimator went online, but you’d never know it based on the praise it continues to receive from
users.  It was rated the best online service in government by the University of Michigan’s American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) for Federal
Websites in February 2009.  In the most recent ACSI report, the Retirement Estimator tied for first place with Social Security’s online application.

The Retirement Estimator is so popular, in fact, that people have visited the website more than three million times in the past year.  You can visit it
yourself online at

The online Retirement Estimator is a convenient, secure and quick financial planning tool that lets workers calculate how much they might expect to
receive in Social Security benefits when they retire.  The attractive feature of this calculator is that it uses your earnings information on file at Social
Security, without displaying your personal information.  So you get an instant estimate of your future retirement benefits.  And, it’s so easy to use.

The Estimator even gives you the opportunity to run personalized scenarios and “what if” situations.  For example, you can change the date you expect to
retire or change expected future earnings to create and compare different retirement options.  This can help you as you plan ahead.

To use the Retirement Estimator, you must have enough Social Security credits to qualify for benefits and you must not be receiving benefits currently.

Experience the best online service in government now by visiting Social Security’s Retirement Estimator at  Then,
once you’ve sketched out your retirement plans, you’ll know where to go when the time comes to apply for benefits:

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People who use social networking websites know that it can be exciting to reconnect with long lost friends and relatives over the Internet.  Such surprise
connections can be fun and conjure up memories of times forgotten.  But what if you have a more serious situation and you need to locate a particular
person?  Perhaps Social Security can help.
Social Security is in the business of paying benefits, not reconnecting people.  But, in some cases, we will do what we can to help.
We will attempt to forward a letter to a missing person under circumstances involving a matter of great importance, such as a death or serious illness in
the missing person's immediate family, or a sizeable amount of money that is due the missing person.  Also, the circumstances must concern a matter
about which the missing person is unaware and would undoubtedly want to be informed.
In less dire cases, such as when a son, daughter, brother or sister want to establish contact, we will write to the missing person, rather than forwarding a
Because this service is not related in any way to a Social Security program, its use must be limited so that it does not interfere with our regular program
There is no charge for forwarding letters that have a humanitarian purpose.  However, we must charge a $25 fee to cover our costs when the letter is to
inform the missing person of money or property due.  This fee is not refundable.  The fee should be paid by a check made payable to the Social Security
We must read each letter we forward to ensure that it contains nothing that could prove embarrassing to the missing person if read by a third party.  
Letters should be in plain, unstamped, unsealed envelopes showing only the missing person's name.  Nothing of value should be enclosed.
To try to locate an address in our records, we’ll need the missing person's Social Security number or identifying information such as date and place of
birth, father's name, and the mother's full birth name.
Unless a missing person is receiving benefits under a program Social Security administers, we would not have a home address for them. Usually, we
forward a letter in care of the employer who most recently reported earnings for the person.
Requests for letter forwarding should be sent to:

Social Security Administration
Letter Forwarding
P.O. Box 33022
Baltimore, MD 21290-3022
Learn more about this service at

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If you’re age 25 or older, pay Social Security taxes and are not yet receiving monthly benefits, you should get an automatic Social Security Statement in the
mail each year about two to three months before your birthday.  The Statement is a valuable tool to keep track of your annual earnings, as well as to help
you plan your financial future.  

But if your earnings don’t meet the threshold for filing a federal tax return, you might not be receiving your annual Social Security Statement.  Social
Security would like to make sure that you know you’re entitled to one.

Everyone who has worked and paid Social Security tax is entitled to receive a Statement.  So, if you don’t get one automatically in the mail, you can
request one from Social Security — and the easiest way to do that is online

Just visit and select the “Need to request a Statement?” banner. You’ll need to fill in the following information to
make your request:
•        Your name as shown on your Social Security card;
•        Your Social Security number;
•        Your date of birth;
•        Your place of birth; and
•        Your mother's maiden name — last name only (to help identify you).
You also can provide the following information to make your estimate more accurate:
•        Your last year’s earnings and an estimate of your current and future earnings; and
•        The age you plan to stop working.
Once you make your request, Social Security will mail you a Statement, which you should receive within two to four weeks.  Give it a careful look to make
sure your earnings and information are reported correctly, and contact Social Security if you find anything amiss.
After you review your Statement, it’s a good idea to keep it with your other important papers.  And if you’d like to go one step further in your retirement
planning, visit our online Retirement Estimator at, where you can get an instant estimate of your future benefits based
on your earnings record and plug in various retirement age scenarios.
Whether retirement is just around the corner or a long way down the road, Social Security is ready to serve you at