Social Security column
By Karyl Richson
Social Security Public Affairs Specialist in
CELEBRATE HISPANIC HERITAGE MONTH; USE ONLINE SERVICES
Hispanic Heritage Month begins on September 15, and whether you prefer communicating in English or Spanish, there are
some important online services we’d like you to know about. You can find them at www.socialsecurity.gov and at our Spanish
If you are ready to apply for Social Security retirement benefits now, you can do it quickly and easily on your home or office
computer. The online application takes as little as 15 minutes. Once you complete the online application and “sign” it with the
click of a mouse, your application is complete. In most cases, there are no documents to submit or additional paperwork to fill
out. Online is the easiest way to apply, and you can do it in English or Spanish.
In addition to applying for Social Security retirement benefits, you also can apply for Medicare — in as little as 10 minutes, from
start to finish.
But you can do more than apply for benefits. You can find a lot of information and a number of online services that allow you to
complete your Social Security business online, in English or Spanish. One of the most popular is our Retirement Estimator,
which provides an instant, personalized estimate of your future Social Security benefits. Using the actual wages posted in your
Social Security record, the Estimator will give you a good picture of what to expect in benefits. It protects your personal
information by providing only retirement benefit estimates — it does not show the earnings information used to calculate the
benefit estimate, nor does it reveal other identifying information. You can plug in different retirement scenarios and future wage
amounts to get estimates for different situations.
If you already are entitled to Medicare and are having trouble with the cost of prescription drugs, you might qualify for Extra Help
from Social Security. The Extra Help can save you as much as $4,000 each year. You can learn all about it and apply online.
Whether you prefer to do business online in Spanish or English, our website is the place for you. Visit www.segurosocial.gov
or www.socialsecurity.gov during Hispanic Heritage Month, or anytime. It’s so easy!
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SOCIAL SECURITY AND LIVING ABROAD
These days it is more common than ever for a person to travel across the globe – either for vacation or to live in another
country permanently. If you are one of these people, Social Security offers a special website: “Social Security Payments
Outside the United States.” The website features all you need to know about Social Security while living abroad. You can find it
If you’re in the planning stages of moving to another country, you may want to check out our “Payments Abroad Screening
Tool.” It will ask you a few short questions and will let you know whether your payments can continue. It may make a difference
in your decision to live abroad.
The page also offers links to publications, such as Your Payments While You Are Outside The United States, which explains
how your benefits may be affected and other important information you need to know about receiving Social Security benefits
while outside the country.
In the top, right corner of the page, you’ll find important information on how to contact Social Security when you are abroad — to
ask questions, make requests, or report events and changes that may affect payments.
Whether you’re stateside or abroad, you’ll want to pay a visit to www.socialsecurity.gov/international/payments.html.
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IF 2013 IS YOUR LUCKY YEAR TO RETIRE, PREPARE NOW
Do you plan to begin receiving Social Security retirement benefits early in 2013? If so, now is the time to prepare. We
recommend you apply up to four months before you want your retirement benefits to begin.
These days, you no longer need to travel to an office or wait in line to apply for benefits. You can do it from your home or office
computer. The Social Security website at www.socialsecurity.gov makes the process easy and convenient.
You can complete your application for retirement benefits in as little as 15 minutes. In most cases, after you submit your online
application electronically, that’s all you have to do. You’re done. There are no forms to sign or additional paperwork to
complete. In rare cases where we need additional information, a representative will contact you.
Not ready to retire yet? Perhaps you want to plan ahead and begin considering your options regarding when to retire. In that
case, you’ll want to visit Social Security’s website to use our convenient and informative retirement planner at www.
socialsecurity.gov/retire2. Here you can find out just how close you are to meeting your financial goals and then “bookmark” the
website to apply for retirement benefits whenever you are ready.
We encourage people at any stage in their working career to use the Retirement Estimator for an instant, personalized
estimate of future retirement benefits. Find it at www.socialsecurity.gov/estimator.
Remember that you’re always first in line when you go online, to www.socialsecurity.gov.
Here’s to a lucky 2013. If you’re planning to retire and begin receiving Social Security benefits in January, start the year off right
by applying online now for Social Security benefits.
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WORK INCENTIVES FOR LABOR DAY
This Labor Day, many Americans commemorate the fruits of their hard work by taking a day off from it. There will be gatherings
and games, barbecues, and baseball. Labor Day was established in 1882, and it has become an American tradition to
celebrate with family and friends.
For many Americans who receive Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits, Labor Day can be a
good day to think about the future. It may be that, in spite of your disabling condition, you would like to attempt to work. But
perhaps you’re apprehensive because you don’t want to find out you’re not quite up to the task and risk losing your benefits
and critical medical coverage.
We have good news for you: our work incentives can help you go to work without the worry.
Work incentives include:
• Continued cash benefits for a period of time while you work;
• Continued Medicare or Medicaid while you work; and
• Help with education, training, and rehabilitation to start a new line of work.
For example, a trial work period allows you to test your ability to work for at least nine months without affecting your benefits.
Beyond that, an extended period of eligibility allows you to work another 36 months and still receive benefits, depending on
your earnings. If your benefits stopped because your earnings were too high, but you find that your disabling condition does
not allow you to stick with the job, you’re eligible for expedited reinstatement without having to complete a new application.
If you are successful at returning to work, but you fear the loss of your medical coverage, here’s more good news. You can
continue to get Medicare Part A for at least 7 years after your cash benefits end, and after that you can buy Medicare Part A
coverage by paying a monthly premium. Through it all, you can opt to continue paying your Medicare Part B premium for that
In addition to these incentives, you also may be interested in the Ticket to Work program, which may be able to help you
receive vocational rehabilitation, training, job referrals, and other employment support services free of charge.
This Labor Day, visit www.socialsecurity.gov/work to learn more. Or read our publication, Working While Disabled—How We
Can Help, available at http://www.ssa.gov/pubs/10095.html.
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DEFENSE AND OFFENSE MATTER IN FOOTBALL, AND IN PREVENTING IMPROPER PAYMENTS
Making proper Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments is no game. But improving our accuracy has
some similarities to a good football strategy. You’ve got to be strong on both defense and offense.
Social Security is committed to reducing improper payments. Our goal has always been to pay the right person the right
amount at the right time. And we’re highly successful at doing that.
In paying retirement, survivors, and disability benefits to more than 55 million people each month, our accuracy rate is over 99
percent. When it comes to Supplemental Security Income – the means-tested program for elderly, disabled and blind people
who have limited income and resources – our payment accuracy is about 91 percent.
As with a good game of football, we need a game plan to improve payment accuracy. Here is ours.
On offense, we check and recheck our benefit computations and recipient information. That’s done at kickoff, before we ever
make a payment.
On defense, we have game plans, or strategies, to collect funds back from the person we improperly paid, especially if the
error was the result of a beneficiary failing or incorrectly reporting an event that affects his or her payment amount. When an
individual commits fraud in order to receive payments not due, we prosecute him or her to the fullest extent of the law.
We will continue to work on offense and defense in our efforts to perfect our game plan and to make each and every payment a
touchdown. Learn more about what Social Security is doing to prevent improper payments by visiting our website on the
subject at www.socialsecurity.gov/improperpayments.
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QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
What can I do to protect myself against identity theft?
First, don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet. Keep it at home with your other important papers. Second, avoid giving
out your Social Security number. While many banks, schools, doctors, landlords, and others will request your number, it is your
decision whether to provide it. Ask if there is some other way to identify you in their records.
To report identity theft, fraud, or misuse of your Social Security number, the Federal Trade Commission, the nation’s consumer
protection agency, recommends you:
1. Place a fraud alert on your credit file by contacting one of the following companies (the company you contact is required
to contact the other two, which will then place alerts on your reports):
• Equifax, 1-800-525-6285;
• Trans Union, 1-800-680-7289; or
• Experian, 1-888-397-3742.
2. Review your credit report for inquiries from companies you have not contacted, accounts you did not open, and debts on your
accounts you cannot explain;
3. Close any accounts you know, or believe, have been tampered with or opened fraudulently;
4. File a report with your local police or the police in the community where the identity theft took place; and
5. File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-438-4338 (TTY 1-866-653-4261).
It’s hurricane season. If there is a big storm in my area, will I still be able to do business with Social Security?
During an emergency, keep in mind two things. First, you can conduct most of your business with Social Security online at
www.socialsecurity.gov. There, you’ll find a wealth of information and online services. For example, you can apply online for
Social Security benefits or for Medicare, and then you can check on the status of your pending application. If you’re already
receiving Social Security benefits, you can go online to change your address, phone number, or your direct deposit information,
get a replacement Medicare card, or request a proof of income letter. You even can get your Social Security Statement online.
You also can find out if your local office is open by going online to www.socialsecurity.gov/emergency. That site lists any office
closings and delays.
Second, make sure you receive your benefits through Direct Deposit. While the mail can be disrupted during severe weather,
Direct Deposit payments arrive in your account on time, all the time. Go to www.socialsecurity.gov/deposit to sign up or for
I’m retired and the only income I have is from an Individual Retirement Account (IRA). Are my IRA withdrawals considered
“earnings”? Could they reduce my monthly Social Security benefits?
No. We count only the wages you earn from a job or your net profit if you’re self-employed. Non-work income such as
annuities, investment income, interest, capital gains, and other government benefits are not counted and will not affect your
Social Security benefits. Most pensions will not affect your benefits either. However, your benefit may be affected by a
government pension from work on which you did not pay Social Security tax. For more information, visit our website at www.
socialsecurity.gov or call us toll-free at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778).
How do I earn coverage for Social Security?
You earn Social Security credits, sometimes referred to as quarters of coverage, when you work and pay Social Security taxes.
The credits are based on the amount of your earnings. In 2012, you receive one credit for each $1,130 of earnings, up to the
maximum of four credits per year. Each year, the amount of earnings needed for a credit goes up slightly as average earnings
levels increase. Generally, a person needs 40 credits to be eligible for retirement benefits.
There are special rules for the self-employed. Read more about self-employment and Social Security in our online
publication, If You Are Self Employed, at http://socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10022.html.
To learn the amount required for Social Security credits for prior years, see Quarter of Coverage at www.socialsecurity.
SUPPLEMENTAL SECURITY INCOME
I was turned down for Supplemental Security Income (SSI); can I appeal the decision?
If you disagree with a decision made on your claim, you can appeal it. The steps you can take are explained in Your Right To
Question A Decision Made On Your Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Claim, available online at www.socialsecurity.
gov/pubs/11008.html. Also, you have the right to have a representative, such as an attorney, help you. More information is in
Your Right To Representation, at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10075.html. Read these and other publications online at www.
What is the difference between the disability application and the disability report? Do I have to complete both?
A disability application is a claim for benefits. To receive Social Security disability or Supplemental Security Income benefits,
you must file a disability application.
A disability report provides information about your current physical or mental condition. We need this to process your disability
application. In all, to establish a claim, you need to submit a disability application, a disability report, and an authorization to
release medical records. You can learn more and apply online at www.socialsecurity.gov/applyfordisability.
I am applying for Extra Help with Medicare prescription drug costs. Can state agencies help with my Medicare costs?
When you file your application for Extra Help with Medicare prescription drug costs, you also can start your application process
for the Medicare Savings Programs — state programs that provide help with other Medicare costs. When you apply for Extra
Help, Social Security will send information to your state unless you tell us not to on the application. Your state will contact you
to help you apply for a Medicare Savings Program.
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Public Service Announcement
WORK INCENTIVES FOR LABOR DAY
THIS LABOR DAY, MANY AMERICANS COMMEMORATE THE FRUITS OF THEIR HARD WORK BY TAKING A DAY OFF FROM
IT. FOR MANY AMERICANS WHO RECEIVE SOCIAL SECURITY OR SUPPLEMENTAL SECURITY INCOME DISABILITY
BENEFITS, LABOR DAY CAN BE A GOOD DAY TO REFLECT ON THE FUTURE. IT MAY BE THAT, IN SPITE OF YOUR
DISABLING CONDITION, YOU’D LIKE TO TRY WORKING, BUT DON’T WANT TO RISK LOSING YOUR CASH BENEFITS AND
MEDICAL COVERAGE. WE HAVE GOOD NEWS FOR YOU: OUR WORK INCENTIVES CAN HELP. WE MAY BE ABLE TO
OFFER YOU CONTINUED CASH BENEFITS, MEDICARE COVERAGE, AND HELP WITH EDUCATION, TRAINING, AND
REHABILITATION. VISIT WWW.SOCIALSECURITY.GOV/WORK TO LEARN MORE. THIS LABOR DAY, IF YOU WANT TO WORK,
LET US HELP PUT THE LABOR BACK IN YOUR DAY.