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


It’s that time of year again – when people in many parts of the country feel a new chill in the air each morning, and put an extra quilt or blanket on the bed.

It’s also the time of year when many states offer energy assistance to people who have low income and resources. Under the energy assistance
program, your state may help with the cost of heating your home during the winter. But to get it, in most cases, you’ll need to provide proof of your income.
If you get Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, you can get proof of the amount of your benefit quickly and easily by going
online. Just visit

There are a number of reasons you may need written verification of your benefit amount, besides energy assistance programs. Perhaps you’re ready to
make a major purchase and you’re trying to get a loan from a bank or financial institution. Or maybe you’re applying for state benefits or moving into a
new apartment or home.

Whatever your reason, Social Security makes it easy for you to get the written verification you need at Just look in the left
column under “What you can do online,” expand the “If you get benefits” section, and select the “Request a Proof of Income letter” link.

The letter can be used for any reason that someone requires proof of your income.  In addition to offering proof of your income, the letter is an official
document that verifies your Medicare coverage, retirement or disability status, and age. The letter does not include your Social Security number.

From the time that you complete the online request, it will take about 10 days for you to receive the proof of income letter in the mail. If you need one
sooner, you’ll want to call us at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) or visit your local Social Security office.

But for most people, simply requesting the proof of income online is the most convenient way to get what you need. Get your benefit verification by

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Disability is something most people do not like to think about. But the unfortunate reality is this: the chances that you will become disabled are probably
far greater than you realize. Studies show that a 20-year-old worker has a three in 10 chance of becoming disabled before reaching retirement age.
Social Security pays benefits to people with disabilities through the Social Security disability insurance program, which is covered by Social Security
taxes. If you qualify, you can receive a monthly disability benefit from Social Security for as long as your disability keeps you from working. The amount of
your benefit is based on your average lifetime earnings. After a period of time, usually after receiving cash benefits for 24 months, you can also receive
Medicare coverage.

When you work and pay Social Security taxes, you earn credits. The number of credits you need to qualify for disability benefits depends on your age, and
some of the work must be recent. For example, if you become disabled after age 31, you need to have worked at least 10 years and five of the past 10
years. But if you become disabled before age 24, you need only one and a half years of work in the past three years.

If you have a disability that makes you unable to work, the time to get started with your application is now. That’s because it can take time to determine
whether you qualify for benefits. It usually takes about three to five months for a medical decision from the state agency that evaluates your condition.
Then, if your application is approved, your first Social Security disability payment will be made for the sixth full month after the date we determine that
your disability began. Medicare coverage generally begins 24 months, or two years, after you begin receiving Social Security disability benefits.
Given the time it can take, it’s in your best interest to do everything you can to speed up the process. The best first step is for you to read our online
publication, Disability Benefits, at It will tell you all about the process, including what information you will need
to apply for benefits.

Then, take advantage of our online disability starter kits. You’ll find them on our disability website at There is one kit
for children and one for adults. Each kit is available in both English and Spanish. The starter kits help you begin the process by providing information
about the specific documents and the information that we will request from you. We will ask for more details during your interview or when you complete
the online disability report.

Take a look at the disability starter kit now at, or call 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) and ask that a kit be mailed
to you.

Once you complete the online disability starter kit and you’re ready to apply, the most convenient way to do that is online too. Just go to the same
disability website at

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What should you do if Social Security pays you too much? That may seem like a strange idea at first, as most people worry about not having enough
money. If you receive monthly Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, an overpayment can occur for many reasons, including
work or another benefit that requires a reduction in your Social Security or SSI payment.

If Social Security does pay you too much, you will receive an overpayment notice in the mail. If you have a representative payee who helps you manage
your money, a copy of the letter will go to your payee. The notice will explain why you were overpaid, your repayment options, and your appeal and waiver
rights. You should read the notice carefully.

If you agree with the overpayment decision, you have options for repaying it. We can withhold your overpayment from your monthly benefit payments or
withhold a portion of your payment until the money is paid back. If you no longer receive benefits, you can send a check to Social Security for the entire
amount or set up a plan to pay back the amount in monthly installments.

If you are not receiving benefits, and you do not pay the amount back, we can recover the overpayment from your federal income tax refund, from your
wages if you are working, or from future SSI or Social Security benefits. If you do not make an effort to repay the amount due, we may report the
delinquency to credit bureaus.

If you believe that the overpayment decision is wrong and you should not have to repay it, you have the right to appeal the decision or request a waiver
of recovery.  If you believe you were not overpaid or the amount of the overpayment is wrong, you can file an appeal within 60 days of receiving the
overpayment notice. If you agree that the overpayment is correct but you believe it was not your fault and paying it back would cause you financial
hardship or be unfair for some other reason, then you can request a waiver of recovery. Whether you submit an appeal or waiver request, all recovery
would be suspended until a formal decision is sent to you.

It’s also important to know that Social Security will not take action to begin collecting on an overpayment without first notifying you and giving you the
chance to appeal the decision. It’s also good to know that no matter how long it takes to pay back an overpayment, Social Security never charges
interest on the money owed.

If you’d like to learn more about Social Security and SSI overpayments, we have a convenient and easy-to-read electronic fact sheet on the subject. You
can find it at Learn more about Social Security at

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If you’ve recently moved to a new address, chances are some of your former neighbors and friends from the community asked you to be sure to keep in
touch. If you receive Social Security benefits, we’d like you to keep in touch too. In fact, you need to let us know about your new address. Even if you
receive your payments by direct deposit, Social Security needs your current mailing address so you can continue to receive important notices about
changes in benefits.

Don’t worry; changing your address with Social Security can be as convenient and easy as logging on to your computer. Just go to
gov and select the “What You Can Do Online” link in the top left corner. The fourth item down is “If you get benefits.” That’s where you’ll want to go. Then
select “Change your address or telephone number.”

Once there, the web page will tell you exactly what you need to do to change your address with Social Security. You’ll need to provide your new address,
including your postal ZIP code. (If you don’t know your ZIP code, the page includes a directory where you can locate it easily by entering your street

If more than one person receives benefits at an address (such as a husband and wife), each person has to make the address change.

If you have a password with Social Security, that is all the information you will need to provide. But remember: you don’t need a password to change your
address or phone number. You just have to prove to Social Security who you are by providing certain identifying information.

t’s that easy. Once your address is changed, you know you’ll continue to receive important notices from Social Security when needed, such as letters
telling you about changes in benefit amounts.

While you’re on our website, you may want to check out some of the other things you can do online, such as changing direct deposit information, getting a
proof of income letter, or requesting a replacement Medicare card.

Visit to learn all there is to know about Social Security.

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As Halloween hovers on the horizon, the most frightening prospect for some adults has nothing to do with ghosts or goblins.  Rather, it’s their scary lack
of preparation when it comes to retirement planning.

We suggest a new activity: fleshing out your financial skeleton. Here are the rules.

Know what lurks behind the closet door. Or in your file cabinet, as the case may be. Take a look at Your Social Security Statement, which comes in the
mail every year about two to three months before your birthday, if you are at least 25 years old and not yet receiving benefits or Medicare. The Statement
provides an estimate of your retirement benefit based on the yearly earnings reported to Social Security.  You also can get an immediate and personalized
benefit estimate online by using the Retirement Estimator:

Add ingredients to your cauldron.  Social Security was never intended to be your only source of income when you retire. You also will need other
savings, investments, pensions or retirement accounts to make sure you have enough money to live comfortably.  According to financial experts, you
will need at least 70 percent of your annual working income when you retire to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle. For the average worker, Social Security
provides about 40 percent of it. You have a 30 percent gap to fill, so start throwing spare change in the retirement cauldron now.

Keep an eye out. In addition to checking Your Social Security Statement each year, watch your 401k and IRA account balances grow through compound
interest.  Try to continue contributing to your accounts every month.

Follow these rules and watch your financial skeleton pack on the pounds. When retirement rolls around, your fleshed-out retirement plan can keep the
financial hobgoblins away and set you up for a comfortable retirement. And when you’re ready to retire, it’s so easy to do it online at www.socialsecurity.

Learn more by visiting our website,  Start now and there’ll be no reason to fear retirement.

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