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

DECK THE HALLS, HOLD THE CALLS

The holiday season is here, and many people will be singing along with their favorite seasonal songs.  

So go ahead — sing your Jingle Bells and ring your Silver Bells.  But hold your calls if your business can wait until after the holidays.

For years, Social Security has told the public that the busiest time for our field offices and for our toll free telephone number is early in the week
and early in the month, so if your business can wait, it’s best to contact us at other times.  The same advice applies to the holiday time, especially
the week between Christmas Eve and New Year’s.  So if you must do business with Social Security during the holidays, you may experience more
busy signals and longer wait times.

As an alternative, we suggest you consider going online to www.socialsecurity.gov, where we have a wealth of information and online services
available.    You can apply online for retirement or disability benefits, or check on the status of your pending application.  If you are already a Social
Security beneficiary, 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.

If you get an opportunity to visit our website at
www.socialsecurity.gov, you may save yourself a call or a trip altogether.  But if you do need to
speak to a Social Security representative, we’ll be there for you.  

# # #

RETIREMENT ESTIMATOR EVEN BETTER THAN BEFORE

Improvements to one of the most popular online services in government — the Retirement Estimator, located at www.socialsecurity.gov/estimator
— allow more people than ever before to get a personalized and instant estimate of future Social Security retirement benefits.  
Since its launch last year, the Retirement Estimator has provided more than four million personalized estimates, and is one of the most highly rated
online services in government.  

The most recent customer satisfaction numbers are at an all-time high.  The latest report from the American Customer Satisfaction Index for E-
Government ranks the Retirement Estimator as the top service at 91 percent.  It is followed closely by Social Security’s online retirement
application, with a 90 percent customer satisfaction rating and the Medicare Extra Help application, with an 87 percent rating.  These three Social
Security services are the top three online services in government.

You may be wondering: if the Retirement Estimator is the most popular online service in government, what can be done to improve it?
One major improvement is that more people will be able to use it.  Previously, people who had not yet filed for monthly Social Security benefits but
who were already enrolled in Medicare were not able to take advantage of the service.  Now they can.  So if you have Medicare coverage but
have delayed filing for your Social Security benefits and you would like to get an estimate of your future benefits, just visit
www.socialsecurity.
gov/estimator.

Other improvements are coming soon.  Next year, the Retirement Estimator will be the first online service available in Spanish.
Would you like to get an immediate and personalized estimate of your retirement benefits right now?  Visit www.socialsecurity.gov/estimator.  To
get an estimate, you’ll need to enter your first and last name, date and place of birth, Social Security number, and mother’s maiden name.  If the
information matches Social Security’s records, the Retirement Estimator combines this information with the information that Social Security has on
record, including your yearly earnings, to provide a quick and reliable online benefit estimate.
While you’re checking out the most popular online service in government, try out some of our other online services and information as well.  You
can find it all at
www.socialsecurity.gov.

# # #

THIS HOLIDAY SEASON, DON’T GIVE A GIFT TO A THIEF

It’s been said that the true spirit of the holiday season is in giving, not receiving.  With this in mind, it’s likely that you will be spending a bit of time
shopping for presents, your credit card flying out of your wallet or purse like wind-blown snow.

But as you shop in stores and online, be sure you’re not giving a surprise gift to an identity thief.  Because the surprise will be on you — and it won’
t be a good one.

Sometimes when you do business, you may be asked for your Social Security number.  In many cases, those asking don’t really need it.  If anyone
asks for your Social Security number or other identifying information, ask them why they want it and whether they absolutely need it.  They can
refuse you service if you don’t provide it, but consider whether the service is worth the risk.

Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in America.  Someone who steals your Social Security number can use it to get other personal
information about you.  Identity thieves can use your number to apply for more credit in your name.  Then, they use the credit cards but leave the
bills for you.  Falling victim to identity theft can ruin your credit rating and make things difficult for months or years to come.

Identity thieves can obtain your Social Security number, credit card numbers, and personal information in a number of ways, including:
•        Stealing wallets, purses, and mail;
•        Intercepting personal information you provide on an unsecured website, from business or personnel records at work, and personal
infor¬mation in your home;
•        Rummaging through your trash, and public trash dumps, for personal information;
•        Posing as someone who needs your information, such as a government agency, employer, bank, or landlord; and
•        Buying personal information from store clerks, employees, or other individuals who have the information.

There are things you can do to protect your identity.  Don’t give out your Social Security number to just anyone.  Don’t carry your card in your wallet
or purse; keep your Social Security card locked away in a safe place with your other important papers.  Check your credit reports once a year,
which you can do for free at
www.annualcreditreport.com.  

Want to learn more?  Read our online fact sheet, Identity Theft And Your Social Security Number, at
www.ssa.gov/pubs/10064.html.

If you think someone is using your number or identity, contact the Federal Trade Commission at
www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft, or call 1-
877-IDTHEFT (1-877-438-4338) (TTY 1-866-653-4261.)

Protect your information this holiday season, and you’ll enjoy a little more “peace on earth” in the year to come.

# # #

THERE ARE NO ‘HOLIDAY HOURS’ FOR
SOCIAL SECURITY’S ONLINE SERVICES

If you are one of the many Americans who may have to conduct business with Social Security over the holiday season, it is good to know that you
can use our online services without having to worry about opening or closing times.  That means you can handle your holiday shopping and
planning with one less time constraint or worry — and one less “shopping line” to wait in.

Some of the services available online at www.socialsecurity.gov include:
•        Applying for retirement or disability benefits;
•        Checking the status of your pending application;
•        Getting an instant, personalized estimate of your future retirement benefits using the Retirement Estimator; and
•        Applying for extra help for Medicare prescription drug plan costs available to some beneficiaries.

If you are already a Social Security beneficiary, 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.

Social Security’s online services are available each work day from 5 a.m. until 1 a.m.; on Saturdays, from 5 a.m. until 11 p.m.; and on Sundays
from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m.   And the online services are available even on federal holidays — including Christmas and New Year’s Day — from 5 a.
m. until 11 p.m.  So if you have business to take care of on the holiday, our online services are here for you.  All times are Eastern Standard Time
and some online services have extended hours.  You can find the individual operating hours for different online services at
www.socialsecurity.
gov/onlineservices

In addition to these interactive services, there is a wealth of information available 24 hours a day on our website that can help answer your
questions and get you the information you need, including frequently asked questions, publications and forms, information for specific groups,
news and press releases, and even videos and public service announcements.  You can find it all at www.socialsecurity.gov.

So remember:  while banks and other offices in the private sector and in government are closed for the holidays, Social Security’s online office is
open and ready to assist you.  To see a complete list of the online services available, visit www.socialsecurity.gov/onlineservices.

# # #

PATTY DUKE AND DR. DAVID KESSLER ASK YOU TO HELP STOP THE SPREAD

Academy Award winner Patty Duke and the former head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, David Kessler, M.D., have teamed with Social
Security to launch a flu prevention public service campaign.  Ms. Duke and Dr. Kessler are featured in a new public service announcement letting
people know some simple steps they can take to prevent the spread of the flu, as well as the fact that most business with Social Security can be
done online by visiting www.socialsecurity.gov.

You’ve probably heard some of the health tips they have to offer:
o        cover your mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing and encourage those around you to do the same;
o        wash your hands often with soap and water; and
o        get a flu shot.

But Ms. Duke and Dr. Kessler have one health tip you may not have heard: go online to conduct your Social Security business.

If you need service from Social Security, you don’t have to visit an office.  Many of our services are available online at
www.socialsecurity.gov
and by phone at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778).

For example, you can visit www.socialsecurity.gov to:
o        Apply for benefits;
o        Use the Retirement Estimator to get a personalized estimate of your retirement benefits;
o        Get answers to frequently asked questions; and
o        Get a replacement Medicare card.

So do your part to stop the spread of the flu.  Go online to www.socialsecurity.gov where you can view the new public service announcement
yourself.  While on the website, you also can check out the online services for yourself by visiting “What You Can Do Online” (on the left side of the
page).

So take some precautions this flu season.  Go online to www.socialsecurity.gov.  It’s just what the doctor and Patty Duke ordered.

# # #


QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS -- GENERAL

Question:
Is it true that there won’t be an increase in Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments in 2010?  How was that decided?

Answer:
Monthly Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits will not automatically increase in 2010.  By law, benefits increase
automatically each year only if there is an increase in the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical
Workers (CPI-W) from the third quarter of the last year to the third quarter of the current year.  This year there was no increase in the CPI-W from the
third quarter of 2008 to the third quarter of 2009.  However, President Obama has called on Congress to pass legislation extending an additional
$250 economic recovery payment to beneficiaries.  To learn more, visit www.socialsecurity.gov/cola.

Question:
I got an email that says it’s from Social Security, but I’m not so sure.  They want me to send in my Social Security number, date of birth, and mother’
s maiden name for “verification.”  Did it really come from Social Security?

Answer:
No.  Social Security will not send you an email asking you to give us your personal information, such as your Social Security number, date of birth,
or other private information.  Beware of such scams — they’re after your information so they can use it for their own benefit.  When in doubt, or if
you have any questions about correspondence you receive from Social Security, contact your local Social Security office or call us at 1-800-772-
1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) to see whether we really need any information from you.  

RETIREMENT
Question:
I’m reaching my full retirement age and am thinking about retiring in the first quarter of next year.  When is the best time of year to apply for Social
Security benefits?

Answer:
If you are planning to retire in early 2010, you can apply now and complete the process before the start of the busy holiday season.  Your monthly
payments will then begin on time in 2010.  To apply, just go to www.socialsecurity.gov/applytoretire.  Applying online for retirement benefits from
the convenience of your home or office is secure and can take as little as 15 minutes.  It’s so easy!  

Question:
My wife and I live in Montana, but plan to spend the winter in Arizona.  My wife will turn 62 while we are down south.  Can she apply for benefits in
Arizona, or do we have to wait until we get back home to apply for retirement at our local Social Security office?

Answer:
These days, you don’t even have to be near a Social Security office to apply for benefits.  Regardless of where you and your wife are living, you
can apply for retirement benefits online at www.socialsecurity.gov/applytoretire.  It’s so easy to do, and it can take as little as 15 minutes to
complete and submit the application.  If she prefers, your wife can file a retirement benefit application at any Social Security office — including the
one closest to you in Arizona, or wherever you happen to be.  You can also apply by phone by calling 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778).  

DISABILITY
Question:
I am about to apply for Social Security disability benefits.  I have two children, ages nine and 12.  If my application is approved, will they get
benefits, too?  Or do the children also have to be disabled to qualify for benefits on my record?

Answer:
If you qualify for Social Security disability benefits, your children may receive dependent’s benefits based on your work record, even if they’re not
disabled themselves.  As long as you receive benefits, their benefits will continue until they reach age 18, or until age 19 if they are still in high
school.  If your children are disabled, however, at the time that they reach age 18, they may be able to continue receiving benefits into adulthood.  
For more information, visit our website on disability benefits at www.socialsecurity.gov/disability.

Question:
I am 59 years old and I currently receive Social Security disability benefits.  Can I still get my regular Social Security retirement benefits when I
reach full retirement age?

Answer:
If you are still receiving Social Security disability benefits when you reach your full retirement age, we will automatically switch you from disability
benefits to retirement benefits at that point.  The money amount will remain the same — we will just classify you as a retiree instead of a person
with a disability.  For more information, visit our website on disability benefits at www.socialsecurity.gov/disability.

SUPPLEMENTAL SECURITY INCOME
Question:
I’m 42 years old and have been approved to receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits.  I was shocked to learn that my
payment will be reduced because I live with my parents.  Why’s that?

Answer:
SSI is a needs-based program, so any other income you receive — including non-monetary income such as help with your bills or other expenses
— can have an effect on your benefit payment.  Your SSI payments may be reduced if you are receiving food, shelter, or monetary assistance.  If
you move, or if the situation in your parents’ household changes, be sure to contact Social Security.  For more information, visit www.
socialsecurity.gov or call us toll-free at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778).

Question:
I am trying to save up for a station wagon.  I have $900 in the bank now and need a little more.  How much cash can I have in the bank without
affecting my SSI eligibility?

Answer:
The resource limit is $2,000.  Unless you have other valuable resources, this means you could save up to $2,000 before you would become
ineligible for SSI.  We generally do not count your primary car, the home you live in or certain amounts set aside for burial expenses as resources.  
In some cases, if the vehicle you’re saving for is part of a plan to return to work, you can have higher resources — but Social Security would need
to approve your plan in order to exclude those resources.  For more information, you can visit our webpage about SSI at
www.socialsecurity.
gov/ssi.  Or you can call Social Security’s toll-free number at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) and ask for the publication, Supplemental
Security Income.

MEDICARE
Question:
I heard recently that it was open season for Medicare Part D enrollment.  Is there still time to apply?

Answer:
Yes — but act fast, because open season ends soon!  If you’re a Medicare beneficiary who has not enrolled in the new Medicare Prescription Drug
Program, you may do so during the open season, which begins November 15 and ends December 31.  If you are covered by Medicare and have
limited income and resources, the extra help available through Social Security can help ease the burden of prescription drug costs.  You can apply
for the extra help anytime — not just during open season.  To learn more about the extra help and to apply, visit Social Security’s website at
www.
socialsecurity.gov/prescriptionhelp.  For Medicare Part D information, visit www.medicare.gov.

# # #