Social Security column
By Karyl Richson
Social Security Public Affairs Specialist in
Milwaukee, WI
December 2011


Social Security is as American as baseball and apple pie. Not everyone likes apples or baseball games, but almost every American who reaches
retirement age will receive Social Security retirement benefits. In fact, 96 percent of Americans are covered by Social Security.
If you’re ready to retire in the near future, this article is for you. We’d like to share with you a few important items about Social Security retirement
benefits and how to apply for them.
When you work and pay Social Security taxes, you earn “credits” toward Social Security benefits. If you were born in 1929 or later, you need 40
credits (10 years of work) to qualify for retirement benefits.
To qualify for retirement benefits, 10 years is the minimum.  However, the amount of your benefit is determined by how long you work and how much
you earn.  Higher lifetime earnings result in higher benefits.  If there were some years when you did not work or had low earnings, your benefit
amount may be lower than if you had worked steadily or earned more.
Also, your age when you retire makes a difference in your benefit amount.  The full retirement age (the age at which full retirement benefits are
payable) has been gradually rising from age 65 to age 67.  You can retire as early as age 62, but if benefits start before you reach your full retirement
age, your monthly payment is reduced. Find out what your full retirement age is by referring to the convenient chart in our publication, Retirement
Benefits, at It’s in the second section.        
Just as you can choose an early retirement and get a reduced payment, you also can choose to keep working beyond your full retirement age to take
advantage of a larger payment.  Your benefit will increase automatically by a certain percentage from the time you reach your full retirement age until
you start receiving your benefits or until you reach age 70.
The decision of when to retire is an individual one and depends on a number of personal factors. To help you weigh the factors, we suggest you read
our online fact sheet, When To Start Receiving Retirement Benefits, available at
You may want to consider your options by using our Retirement Estimator to get instant, personalized estimates of future benefits. You can plug in
different retirement ages and scenarios to help you make a more informed retirement decision. Try it out at
When you decide to retire, the easiest and most convenient way to do it is right from the comfort of your home or office computer. Go to www. where you can apply for retirement benefits in as little as 15 minutes. In most cases, there are no forms to sign or documents to
send; once you submit your electronic application, that’s it!
In addition to using our award-winning website, you can call us toll-free at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY, 1-800-325-0778) or visit the Social Security office
nearest you.
Either way you choose to apply, be sure to have your bank account information handy so we can set up your payments to be deposited directly into
your account.
To learn more, please read our publication, Retirement Benefits, at

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Happy 2012 from Social Security! With the new year, many people put together lists of goals and resolutions. Allow us to share with you some new
year’s resolutions that you may find worth keeping.
Think about retirement. Whether you’re 26 and beginning a career or 62 and thinking about the best time to stop working, give some thought to what
your retirement plan will be.  Social Security is the largest source of income for elderly Americans today, but it was never intended to be your only
source of income when you retire.  You also will need savings, investments, pensions or retirement accounts to make sure you have enough money
to live comfortably when you retire.  The earlier you begin your financial planning, the better off you will be. For tips to help you save, visit
Plan ahead. The best way to begin planning for retirement is by using the free resources provided by Social Security.  Start by using our Retirement
Estimator, where you can get a personalized, instant estimate of your future retirement benefits using different retirement ages and scenarios. Visit
the Retirement Estimator at
Make sure you have all your numbers. While tax season may seem far away, now is the time that many taxpayers start gathering records and
documentation for filing tax returns. One of the most important things you need is a Social Security number for everyone whom you will claim as a
dependent. If you don’t have a number for one of your dependents, you need to apply now to have the Social Security number in time to file your tax
return. Learn more at
Do a little light reading. The best way to learn more about Social Security, the benefit programs, and what they mean to you and your family is to
browse through our online library of publications. You can find overviews as well as more detailed booklets. Our library at www.socialsecurity.
gov/pubs is always open.
Help a loved one. Sometimes we get the most satisfaction out of helping someone else. If you have a grandparent, parent, relative, or friend who
could benefit from Social Security, share our website and online services with them. You can even help a loved one apply for retirement or
Medicare benefits — or for Extra Help with Medicare prescription drug costs  -- in as little as 10 minutes. Whether you forward a publication or sit
down to help someone apply for Social Security, the place to go is
We hope you’ll consider some of these resolutions. Happy New Year from Social Security!

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We have good news for tens of millions of Spanish-speaking Americans. For years, Social Security has been at the forefront of providing online
services for Americans, and we’ve provided a wealth of information in Spanish. Now, you can do even more with the expanded suite of services
offered in Spanish at
The most exciting enhancement: you can now apply online for both Social Security retirement benefits and Medicare in 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 now you can
do it in Spanish.
In addition to applying for Social Security retirement benefits, you can also go to to apply for Medicare. How’s this for
convenient and easy:  it can be done in as little as 10 minutes, from start to finish.
But you can do more than apply for benefits at You can get a lot of information and publications written in Spanish. In
addition, there are a number of online transactions that allow you to complete your Social Security business online, and in the language you’re most
comfortable using. One of the most popular of all is our Retirement Estimator.
Get an instant, personalized estimate of your future Social Security benefits using the Retirement Estimator. 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 scenarios and future wage amounts to get estimates for different situations.
If you are already entitled to Medicare and are having trouble with the high cost of prescription drug costs, 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 for the Extra Help at www. too.
Do you need a little help getting started on the computer?  Ask your children or grandchildren to help you. Chances are they would be happy to spend
a few minutes helping you.
If you prefer to do business online in Spanish, then our website is the place for you. Visit today. It’s so easy!

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January 16 is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day — a national holiday.  To some, the day means more than an observance of the birthday of the civil rights
leader.  It is also a day to be of service to others.
The MLK Day of Service is a part of United We Serve, the President's national call to service initiative. It calls for Americans from all walks of life to
work together to provide solutions to our most pressing national problems.
A great way to be of service to others is to help someone you know who may need assistance applying for Social Security, Medicare, or Extra Help
with Medicare prescription drug costs. Each of these is easy to do at
Some people who need these benefits may not be comfortable with computers or may not even know applying online is an option.  But now it’s
easier than ever to apply for such benefits from the convenience of a home computer at
For example, it’s easy to apply for retirement benefits at It can take as little as 15 minutes from start to finish,
and once the application is electronically submitted, in most cases, there is nothing more to do.
It’s even easier to apply for Medicare, for people who do not plan to begin their Social Security retirement payments yet but who do want Medicare
coverage. The application takes about 10 minutes and can be found at
People who already have Medicare coverage, but who have trouble meeting prescription drug costs, can apply for Extra Help online at
This holiday, you may want to make a trip to see the new Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial in Washington D.C. or listen to a recording of a memorable
speech. You can also make your Martin Luther King Day a day of service to someone who can use your help. Lead them to
It may be easy for you, but it may be a dream come true for the person you help.

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I prefer reading by audio book. Does Social Security have audio publications?
Yes, we do. You can find them at  Some of the publications available include What You Can Do Online, How Social
Security Can Help You When A Family Member Dies, Apply Online For Social Security Benefits, and Your Social Security Card And Number.  You can
listen now at
I am receiving Social Security retirement benefits and I recently went back to work. Do I have to pay Social Security (FICA) taxes on my income?
Yes. By law, your employer must withhold FICA taxes from your paycheck. Although you are retired, you do receive credit for those new earnings.
Each year Social Security automatically credits the new earnings and, if your new earnings are higher than in any earlier year used to calculate your
current benefit, your monthly benefit could increase. For more information, visit or call us at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-


How are my retirement benefits calculated?
Your Social Security benefits are based on earnings averaged over your lifetime. Your actual earnings are first adjusted or "indexed" to account for
changes in average wages since the year the earnings were received. Then we calculate your average monthly indexed earnings during the 35
years in which you earned the most. We apply a formula to these earnings and arrive at your basic benefit. This is the amount you would receive at
your full retirement age.  You may be able to estimate your benefit by using our Retirement Estimator which offers estimates based on your Social
Security earnings. You can find the Retirement Estimator at
I know that Social Security’s full retirement age is gradually rising to 67. But does this mean the “early” retirement age will also be going up by two
years, from age 62 to 64?
No. While it is true that under current law the full retirement age is gradually rising from 65 to 67, the “early” retirement age remains at 62.  Keep in
mind, however, that taking early retirement reduces your benefit amount. For more information about Social Security benefits, visit the website at


I’ve heard there is a way for my daughter to get her disability application on the “fast-track.” How does this work?
If your daughter has one of the more than 100 impairments on the Compassionate Allowances list at www.socialsecurity.
gov/compassionateallowances, her application might be “fast-tracked” for a decision.  Compassionate Allowances make it possible for applicants
to receive a decision on their disability applications within days instead of months or years as long as their medical conditions are so severe that
they obviously meet Social Security’s definition of disability.  Learn more at

Do I automatically get Medicare benefits if I'm eligible for disability benefits?
After you have received disability benefits for 24 months, we will automatically enroll you in Medicare. We start counting the 24 months from the
month you were entitled to receive disability, not the month when you received your first benefit payment. Sometimes you can get State Medicaid in
the meantime. There are exceptions to this rule. People with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease) and chronic renal disease may be
able to get Medicare earlier. For more information, visit or call us at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778).
I am expecting a child and will be out of work for six months. Can I qualify for short-term disability?
No. Social Security pays only for total disability — conditions that render you unable to work and are expected to last for at least a year or end in
death. No benefits are payable for partial disability or short-term disability, including benefits while on maternity leave.


Next month I'll turn 65 and, because of my financial situation, I thought I'd be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). But my neighbor told me
I'd probably be turned down because I have a friend who said he might help support me. Is this true?
If your friend helps support you, it could have an effect on whether you get SSI and on the amount you receive. Whether you can get SSI depends on
your income and resources (the things you own). If you have low income and few resources, you may be able to get SSI. However, if you are
receiving support from your friend or from anyone else, that income will be considered when making a decision on your SSI eligibility and amount.
Support includes any food or shelter that is given to you or is received by you because someone else pays for it. For more information, visit
www. and select “SSI.”
My dad, who is receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI), will be coming to live with me. Does he have to report the move to Social Security?
Yes. An SSI beneficiary must report any change in living arrangements within 10 days after the month the change occurs. If the change is not
reported, your dad could receive an incorrect payment or he may not receive all the money that is due. Also, your dad needs to report his new
address to Social Security so that he can receive mail from us. Even if benefits are paid by direct deposit, we need to be able to get in touch with
him. He can report the change by telephone, mail or in person at any Social Security office. Keep in mind that failing to report a change to Social
Security could result in incorrect payments that may have to be paid back or a penalty deducted from SSI benefits. Just call 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-
800-325-0778). You can get more information in the booklet Understanding SSI, at


If I retire and start getting Social Security retirement benefits at age 62, will my Medicare coverage begin then too?
No. Medicare benefits based on retirement do not begin until a person is age 65. If you retire at age 62, you may be able to continue to have medical
insurance coverage through your employer or purchase it from an insurance company until you reach age 65 and become eligible for Medicare. For
more information about who can get Medicare, visit

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