Social Security column
By Karyl Richson
Social Security Public Affairs Specialist in
Milwaukee, WI
       Sometimes people don’t give themselves enough credit. But if you work and pay Social Security taxes, you’re earning credit for yourself
every payday -- credit that will pay off later in life when it comes time for retirement, or in the event that you become disabled and are unable
to work; credit that can help your family if you die early and need to provide for those who depend on you.
You qualify for Social Security benefits by earning Social Security credits when you work in a job or are self-employed and pay Social
Security payroll taxes. In 2011, you receive one credit for each $1,120 of earnings, up to the maximum of four credits per year. Most people
need 10 years of work (40 credits) to be eligible for retirement benefits.
       The number of credits needed for ¬disability benefits depends on how old you are when you become disabled. For example, if you
become disabled before age 24, you generally need 1 1/2 years of work (six credits) in the three years before you became disabled. At age
31 or older, you generally need at least 20 credits in the 10 years immediately before you became disabled.
       In most cases, about 10 years of work is needed for a worker’s family to qualify for survivors benefits.  Survivors of very young workers
may be eligible if the deceased worker was employed for 1½ years during the three years before his or her death.
       You can find a detailed chart that shows exactly how many credits you would need in the online publication, How You Earn Credits,
available at You also may want to read Understanding the Benefits for more information about
Social Security and how it works. You can find it online at
Next time you feel like someone else is taking credit for your hard work, just remember that your hard work is earning you credit in ways you
probably don’t even think about — Social Security credit.
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       Do you find it hard to obtain health insurance due to pre-existing conditions? You may be eligible for the new Pre-Existing Condition
Insurance Plan — a program for people who have a pre-existing medical condition and have been without health insurance coverage for at
least six months.
People with pre-existing conditions face daunting challenges — and high costs — when they shop for health insurance. This new plan
covers physician and hospital services and prescription drugs. Premiums vary by state. Annual out-of-pocket expenses for enrollees are
       Details about the program and how to apply may vary depending on what State you live in. In some states, the U.S. Department of
Health and Human Services, with the help of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National
Finance Center, will run the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan; other States have asked to run the program themselves.
Regardless of which State you live in, to qualify for the program you must be a U.S. citizen or legal resident, and you must have been
uninsured for at least six months. In addition, you must have a pre-existing condition or have been denied insurance coverage because of a
medical condition.
       For more information, call the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan toll-free at 1-866-717-5826 (TTY 1-866-561-1604) between the
hours of 8 a.m. and 11 p.m. Eastern Time. Or visit and select “Find Your State” to learn about eligibility and how to apply.

       Millions of taxpayers are busy gathering all the forms and documents they need to file their Federal, State, and local tax returns.  If you
receive Social Security benefits, one of those items may be your SSA-1099 from Social Security.
       Some people who receive Social Security may have to pay taxes on a portion of their benefits. If you’re one of these individuals, a Social
Security Benefit Statement (Form SSA-1099) is an important tax document for you to have.
       Social Security mailed the SSA-1099s for tax year 2010 to all beneficiaries in January. If you receive Social Security and need a
replacement SSA-1099 for 2010 in order to file a tax return, you can request it online at
The SSA-1099 shows the total amount of benefits received in the previous year and is used to find out if any Social Security benefits are
subject to tax. The Federal tax laws about Social Security benefits provide that:
•        Up to 50 percent of Social Security benefits may be subject to Federal income tax for individuals with a combined income between
$25,000 and $34,000, or for couples with a combined income between $32,000 and $44,000; and
•        Up to 85 percent of Social Security benefits may be subject to Federal income tax for individuals with a combined income above
$34,000, or for couples with a combined income above $44,000. (Note: “Combined income” means adjusted gross income, plus
nontaxable interest, plus one-half of Social Security benefits.)
For more information on taxation of Social Security benefits, visit the IRS website at
To request a replacement SSA-1099, visit  
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       February is American Heart Month.  Cardiovascular disease is not only the leading cause of death in the United States, it also is a
major cause of disability.
       Social Security is dedicated to helping people with heart conditions throughout the year, but we’d like to take this opportunity to tell you
about the most recent initiative to help people who file claims for monthly disability benefits due to heart disease.
       Recently, Social Security held a public Compassionate Allowances hearing on cardiovascular disease. Social Security Commissioner
Michael Astrue and leading experts on cardiovascular disease met to discuss possible methods to identify disabling cases and expedite
those claims for both adults and children.
       Social Security is committed to ensuring Americans with devastating illnesses receive benefits quickly. The Compassionate
Allowances process is one of the initiatives to speed up the disability application process for people with severe conditions.
“This fiscal year, about 150,000 people will benefit from our fast-track disability processes,” said Commissioner Astrue. “With this hearing,
we continue to look at broader categories of conditions to determine if a subset or certain diagnosis might clearly meet our disability
standards and qualify as a Compassionate Allowance.”
       Currently, 88 specific diseases and conditions qualify as Compassionate Allowances and, as a result, claims filed by people who are
disabled due to these conditions are put on the fast track to receive benefits.
To see a complete list of Compassionate Allowance conditions and to view a web cast of the hearing on cardiovascular disease, visit www.
       To learn more about disability benefits, visit To apply for disability benefits, go to www.socialsecurity.

# # #

       This time of year basketball fans are gearing up for March Madness -- a time when the final four teams in the NCAA fight for the title of
national champion. While basketball fans are excited about March Madness, Social Security already has a winning “final four” of online
services to cheer about: the Retirement Estimator, Benefit Application, online Extra Help application, and Business Services Online.
1.        The Retirement Estimator is an easy way to get an instant, personalized estimate of your future Social Security benefits. Just key in
some basic information and the Estimator will use information on your Social Security record, along with what you input, to give you a
benefit estimate on the spot. You even can experiment with different scenarios, such as changing your future earnings and retirement date.
Check it out in English at or in Spanish at
2.        The Benefit Application is the most convenient way to apply for Social Security retirement benefits. You can apply from the comfort of
your home — it’s fast, easy, and secure. It’s so easy, in fact, that it can take you as little as 15 minutes to apply online. In most cases, once
your application is submitted electronically, you’re done. There are no forms to sign and usually no documentation is required. Social
Security will process your application and contact you if any further information is needed. Try it out when you’re ready to retire at www.
3.        The online Extra Help application is an easy way to save about $4,000 a year on your prescription drug costs. To qualify for the Extra
Help, you must be on Medicare, have limited income and resources, and live in one of the 50 states or the District of Columbia. Learn more
about it at
4.        Business Services Online is our one-stop shop for small businesses. The site allows organizations and authorized individuals to
conduct business with and submit confidential information to Social Security. You even can use it to file your W-2s the fast, convenient, and
paperless way — online. Visit Business Services Online at
In the American Customer Satisfaction Index, Social Security received the highest ratings in both the public and private sectors.
       To learn more about our winning services, visit Or, read our publication What You Can Do
Online at
Get to know our final four, and all of our online services. When you do, you will be the winner.



How do I show proof of my Social Security benefit amount?

Here are four ways:
•        You can use your SSA-1099 form as proof of your income if you receive Social Security benefits;
•        You can use your annual notice that tells you your benefit amount for the year as verification of your current benefits;
•        The fastest, easiest, and most convenient way is to go online and request a Proof of Income Letter at;
•        You may call Social Security's toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778), between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., Monday through

I understand that by 2013 I will not be able to continue receiving my Social Security payments by paper check. What are the benefits of using
direct deposit?

The benefits of using direct deposit are:
•        It's safe;
•        It's secure;
•        It's convenient;
•        There are no checks to be lost;
•        You are in control of your money; and
•        You will get your benefits on time, even if you're out of town, sick, or unable to get to the bank.
You choose the account where your Social Security payment is deposited. If you don't have a bank account, you can use the Direct Express
prepaid debit card to receive Social Security, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and other Federal benefit payments. With this card, you
can make purchases, pay bills, and get cash at thousands of locations nationwide. Learn more about direct deposit and Direct Express at  


What’s the easiest way to apply for retirement benefits?

You can apply for retirement benefits using our online Retirement Application at  It's fast, easy, and secure.
There are no forms to sign and usually no documentation is required. Social Security will process your application and contact you if any
further information is needed.

How can I get an estimate of my retirement benefits?

Our online Retirement Estimator uses your Social Security earnings record to estimate your future benefits. To use the Retirement
Estimator, go to There, you can enter certain identifying information about yourself. As long as the
personal information you provide matches our records, you can use the Retirement Estimator to enter other information, such as your
expected retirement age and estimated future wages. This information will be combined with the information that Social Security has on
record about your past earnings to provide a quick and reliable online benefit estimate. A Spanish-language Retirement Estimator also is
available at Get an instant, personalized estimate of your future benefits now at www.socialsecurity.


How do I report a change of address if I’m on Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?

You must report any change of address by calling our toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213, or by visiting a local office within 10 days after the
month the change occurs. You cannot complete a change of address online because we must obtain more specific information about the
change in your living arrangement.  Failure to report or filing false reports could result in a fine, imprisonment, or both. Even if you receive
your benefits by direct deposit, you need to report your new address to Social Security so that you can continue to receive mail from Social
Security when necessary.  To learn more about SSI reporting responsibilities, read the publication What You Need To Know When You Get
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) at

Is Supplemental Security Income (SSI) taxable?

No. SSI payments are not subject to Federal taxes so you will not receive an annual form SSA-1099. However, if you also receive Social
Security retirement or disability benefits, those payments may be subject to income taxes. Learn more about SSI by reading the publication
What You Need To Know When You Get Supplemental Security Income (SSI) at


How does a blind or visually impaired person choose how Social Security communicates with them about changes or important

If you are blind or visually impaired, you have choices for receiving information from Social Security.  To sign up or change these notice
options, contact us through one of the following ways:
•        Go to our page, If You Are Blind Or Visually Impaired—Your Choices For Receiving Information from Social Security at www.;
•        Call us toll-free at 1-877-708-1776 (TTY 1-800-325-0778);
•        Contact your local Social Security office; or
•        Contact the U.S. Embassy or Consulate if you live outside the United States.
The fastest and easiest way to learn about and sign up for these options is at

What is a disability trial work period?

The “trial work period” allows Social Security disability beneficiaries to test their ability to work for at least nine months without losing
benefits. During the trial work period, you can receive full benefits no matter how much you earn, as long as you remain disabled and you
report your work activity. The trial work period continues until you have completed nine trial work months within a 60-month period. You can
find more information about available work incentives in our publication Working While Disabled—How We Can Help at www.socialsecurity.


What are the four parts of Medicare?

The four parts of Medicare include:
•        Hospital insurance (Part A), which helps pay hospital bills and some follow-up care. The taxes you (or your spouse in some cases)
paid while working financed this coverage, so it's premium free. For those who are not “insured,” coverage may be purchased.
•        Medical insurance (Part B), which helps pay doctors' bills and other services. There is a monthly premium you must pay for Medicare
Part B and you may refuse this coverage.
•        Medicare Advantage (Part C) plans, which generally cover many of the same benefits a Medigap policy would cover, such as extra
days in the hospital after you have used the number of days Medicare covers. People with Medicare Parts A and B can choose to receive all
of their health care services through one of these provider organizations under Part C. There might be additional premiums required for
some plans; and
•        Prescription drug coverage (Part D), which helps pay for medications doctors prescribe for treatment.
Anyone who has Medicare hospital insurance (Part A), medical insurance (Part B), or a Medicare Advantage plan (Part C) is eligible for
prescription drug coverage (Part D). Joining a Medicare prescription drug plan is voluntary and you pay an additional monthly premium for
the coverage. To learn more about Medicare benefits, read our publication, Medicare, at

I can’t get health insurance because of my pre-existing condition.  Is there anything I can do?

You may be eligible for the new Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan — a program for people who have a pre-existing condition and have
been without health insurance coverage for at least six months.  For more information, call the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan toll-
free: 1-866-717-5826 (TTY 1-866-561-1604) between the hours of 8 a.m. and 11 p.m. Eastern Time. Or visit and select “Find
Your State” to learn about eligibility and how to apply.