Social Security column/Karyl Richson
By Karyl Richson
Social Security Public Affairs Specialist in Milwaukee, WI
ELECTRONIC PAYMENTS ARE A MUST
For years, Social Security has stressed the convenience, security, and safety of getting benefit payments electronically. Soon,
direct deposit (or Direct Express) will not only be the best way to receive Federal benefit payments — it will be the only way.
That’s because the U.S. Department of the Treasury announced a new rule that will phase out paper checks for Federal benefit
and non-tax payments by March 1, 2013.
Here is how the transition will work.
• Anyone applying for Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits on or after May 1, 2011, will receive
their payments electronically, while those already receiving paper checks will need to switch to electronic payments by March 1,
• Anyone already receiving their benefit payments electronically will continue to receive their payment as usual on their
• People receiving benefits have the option of direct deposit to a bank or credit union account (of their choice) or into a Direct
ExpressÒ Debit MasterCardÒ card account (a Treasury-recommended prepaid card option). You can visit www.GoDirect.org to
• Social Security, SSI, Veterans Affairs, Railroad Retirement Board, Office of Personnel Management benefits, and other non-
tax payments are included.
For most people getting monthly benefits, this won’t really be a change; already 8 out of 10 beneficiaries receive payments
Why the push for electronic payments instead of paper checks received in the mail?
• It’s safer: no risk of checks being lost or stolen;
• It’s easy and reliable: no need to wait for the mail or go to the bank to cash a check;
• It saves taxpayers money: no cost for postage and paper and printing;
• It saves you money: no check-cashing fees or bank fees; and
• It’s good for the environment: it saves paper and eliminates transportation costs.
If you still get your check in the mail, you don’t need to wait for the new rule to go into effect to enjoy the benefits of electronic
payments. Please visit www.godirect.org today and begin getting your Social Security and SSI payments the safe, easy,
inexpensive, and green way — electronically.
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WHAT YOU CAN DO TO SPEED UP YOUR DISABILITY APPLICATION
If your disabling condition is preventing you from continuing to work, you may want to apply for disability benefits through Social
Security. In most cases, doing so involves a thorough process of determining your eligibility, medical condition, and ability to
work. Because we look so carefully at so many cases — more than three million each year — it can take us three to five months
to determine whether you are eligible.
Processing times on that initial claim can vary depending on several factors, but primarily on:
• the nature of your disability;
• how quickly we obtain medical evidence from your doctor or other medical sources; and
• whether we need to send you for a medical examination in order to obtain evidence to support your claim.
There are things you can do to help speed up the process. The more information you provide up front, the less time it will take
us to obtain the evidence we need — and the faster your claim can be processed.
What type of information do we need?
• Any medical records or documentation you have is helpful. We can make copies of the records you have and return your
• The names, addresses, and phone numbers for any doctors, medical facilities, treatment centers, or providers related to
your disabling condition;
• The names, addresses, and phone numbers for previous employers and the dates worked for each employer;
• Workers’ compensation information, including the settlement agreement, date of injury, claim number, and proof of other
disability benefits awarded;
• Names and dates of birth of your minor children and your spouse;
• Dates of marriages and divorces (if any);
• Checking or savings account number, and the bank’s 9-digit routing number, so we can deposit your payment
• Name, address, and phone number of a person we can contact if we are unable to get in touch with you.
If this disability application is for a child, we need the name, address, phone number of the schools attended and any school
records you can provide.
We also ask you to sign release forms that give us permission to obtain the information needed from third parties to make a
decision on your claim.
The best place to start is online at www.socialsecurity.gov/disability. Select “Disability Starter Kit” in the left column. There, you’ll
find more information and starter kits for both adults and children.
You can apply online for disability benefits (the easiest method), or you can make an appointment by phone or in a Social
Security office. The choice is yours. (For Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits, you cannot apply online, but you
still can complete the Disability Starter Kit to prepare for the interview and speed-up the processing time.)
If you’re considering an application for disability benefits, the place to go is www.socialsecurity.gov/disability.
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YOUR MARCH TO-DO LIST
It’s spring cleaning season! There’s no better time than now to start organizing, and getting important tasks cleared off your list
of important things to do. Social Security would like to share a suggested “March To-Do List” with you.
Tax deadline is Monday, April 18. The due date for 2010 Federal tax returns is Monday, April 18, 2011. If you plan to claim your
children or any other dependents on your tax return, you’ll need to have a Social Security number for each individual. If you don’t
already have a Social Security number for a dependant, applications and filing requirements are available online at www.
Request your SSA-1099 online. If you receive Social Security benefits, you may need to pay taxes on a portion of your Social
Security benefits. If so, you’ll need your SSA-1099, which shows the total amount of benefits received in the previous year. An
SSA-1099 was mailed to you in January showing the total amount of benefits you received in 2010. If you receive Social Security
and have not yet received a 1099 for 2010, or you lost the one we sent you, you can request a replacement online at www.
Medicare Open Season ends on March 31. If you are eligible for Medicare Part B medical insurance, but you didn’t sign up for it
when you first became eligible for Medicare, you have another opportunity to apply. Open season for Medicare Part B runs from
January 1 until March 31, 2011. If you miss the deadline, you will have to wait until 2012. You can learn more about Medicare by
reading our electronic booklet, Medicare at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10043.html. Or, visit the Medicare website at www.
medicare.gov. You also can call Medicare at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227; TTY 1-877-486-2048).
March may be a busy time, but if you keep this to-do list handy, staying on top of things should be a spring breeze. For more
information about Social Security programs, visit www.socialsecurity.gov.
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FIGURING OUT RETIREMENT
For almost every American worker, Social Security is “part of the plan” for a secure retirement. If you are among the roughly 95
percent of workers in the United States who are covered under Social Security, here’s a primer on retirement coverage.
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 or 10 years of work to qualify for retirement benefits. No retirement benefits can be paid until you have
the required number of credits. If you stop working before you have enough credits to qualify for benefits, the credits will remain
on your Social Security record. If you return to work later, you can add more credits so that you qualify.
Your benefit amount is based on how much you earned during your working career. Higher lifetime earnings result in higher
benefits. A worker with average earnings can expect a retirement benefit that replaces about 40 percent of his or her average
lifetime earnings. 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 when you
Your benefit payment also is affected by the age at which you decide to retire and begin receiving benefits. If you were born in
1942 or earlier, you already are eligible for your full Social Security benefit. If you were born from 1943 to 1960, the age at which
full retirement benefits are payable increases gradually to age 67.
You can get Social Security retirement benefits as early as age 62, but if you retire before your full retirement age, your benefits
will be reduced, based on your age. If you retire at age 62, your benefit would be about 25 percent lower than what it would be if
you waited until you reach full retirement age. You may choose to keep working even beyond your full retirement age. If you do,
you can increase your future Social Security benefits — up until age 70.
Choosing when to retire is an important decision, but it’s also a personal choice and one you should carefully consider. When’s
the best time? There is no one-size-fits-all answer. Social Security offers a list of factors to consider in the publication When to
Start Receiving Retirement Benefits at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10147.html. In addition, Social Security provides an online
Retirement Estimator to get immediate and personalized retirement benefit estimates to help you plan for your retirement. The
Retirement Estimator is a convenient and secure financial planning tool, allowing you to create “what if” scenarios. For instance,
you can change your “stop work” dates or expected future earnings to create and compare different retirement options. If you
have a few minutes, you have time to check it out at www.socialsecurity.gov/estimator.
When you’re ready, you can apply online for retirement benefits at www.socialsecurity.gov or call our toll-free number, 1-800-772-
1213 (TTY: 1-800-325-0778). Or, you can make an appointment to visit any Social Security office to apply in person.
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WHAT WOMEN SHOULD KNOW ABOUT SOCIAL SECURITY
While the Social Security program treats all workers — men and women — exactly the same in terms of the benefits they can
receive, women need to know what the program means to them in their particular circumstances. Understanding the benefits to
which they may be entitled may mean the difference between living more comfortably versus just getting by in their later
One of the most significant things women need to remember in terms of Social Security is the importance of promptly reporting
a name change. If you haven’t told us of a name change, your earnings may not be recorded properly and you may not receive
all the Social Security benefits you are due. Not changing your name with Social Security also can delay your Federal income tax
refund. To report a name change, please fill out an Application for a Social Security Card (Form SS-5). You can get the form by
visiting www.socialsecurity.gov, visiting any Social Security office or card center, or by calling Social Security’s toll-free number, 1-
800-772-1213 (TTY: 1-800-325-0778). You must show us a recently issued document as proof of your legal name change.
If building a family is in your plans, it’s a good idea to apply for a Social Security number for your baby in the hospital, at the
same time that you apply for your baby’s birth certificate. Social Security will mail the card to you. Or, you can elect to wait and
apply in person at any Social Security office. However, if you wait, you must provide evidence of your child’s age, identity and U.
S. citizenship status, as well as proof of your identity. Then, we must verify your child’s birth record, which can add 12 weeks to
the time it takes to issue a card.
When women start receiving Social Security retirement or disability benefits, other family members may be eligible for payments
as well. For example, benefits can be paid to a husband:
• If he is age 62 or older; or
• At any age if he is caring for your child (the child must be younger than 16 or disabled and receiving Social Security benefits
on your record).
Benefits also can be paid to unmarried children if they are:
• Younger than 18;
• Between 18 and 19 years old, but in elementary or secondary school as full-time students; or
• Age 18 or older and severely disabled (the disability must have started before age 22).
The family of a woman who dies may be eligible for survivors benefits based on her work.
For more information about women and Social Security, ask for the publication, What Every Woman Should Know (SSA
Publication No. 05-10127) or visit our special Women’s page online at www.socialsecurity.gov/women.
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QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
My neighbor said my kids, 4 and 12, might be eligible for survivors’ benefits since their mother died. Are they?
If their mother worked and earned the required number of Social Security credits, both you and your children may be eligible for
benefits. Apply promptly for survivors benefits because benefits are generally retroactive only up to six months. You can apply by
calling Social Security's toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213. People who are deaf or hard of hearing may call our toll-free TTY
number, 1-800-325-0778, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Monday through Friday. For more information, read our publication
Survivors Benefits at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10084.html.
I'm expecting a baby this June. What do I need to do to get a Social Security number for my baby?
You can apply for a number at the hospital at the same time you apply for your baby's birth certificate. The State agency that
issues birth certificates will share your child's information with us, and we will mail the Social Security card to you. You can learn
more about Social Security cards and numbers by reading our online publication on the subject. Just visit www.socialsecurity.
How long does it take to complete the online application for retirement benefits?
It can take as little as 15 minutes to complete the online application. In most cases, once your application is submitted
electronically, you’re done. There are no forms to sign and usually no documentation to mail in. Social Security will process your
application and contact you if any further information is needed. There's no need to drive to a local Social Security office or wait
for an appointment with a Social Security representative. To retire online, go to www.socialsecurity.gov.
My husband doesn't have enough work to qualify for Social Security or Medicare. Can he qualify on my record?
This answer applies to wives as well as husbands — even if your spouse has never worked under Social Security, your spouse
at full retirement age can receive a benefit equal to one-half of your full retirement amount. This assumes you were married at
least 10 years and that he did not pay into a government pension plan that offsets Social Security. If he receives a pension from
Federal, State or local government based on work where he did not pay Social Security taxes, any benefits he may be offset.
Spouses cannot receive benefits on your record until you begin receiving retirement benefits, however. You can learn more by
reading our online publication, Retirement Benefits, at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10035.html.
I currently receive Social Security disability benefits. I now have a second serious disability. Can my monthly benefit amount be
No. Your Social Security disability benefit amount is based on the amount of your lifetime earnings before your disability began
and not the number, degree, or severity of your disability. For more information, go to www.socialsecurity.gov/dibplan/dapproval2.
Is there a time limit on how long I can collect Social Security disability benefits?
Your disability benefits will continue as long as your medical condition has not improved and you remain unable to work. Your
case will be reviewed at regular intervals to make sure you still are disabled. If you still are receiving disability benefits when you
reach full retirement age, we will automatically convert them to retirement benefits. See www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10153.
html#6 for more information on disability.
SUPPLEMENTAL SECURITY INCOME
My mother receives Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. She may have to enter a nursing home later this year. How
does this affect her SSI benefits?
Moving to a nursing home can affect your mother's SSI benefits but it depends on the type of facility. In some cases, the SSI
payment may be reduced or stopped. Whenever your mother enters or leaves a nursing home, assisted living facility, hospital,
skilled nursing facility, or any other kind of institution, it is important that you tell Social Security. Call Social Security's toll-free
number, 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778). We can answer specific questions and provide free interpreter services from 7
a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday. We also provide information by automated phone service 24 hours a day.
I receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. How do I notify Social Security that I have changed my address?
Social Security needs your correct mailing address to send you notices and other correspondence about your benefits even if
you receive your benefits by direct deposit. An SSI recipient must report any change in living arrangements or change of address
by calling our toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213, or by visiting a local office. If you do not notify us in a timely manner, you could
end up receiving an incorrect payment and have to pay it back.
My uncle is interested in getting help with his Medicare Part D prescription costs, but he has about $10,000 in the bank. Would
he still be eligible?
Based on his resources, yes. However, there are other factors to consider as well including your uncle’s income. This year a
person’s total resources are, in most cases, limited to $11,010 (or $22,010 if married and living with spouse) to qualify for Extra
Help with Medicare prescription drug costs. But the resource limits shown on the application include a $1,500 per person
exclusion for burial purposes. So, if you expect to use some of your resources to pay for burial or funeral expenses, your
resource limit is $12,510 if you are single or $25,010 if you are married and living with your spouse. Resources include the
value of the things you own, such as real estate (other than the place you live), cash, bank accounts, stocks, bonds, and
retirement accounts like IRAs or 401ks. There are exceptions. To learn more, go to www.socialsecurity.gov and visit the
Medicare link. Or call us at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778).