Social Security column/Karyl Richson
JUNE 2011

In February 2011, Jeopardy! broadcast its first competition that pit man against machine. Watson, an artificial intelligence
computer system developed by IBM, competed against the show’s two most successful champions: Ken Jennings (longest
winning streak) and Brad Rutter (biggest money winner).
Watson won, with the help of a four-terabyte memory that included 200 million pages of encyclopedias — including the full
text of Wikipedia.
We at Social Security have known for some time that computers can help people. As a result, we developed and now have
some of the best online services in the world. Time and time again, Social Security’s online services are at the top of
customer satisfaction surveys.
So here’s a Jeopardy! answer of our own: “You can conduct these online services at” What is the
•        What is “get an instant, personalized estimate of future benefits with the Retirement Estimator at www.socialsecurity.
•        What is “apply for Social Security retirement, spouse’s, Medicare, or disability benefits at www.socialsecurity.
•        What is “apply for Extra Help with Medicare prescription drug costs at”?
•        What is “request a replacement Medicare card at”?
All of the above are acceptable answers.
Computers are capable of making our lives much easier. In fact, you might say that using our online services makes doing
business with Social Security … elementary, dear Watson.
See for yourself at
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Americans have been explorers long before we declared our independence on July 4, 1776.
Colonists were brave enough to venture across the seas to settle in the unknown frontier of the New World.  From there,
westward expansion eventually took them from the east coast to the west. Then came the space race, and imagined places
to explore. Shows like Star Trek called space the final frontier. But we’ve since found new frontiers, such as cyberspace.
If you’ve used Social Security’s website, then you know that cyberspace is no longer a strange, uncharted territory. Social
Security’s online services are so easy to navigate, even Kirk could use them (as Patty Duke tells George Takei in one of our
new public service announcements – check them out at
What are some of the things you can do easily at
•        Use our Retirement Estimator to get an instant, personalized estimate of your future Social Security retirement
•        Visit our Benefits Planner, where you can get started right away planning for a secure retirement. You also can go here
to use the disability and survivors planners to find out how much you or your family might qualify for if the need arises. www.
•        Retire online! You can complete and submit your retirement application in as little as 15 minutes. www.socialsecurity.
•        Apply online for disability benefits.
There’s even more you can do at If you’re feeling adventurous and want to explore, look around our
home page, read some of our publications, and take advantage of our most popular services at the left side of the screen.
You even can chart a course for our frequently asked questions.
It wasn’t fireworks and parades that made America what it is today. It was our adventurous spirit, our desire to explore new
places. We encourage you to explore the final frontier for your Social Security business at

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Summertime is here, and for many people that means vacation. Some of the best vacations are the ones that allow you to
spend time with family who live far away.
If you’re planning to visit your kids and grandkids this summer, why not make the most of your time with them?  You may
know your way around a computer.  But youngsters today who grew up on a computer can teach most of us some new
tricks. And they’d probably be thrilled to share some online time with their grandparents.  Ask them to pull out their tablet,
iPad, or laptop and show you how to find your way around Social Security’s website,
Ask them to show you how to use to avoid unneeded trips to a Social Security office.  Have them
show you our library of online publications containing all the information you might want to know on an array of Social
Security, retirement, and Medicare subjects. The publications can be found at If
you’re thinking about retirement, for example, you may want to check out When To Start Receiving Retirement Benefits at (Unlike some libraries, there’s no due date to remember.)
That was easy! With the young ones helping you, you might as well go ahead and spend another 15 minutes to get the job
done. No need to put on your shoes and sunglasses — you can apply online without having to leave your home. Visit www. where you can apply for retirement benefits in as little as 15 minutes. Once you click the
“submit” button, you’re done; in most cases there are no forms to sign or documents to mail in.
Here’s a way to get the attention of the young ones: ask them about Facebook and Twitter. Once they’ve got you on
Facebook, you’ll have a new way of connecting with them.  Did you know Social Security is on Facebook and Twitter too?
Just go to and click the Facebook and Twitter icons on the main page.
Visiting your kids and grandchildren can be a lot of fun.  Make it productive as well by asking the young whiz kid in your
family about

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Have you ever stopped to appreciate the many celebrations we enjoy in this country? For example, did you know that July is
National Baked Beans Month? It’s also National Hot Dog Month. If beans and hot dogs are not on your diet, that’s okay—it’s
also National Blueberry Month!
July also happens to be National Ice Cream Month—something almost as American as apple pie. (National Apple Pie
Month was in May.)
As you’re marking your calendar to keep all of these festivities in mind, we want to make sure you’re aware that every month
can be National Social Security Online Month!
As you’re taking all of these commemorative foods out on a picnic (July is also National Picnic Month), take your laptop or
tablet with you so you can visit Whether you want to see what’s new at Social Security with our
news section, find an answer to a question with our frequently asked questions section, or plan for your retirement with our
Retirement Estimator or Benefits Planners, you can do it all easily at our website.
Make a part of your recreation (July is National Recreation Month). Visit our History page to learn all
about the history and early days of Social Security. Resting on a blanket under a tree is a fun way to spend a picnic, but if
that begins to get boring (July is National Anti-Boredom Month), you’ll want to tune into some of our fun public service
announcements featuring Patty Duke, George Takei, Chubby Checker, and Don Francisco at www.socialsecurity.
If you’re feeling ambitious and ready to retire, you may even decide to apply online for benefits as you’re enjoying your baked
beans and ice cream. You can apply easily in as little as 15 minutes. Patty Duke and George Takei will tell you all about it in
the online videos.
If you go to our home page, you’ll find our most popular services listed on the left-hand side of the page. These include
getting or replacing a Social Security card, applying for retirement or disability benefits, applying for Medicare, and getting
Extra Help with Medicare prescription drug costs. There is so much you can do at Social Security’s website, you may find
yourself celebrating National Social Security Online Month throughout the year.
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It’s been three years since Social Security’s Retirement Estimator went online. Within months of coming out, the online
application was praised as one of the highest-rated online services around, and it has consistently remained so every year.
Results from the American Customer Satisfaction Index show Social Security’s online Retirement Estimator in one of the
top two spots, with a score of 90. (Social Security’s online benefit application took the top spot.) The Retirement Estimator
ranks higher than the websites of any other public and private sector agencies and companies, including the likes of Netflix
and Amazon.
Millions of people have used the Retirement Estimator. You may try it yourself at
Now that Social Security’s most popular online application is available in Spanish at,
even more people can use the Retirement Estimator.
The Retirement Estimator is a convenient, secure, and quick financial planning tool that lets workers calculate how much
they might expect to receive in Social Security benefits when they retire. The attractive feature of this calculator is that it uses
your earnings information on file at Social Security, without displaying your personal information. So you get an instant,
personalized estimate of your future retirement benefits.
The Estimator even gives you the opportunity to run different scenarios and “what if” situations. For example, you can
change the date you expect to retire or change expected future earnings to create and compare different retirement options.
This can help you as you plan ahead.
To use the Retirement Estimator, you must have enough Social Security credits to qualify for benefits and you cannot be
receiving benefits currently.
Experience the best online service now by visiting Social Security’s Retirement Estimator at www.socialsecurity.
gov/estimator. Then, once you’ve sketched out your retirement plans, you’ll know where to go when the time comes to apply
for benefits: online at

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I thought I saw Patty Duke with George Takei in a new video for Social Security. Was that really them?
Yes. Patty Duke joined George Takei to tell Americans to Boldly Go to to apply for retirement,
disability, Medicare, and so much more. The two celebrities have donated their time for a new campaign promoting Social
Security’s online services as an easy and secure way for people to do business with the agency. Learn more at www. where you also can watch the videos online.
When a person who has worked and paid Social Security taxes dies, who is eligible for survivors benefits?
Social Security survivors benefits can be paid to:
•        Widows or widowers — full benefits at full retirement age, or reduced benefits as early as age 60;
•        Disabled widows or widowers — as early as age 50;
•        Widows or widowers at any age if they take care of the deceased's child who is under age 16 or disabled and
receiving Social Security benefits;
•        Unmarried children under 18, or up to age 19 if they are attending high school full time. Under certain circumstances,
benefits can be paid to stepchildren, grandchildren, or adopted children;
•        Children at any age who were disabled before age 22 and remain disabled; and
•        Dependent parents age 62 or older.
Even if you are divorced, you still may qualify for survivors benefits based on the earnings record of a former spouse. For
more information, go to

What is a Social Security “credit?”

During your working years, earnings covered by Social Security are posted to your record. You earn Social Security credits
based on those earnings. The amount of earnings needed for one credit rises as average earnings levels rise. In 2011, you
receive one credit for each $1,120 of earnings. You can earn up to a maximum of four credits a year. Most people will need
a minimum of 40 credits (or 10 years of work) to be eligible for retirement benefits. Learn more by reading the online
publication How You Earn Credits at
What’s so easy about applying online for benefits?
There’s no need to go to a local Social Security office or wait for an appointment with a Social Security representative. You
can apply in less than 15 minutes. Just visit Once you submit your electronic application, you’re
done. In most cases, there are no forms to sign or documents to mail. Try it at
What is the earliest age that I can begin receiving retirement benefits?
You can get a reduced benefit as early as age 62.  Keep in mind that your monthly benefit amount would be about 33
percent higher if you wait until age 66 and nearly 80 percent higher if you defer payments until age 70. Visit our Retirement
Estimator to

ind out how much you can expect to receive. You can find it at


How does Social Security decide if I am disabled?
For an adult to be considered disabled, Social Security must determine that you are unable to do the work you did before
and, based on your age, education, and work experience, you are unable to adjust to any other work that exists in significant
numbers in the national economy. Also, your disability must last or be expected to last for at least one year or to result in
death. Social Security pays only for total disability. No benefits are payable for partial disability or short-term disability (less
than a year). For more information, we recommend you read Disability Benefits (SSA Publication No. 05-10029), available
online at
What is the earliest age that I can receive Social Security disability benefits?
There is no minimum age as long as you meet the Social Security definition of disabled and you have sufficient work to
qualify. To qualify for disability benefits, you must have worked long enough under Social Security to earn the required
number of work credits and some of the work must be recent. You can earn up to a maximum of four work credits each year.
The amount of earnings required for a credit increases each year as general wage levels go up, and is currently $1,120.
The number of work credits you need for disability benefits depends on your age when you become disabled. For example,
if you are under age 24, you may qualify with as little as six credits of coverage. But people disabled at age 31 or older
generally need between 20 and 40 credits, and some of the work must have been recent. For example, you may need to
have worked five out of the past 10 years. Learn more at

What is the purpose of Supplemental Security Income, or SSI?
SSI is designed to help aged, blind, and disabled people who have little income and few resources. It provides financial
assistance to meet basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter. You can receive SSI even if you have not worked and paid
into Social Security. SSI is a Federal income supplement program funded by general tax revenues (not Social Security
taxes). Find out more at
My brother recently left me some money. Will this inheritance affect my SSI benefits?
We consider the money inherited from your brother income for the month you receive it. That could make you ineligible for
SSI that month, depending on the amount of the inheritance. If you keep the money into the next month, it becomes a part of
your resources. You cannot have more than $2,000 in resources to remain eligible for SSI. You should call Social Security
at 1-800-772-1213 and report the inheritance. Representatives can tell you how your eligibility might be affected. 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., Monday
through Friday.

Who is eligible for extra help with Medicare prescription drug costs?
Medicare beneficiaries with limited income and resources may qualify for extra help. The extra help can save them money. It
pays part of the monthly premiums, annual deductibles, and prescription co-payments under the new Medicare prescription
drug program. The extra help is estimated to be worth an average of $4,000 per year. Help someone qualify and apply at