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


When you go on a road trip, you need to follow the signs to arrive at the right place. Going online can be very much the same.  
Look for the “.gov” at the end of the web address — if it isn’t .gov, it isn’t the real Social Security website —

Countless consumers nationwide are victimized each year by misleading advertisers who use "Social Security" or "Medicare" to
entice the public to use their services. In many cases, these companies offer Social Security services for a fee, even though the
same services are available directly from Social Security, free of charge. These services include:
•        updating a Social Security card to show a bride's married name;
•        replacing a Social Security card; and
•        getting a Social Security number for a child.

These for-profit businesses may cleverly design their websites, so when people use Internet search engines, their
advertisement pops up. They may even make their advertisement look similar to the real Social Security website. And some of
these sites, at first glance, appear to be affiliated with Social Security. But upon closer examination, these are for-profit
companies charging individuals for a service that is provided free by Social Security.

For instance, a quick Google search on “replacing a Social Security card” brings up paid advertisements for websites that
charge a fee just to get an application for a new card.  That service is absolutely free from Social Security.

The law that deals specifically with misleading Social Security and Medicare advertising prohibits people or non-government
organizations, like for-profit businesses, from using words or emblems that mislead others. Their advertising cannot lead
people to believe that they represent or are somehow affiliated with or endorsed or approved by Social Security or the Centers for
Medicare & Medicaid Services (Medicare). But that doesn’t stop advertisers from trying.

For more information, you can read our publication What You Need to Know about Misleading Advertising at

When you go to, make sure you look for the “.gov” sign along the way. Don’t be tricked into paying a fee
for a service that’s free. And remember: if it isn’t .gov, it isn’t Social Security.
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Plan to start receiving your Social Security retirement benefits in January of 2012?  We recommend you apply this October if you’
d like your benefits to begin in January.

If the prospect of traveling to an office does not appeal to you, then save yourself a trip and consider the advantages of applying
online for Social Security retirement benefits. The Social Security website at makes the process easy
and convenient.

In most cases, once you submit your online application electronically, that’s it. There are no additional forms to sign or
paperwork to complete. In rare cases where we need additional information, a representative will contact you.

You can complete your application for retirement benefits from the comfort of your home or office in as little as 15 minutes.  Then
you can celebrate 2012 by receiving your first Social Security payment on time.

If you are not quite ready to retire but are thinking about doing so in the near future, you may want to visit Social Security’s
website to use our convenient and informative retirement planner at Here you can find out just
how close you are to meeting your financial goals and then “bookmark” the website to file for retirement benefits whenever you
are ready.

We encourage people at any stage in their working career to use the Retirement Estimator for a instant, personalized estimate
of future retirement benefits. Find it at

Remember that you’re always first in line when you go online, to

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Would you like to stay informed when there are changes to the Social Security website?  More than one million people currently
receive updates when we make changes to the pages they’re most interested in. Now you can too.

You can subscribe to receive free email updates with the click of a button.  Just visit, or look
for the red envelope icon on your favorite Social Security web pages.

A number of Social Security’s more popular pages include an icon of a red envelope followed by a link that says “Get email
updates.” Clicking on that link will allow you to subscribe to updates for that particular page. If you click on the link, you’ll get a list
of the available subscription pages.  You may select how often you wish to be notified of changes (immediately, daily, weekly, or

We have more than 25 topic pages you can subscribe to, including such hot topics as congressional testimony and speeches,
disability research, popular baby names, and press releases at

Get a complete, linkable list of the pages you can subscribe to at When it comes to news
and information updates from Social Security’s website, we deliver.

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If you’re like most workers, you’ve labored hard throughout the year. This Labor Day weekend, it’s nice to be able to kick back
and take a rest from all of your hard work. But it may also be a good time to take a look at your retirement plans.

The best starting point is to visit Social Security’s Retirement Estimator at The Retirement
Estimator is an easy way to get an instant, personalized estimate of future retirement benefits. The Estimator uses your actual
earnings history to compute a benefit estimate.  However, for privacy purposes, we do not display your earnings. You can enter a
variety of scenarios, such as different earnings amounts and retirement dates, to find out how they will change your benefit

If the picture looks better than you anticipated, you might decide it’s time to punch your last time card and leave the labor force for
retirement sooner than you expected. If that’s the case, the easiest way to apply for retirement is online.

It used to be a labor to apply for benefits. It used to mean making a trip to a Social Security office and then being required to fill
out paperwork. Now, you can visit to find out everything you need to know about applying
online for retirement benefits — and to proceed with filing the application online in as little as 15 minutes.

In most cases, once you submit your online application electronically, that’s it. There are no additional forms to sign or
paperwork to complete. In rare cases where we need additional information, a representative will contact you.

This Labor Day, picnics, family, and friends are all part of the fun you’ve earned on a holiday set aside to celebrate the fruit of
your labor. But spend a few moments considering what your labor has earned you through Social Security protection for you and
your family.

Learn more about Social Security at

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During National Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from September 15 to October 15, Social Security offices across the
country will join in recognizing the many contributions of Hispanic Americans to the United States, and in celebrating Hispanic
heritage and culture.

Our website is recognized as being at the forefront for providing information and services in Spanish. Find out why by visiting The popular Spanish-language website offers a vast amount of information that is useful to people
whose first language is Spanish.  

The website features more than 100 Spanish public information pamphlets, leaflets, and fact sheets.
The website also lets visitors use benefit calculators, sign-up for direct deposit, and locate their nearest Social Security office.

But one of the best features of the site is the new Spanish-language Retirement Estimator located at
gov/calculador. The Retirement Estimator allows visitors to receive an instant, personalized estimate of future retirement
benefits. And what’s better, visitors can try out different scenarios to see how they would change future benefits, like changing
future wage estimates or retirement dates. It’s a great tool for planning for the future.

If you want to visit an office and speak with someone in Spanish, we do have interpreter services available in the event that there
is not a Spanish-speaking representative working in the office. To learn about our interpreter services, visit www.socialsecurity.

In addition, our national toll-free number (1-800-772-1213) provides automated prompts in Spanish for all callers. Toward the
beginning of the call, you will be asked to continue in English or Spanish; it’s as easy as that to get service in the language you’
re most comfortable with.

So whether it is via the Internet, through face-to-face office visits, or over our national 800 number, Social Security remains
committed to providing quality service to an increasingly more diverse American public.

This National Hispanic Heritage Month, visit to learn about Social Security in Spanish.

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I received a notice from Social Security recently. It said my name and Social Security number do not match Social Security’s
records. What should I do?
It’s critical that your name and Social Security number, as shown on your Social Security card, match your employer’s payroll
records and your W-2 form. If they don’t, here is what you need to do:
•        Give your employer the correct information exactly as shown on your Social Security card or your corrected card; or
•        Contact your local Social Security office ( or call 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) if
your Social Security card does not show your correct name or Social Security number.
For more information, visit our website at

Are Social Security numbers reassigned after a person dies?
No. We do not reassign Social Security numbers. In all, we have assigned more than 460 million Social Security numbers, and
each year we assign about 5.5 million new numbers. The current system has enough new numbers for several more
generations. For more information, visit our website at or call us toll-free at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-

Can I apply online for retirement benefits?
Yes. It’s quick and easy. Apply online and save yourself a trip to the office. Once you submit your online application electronically,
in most cases, you’re done. There are no forms to sign or documents to send in. If we do need more information to process your
application, a representative will contact you. For more information about applying online, visit our website at www.socialsecurity.
gov or call us toll-free at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778).
If both my spouse and I are entitled to Social Security benefits, is there any reduction in our payments because we are married?
No. We independently calculate each spouse’s Social Security benefit amount. Each spouse receives a monthly benefit amount
based on his or her own earnings. Couples are not penalized simply because they are married. If one member of the couple
earned low wages or did not earn enough Social Security credits to be eligible for retirement benefits, he or she may be eligible
to receive benefits as a spouse.

How does Social Security decide if I am disabled?
If you are an adult, you must be unable to work for a year or more because of a medical condition or combination of medical
impairments. Overall, we use a five-step evaluation process to decide whether you are disabled. The process considers any
current work activity you are doing. It also considers your medical condition and how it affects your ability to work. To be found
•        You must be unable to do work you did before you became disabled and we must decide you cannot adjust to other work
because of your medical condition; and
•        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. We do not pay benefits for partial or short-term disability. For more information, read
our publication Disability Benefits at

If I go back to work, will I automatically lose my Social Security disability benefits?
Social Security has several work incentive programs to help people who want to work. You may be able to receive benefits and
continue your health care coverage during a trial work period. For information about Social Security's work incentives and how
they can help you return to work, you should:
•        Visit our special work site at;
•        See the Red Book on work incentives at;
•        Call our toll-free number at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778); or
•        Contact your local Social Security office (  
For more information, visit our website at or call us toll-free at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778).

If I receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits, what is the effect on my benefits if I work?
In most cases, your return to work would reduce your benefit amount, and in some cases, discontinue your payments. Unlike
Social Security disability, there is no “trial work period” for people who get SSI disability benefits. In most cases, if your only
income besides SSI is from your work, you can earn up to $1,433 in a month (in 2011) before we stop your payments.  We have
several publications about SSI, including Reporting Your Wages When You Receive Supplemental Security Income, available at Note that there are other work incentives that can help you return to work when you
receive SSI.  You can read about them in What You Need To Know When You Get Supplemental Security Income (SSI) at
www. For more information, visit our website at

I am receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Can my children receive dependent's benefits based on my benefits?
No. SSI benefits are based on the needs of one individual and are paid only to the qualifying person. Disabled children are
potentially eligible for SSI, but there are no spouse's, dependent children's, or survivors benefits payable as there are with Social
Security benefits. For more information, see our publication, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), available online at www. You also may want to read Understanding Supplemental Security Income (SSI) at www. For even more information, visit our website at

Is it true that if you have low income you can get help paying your Medicare premiums?
Yes. If your income and resources are limited, your State may be able to help with your Medicare Part B premium, deductibles,
and coinsurance amounts. State rules vary on the income and resources that apply. Contact your State or local medical
assistance, social services, or welfare office, or call the Medicare hotline, 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227), and ask about
the Medicare Savings Programs. If you have limited income and resources, you also may be able to get help paying for
prescription drug coverage under Medicare Part D. Call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY users should call 1-800-325-
0778) or visit any Social Security office.
Also, see our publication, Medicare (Publication 10043), at For even more information,
visit our website at
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