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

Social Security Announces 3.6 Percent Benefit Increase for 2012
Cost-of-Living Adjustment is First Since 2009

Monthly Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for more than 60 million Americans will increase 3.6
percent in 2012, the Social Security Administration announced today.

The 3.6 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) will begin with benefits that nearly 55 million Social Security beneficiaries
receive in January 2012.  Increased payments to more than 8 million SSI beneficiaries will begin on December 30, 2011.

Some other changes that take effect in January of each year are based on the increase in average wages.  Based on that
increase, the maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax (taxable maximum) will increase to $110,100 from
$106,800.  Of the estimated 161 million workers who will pay Social Security taxes in 2012, about 10 million will pay higher taxes
as a result of the increase in the taxable maximum.

Information about Medicare changes for 2012, when announced, will be available at  For some
beneficiaries, their Social Security increase may be partially or completely offset by increases in Medicare premiums.  
The Social Security Act provides for how the COLA is calculated.  To read more, please visit

Social Security Column


When the holidays come, the money goes — usually for presents and parties, greeting cards and traveling to see family. Before
you spend that last holiday buck, make sure you set some cash aside for retirement as a gift to yourself.

If you haven’t started already, now is the time to begin saving for your retirement — no matter what your age. If retirement is near,
you’ll want to hop on a fast sled right away. If you’re younger and retirement seems a lifetime away, it’s still in your best interest
to begin saving now — compound interest will help your retirement fund to snowball.

Don’t take our word for it. You can check out the numbers yourself. A great way to start figuring out how much you will need for
retirement is to learn how much you could expect from Social Security. You can do that in minutes with Social Security’s online
Retirement Estimator.

The Retirement Estimator offers an instant, personalized estimate of your future retirement benefits based on your earnings
record and a few variables you enter. Try it out at

We encourage saving for retirement, but there are reasons to save for every stage of life. A great place to go for help is
. is the U.S. government's website dedicated to teaching Americans the basics about financial
planning. Whether you are planning to buy a home, balancing your checkbook, or investing in your 401(k) plan, the resources at can help you.
Be sure to give yourself a holiday gift you deserve. Not only should you set aside some money for your retirement fund, but you
should also spend some time looking at these websites and picturing your future retirement. Spend a little bit of holiday time at

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More than half a million Americans experience homelessness on any given night.  Nearly 20 percent of them are “chronically
homeless,” meaning they are on the streets regularly.
Social Security has several programs that pay benefits to qualified individuals, including those who are homeless. These
programs include retirement, disability, and survivors benefits, as well as Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which is a
needs-based program for people who are blind, disabled, or age 65 or older. If you know someone who is homeless, and you
want to learn more about how Social Security might help, a good place to get information is at www.socialsecurity.
That page includes a link to the Spotlight on Homelessness — a website designed to help the homeless apply for SSI. It’s
available at
The homelessness page also includes links to information on health care for the homeless, institutionalization, advocacy
groups, reports on homeless outreach, and even links to other websites like the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness
and HUD.
You’ll find other information helpful to the homeless on . For example, there is a link to our Benefit
Eligibility Screening Tool, or BEST. Based on answers to various questions, this tool helps determine the benefits someone
might be eligible for and gives information about how to qualify and apply. Go directly to

Tell anyone you know who is homeless or threatened with homelessness to use the Benefit Eligibility Screening Tool and to
check out the different types of benefits and assistance they may be eligible to receive. Spread the word about the help available
to the homeless.
Visit to learn more.

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During the holiday season, it’s hard to walk in a public place without hearing a Christmas carol or two. One of the most popular
traditional songs is “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” It’s been a holiday favorite since it was published in 1780. Here’s our take
on the song: “The Twelve Sites of Social Security.”

For the first site of Social Security, we present to you: our home page, It’s the place to go for all things
Social Security. Everything you could want — from online services and screening tools to publications and press releases —
can be found easily from this starting place.

On the second site of Social Security, we present to you: an easy way to get or replace your Social Security card using our online
application at

On the third site of Social Security, we present to you: an online application for retirement benefits that you can complete and
submit in as little as 15 minutes at

On the fourth site of Social Security, we present to you: a secure, convenient way to apply for disability benefits at

On the fifth site of Social Security, we present to you: five estimates of your future Social Security benefits! Or one, or as many as
you would like using different scenarios. Get instant, personalized estimates of your future benefits at

On the sixth site of Social Security, we present to you: an online application for Medicare that lets you complete an application for
Medicare benefits in as little as 10 minutes, at

On the seventh site of Social Security, we present to you: Extra Help with prescription drug costs. You can learn more and apply
online at

On the eighth site of Social Security, we present to you: our convenient publication library with online booklets and pamphlets on
numerous subjects, at

On the ninth site of Social Security, we present to you: popular baby names. Learn about popular baby names and trends based
on child Social Security card applications over the years at

On the tenth site of Social Security, we present to you: the location of your nearest Social Security office, no matter where you are,

On the eleventh site of Social Security, we present to you: a way to get your Social Security forms online, at

On the twelfth site of Social Security, we present to you: services for people who are currently receiving benefits, like the ability to
replace your Medicare card, get or change a password, request a proof of income letter, or check your Social Security
information or benefits. You can do these and other things at

Get all your Social Security services and information at
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The holidays are here and that means busy days ahead for families across the nation:  gift shopping, preparing for guests,
sending out holiday greetings, looking up recipes for favorite traditional dishes, checking those credit card and bank account
Many people have found an easier way to manage many of their activities of the holiday season by going online. Some shoppers
have eliminated the need to go to crowded shopping malls for holiday gifts by taking care of it over the Internet. Some even look
up recipes on the Internet and send holiday greetings by email.  You’ll find that these types of convenient, secure transactions
can also be found in places you may not ordinarily think to look — for example, at!
You can apply online for benefits, obtain information, plan for retirement, and request a replacement Medicare card, even apply
for Extra Help with your prescription drug costs all at
You can handle much of your Social Security business quickly and securely from your home or office computer. If you visit our
website at you will find that you can —
•        get an instant, personalized estimate of your future Social Security benefits;
•        apply for retirement, disability, and spouse’s benefits;
•        check the status of your benefit application;
•        change your address and phone number, if you receive monthly benefits;
•        sign-up for direct deposit of Social Security benefits;
•        use our benefit planners to help you better understand your Social Security protection as you plan for your financial future;
•        find the nearest Social Security office; and
•        request a replacement Medicare card.

Looking for more Social Security information? You can go online to find out almost anything you need to know about the Social
Security program. Information is available on subjects ranging from how to get a Social Security number for a newborn to how to
go back to work while receiving disability benefits.

This holiday season, do you want to have more time to visit with friends and family? If so, take care of your Social Security
business at

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It’s the holiday season. That means time to do the holiday shopping, prepare the festive dinner, decorate the house, invite the
guests, wrap the gifts, write and send the holiday greetings. Not to mention, it also means the usual time-consumers, like
working, taking care of the family, and doing all of the daily chores.

There’s a lot to do during the holiday season. Probably the last thing on your list is spending precious time at a Social Security
office (or on the phone) waiting to conduct business — especially if you don’t need to. However, if contacting Social Security is
something you need to do during the holiday rush, let us give you some tips on the best way to save yourself some time and still
get your business done.

The busiest times for Social Security field offices and the agency’s toll free telephone number are early in the week and early in
the month. So if your business can wait, it’s best to contact us at other times. The same is true during the holiday season —
especially the week between Christmas and New Year’s. If you must do business with Social Security during the holidays, you
may experience more busy signals on the telephone and longer wait times in local offices.

There’s an even better way to conduct your business: online at There you’ll find a wealth of information
and online services. For example, you can apply online for Social Security benefits or for Medicare, and then you can check on
the status of your pending application. If you already receive Social Security benefits, you can go online to change your address,
phone number, or your direct deposit information, get a replacement Medicare card, or request a proof of income letter.
Visit our website at and save yourself a call or a trip to our office. It’s fast, easy, and secure to conduct
your business with Social Security online.
But if you do need to speak to a Social Security representative one-on-one, we’ll be there for you. Call us at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY
1-800-325-0778) or visit your local Social Security office.

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When a person who has worked and paid Social Security taxes dies, are benefits payable on that person’s record?
Social Security survivors benefits can be paid to:
•        A widow or widower — unreduced benefits at full retirement age, or reduced benefits as early as age 60;
•        A disabled widow or widower — as early as age 50;
•        A widow or widower at any age if he or she takes 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. For more information, go to

I lost my Social Security card. Should I get a new one?
You may not need to get a replacement card. Knowing your Social Security number is what is important. However, you can
replace your Social Security card for free if it is lost or stolen. Remember, you are limited to three replacement cards in a year
and 10 during your lifetime. Learn more at


Can I get an estimate of my retirement benefit at several different possible ages?
Yes. We suggest you use our Retirement Estimator at to test different retirement scenarios.
This online tool will give you retirement benefit estimates based on current law and real time access to your earnings record.
The Retirement Estimator also lets you create additional "what if" retirement scenarios. It’s even available in Spanish at
. You can test even more alternatives at

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 calculate lifetime earnings independently to determine each spouse’s Social Security benefit amount. When each
member of a married couple meets all other eligibility requirements to receive Social Security retirement benefits, 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 failed to earn enough Social Security credits (40) to be insured for
retirement benefits, he or she may be eligible to receive benefits as a spouse. Learn more about Social Security at


I am receiving Social Security disability benefits. Will my benefits be affected if I work and earn money?
It can, depending on how much you make. We have special rules called "work incentives" that help you keep your cash benefits
and Medicare while you test your ability to work. For example, there is a trial work period during which you can receive full
benefits regardless of how much you earn, as long as you report your work activity and continue to have a disabling impairment.
For more information about work incentives, we recommend that you read the leaflet, Working While Disabled-How We Can
Help, at

Is there a time limit on Social Security disability benefits?
Your disability benefits will continue as long as your medical condition has not improved and you cannot work. We will review
your case at regular intervals to make sure you are still disabled. Learn more by reading our publication, Disability Benefits, at


Is it true that a person can own a home and still be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits?
Yes, a person who owns a home and lives in that home can be eligible for SSI benefits. SSI is for people who are disabled,
aged, or blind and who have limited income and resources. However, there are some items we do not count as resources, such
as the home you live in. For more information, read our booklet, Supplemental Security Income,

I know you need to have limited resources to receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI). But what is considered a resource?
Resources are things you own that you can use for support. They include cash, real estate, personal belongings, bank
accounts, stocks, and bonds. To be eligible for SSI a person must have no more than $2,000 in countable resources. A married
couple must have no more than $3,000 in countable resources. If you own resources over the SSI limit, you may be able to get
SSI benefits while trying to sell the resources. Not all of your resources count toward the SSI resource limit. For example:
•        The home you live in and the land it's on do not count.
•        Your personal effects and household goods do not count.
•        Life insurance policies may not count, depending on their value.
•        Your car usually does not count.
•        Burial plots for you and members of your immediate family do not count.
•        Up to $1,500 in burial funds for you and up to $1,500 in burial funds for your spouse may not count.
•        If you are blind or have a disability, some items may not count if you plan to use them to work or earn extra income.
You may also wish to read our material on "resources" in the booklet, Understanding SSI at


If I call 1-800-772-1213, can a Social Security representative take my application for Medicare prescription drug help over the
If an interviewer is available when you call the 800 number, he or she can take your application over the phone. If an interviewer
is not immediately available, we can schedule a telephone appointment for you. For the fastest and most convenient way to
apply for Medicare prescription drug help, go online to

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