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Social Security questions and answers

Question:

It’s hard for me to get around because of my disability. Can I apply for disability benefits from home?

Answer:

Yes - in fact, the best way to apply for disability benefits is online.

The Social Security department’s online disability application is convenient and secure. You can apply for benefits over the internet at socialsecurity.gov/applyfordisability. If you do not have access to the internet, you can call the department at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) to schedule an appointment to visit your local Social Security office to apply.

However you decide to apply, begin by looking at the Disability Starter Kit at socialsecurity.gov/applyfordisability. It will help you prepare for your application or interview.

Question:

What’s the average monthly Social Security benefit for a retired worker? How is the retirement benefit amount calculated?

Answer:

The current average monthly Social Security benefit for a retired worker is $1,294.

Social Security benefits are based on earnings averaged over most of a worker’s lifetime. Your actual earnings are first adjusted or “indexed” to account for changes in average wages since the year the earnings were received.

Social Security calculates your average monthly indexed earnings during the 35 years in which you earned the most. The department applies a formula to these earnings to arrive at your basic benefit amount. Learn more by visiting Social Security online at socialsecurity.gov.

Question:

My cousin and I are both retired and get Social Security. We worked for the same employer for years, but he gets a higher Social Security benefit. Why is that?

Answer:

Your payments are based on your earnings over your lifetime. Unless you are both the same age, started and stopped work on the exact same dates, and earned the very same amount every year of your careers, you wouldn’t get the same benefit as your cousin.

Social Security benefits are based on many years of earnings - generally your highest 35 years. To learn more about Social Security retirement benefits, visit socialsecurity.gov and select the “Retirement” link.

Question:

I am nearing my full retirement age, but I plan to keep working after I apply for Social Security benefits. Will my benefits be reduced because of my income?

Answer:

No. If you start receiving benefits after you’ve reached your full retirement age, you can work while you receive Social Security and your current benefit will not be reduced because of the earned income.

If you keep working, it could mean a higher benefit for you in the future. Higher benefits can be important to you later in life and increase the future benefit amounts your survivors could receive.

If you begin receiving benefits before your full retirement age, your earnings could reduce your monthly benefit amount. After you reach full retirement age, Social Security recalculates your benefit amount to leave out the months when the department reduced or withheld benefits due to your excess earnings.

Learn more about Social Security reading the publication, How Work Affects Your Benefits, at socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10069.html.

Question:

How does Social Security decide whether I am disabled?

Answer:

For an adult, disability under Social Security law is based on your inability to work because of a disabling condition.

To be considered disabled, Social Security must determine that because of one or more disabling conditions you are unable to do the work you did before and unable to adjust to any other work which 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, the Social Security department recommends you read Disability Benefits, available online at socialsecurity.gov/pubs.

Question:

Will my Medicare coverage change because of the Affordable Care Act?

Answer:

No, not at all. People who have Medicare coverage are not affected by the Affordable Care Act. Medicare is not a part of the Affordable Care Act’s Health Insurance Marketplace.

If you are a Medicare beneficiary, your Medicare benefits are not changing. You do not need to replace your Medicare coverage with Marketplace coverage.

For more information about the Marketplace, visit www.healthcare.gov. For more information about Medicare Parts A, B, C and D, visit www.medicare.gov or read the Social Security publication on Medicare at socialsecurity.gov/pubs.

Question:

I’m quite a number of years away from getting Social Security but I used to get a copy of my Social Security Benefits Statement every year around my birthday. I haven’t seen it. Is there a problem?

Answer:

There’s no problem. In light of the current budget situation, the Social Security Administration has eliminated the annual mailed Social Security Statement and suspended the Request a Social Security Statement by phone service.

You should visit “my Social Security” at socialsecurity.gov/myaccount to obtain your statement.

Don’t worry, it’s fast, it’s safe and it’s easy. At each stage of your life, a “my Social Security” account is for you. Your personal online my Social Security account is a valuable source of information beginning in your working years and continuing throughout the time you receive Social Security benefits.

If you receive benefits, you can use a “my Social Security” online account to get your benefit verification letter for proof of income; check your payment information; change your address; change your phone number; or change your direct deposit.

It’s much faster than calling Social Security by phone. In addition, it helps save our tax dollars!

Question:

Are there any big changes with Social Security in 2014?

Answer:

Yes, there is.

To meet the increasing demands for Social Security services, Social Security will make changes to how it provides some services to customers.

As of February 2014, the Social Security Administration will no longer offer Social Security number (SSN) printouts and benefit verification information in local field offices.

Social Security is making these changes to meet the increasing demands for services at the same time that the agency’s budget has been significantly cut by over $1 billion in each of the last three years.

During this same time, Social Security has invested in technology that offers more convenient, cost-effective and secure options for customers to obtain certain services without visiting a local office.

If you need proof of your Social Security or Supplemental Security Income benefits, you can get a benefit verification letter online instantly by having a “my Social Security” account. To create your account go to socialsecurity.gov/myaccount.

You can also find out about the information and tasks you can complete with a “my Social Security” account.

- Kirk Larson is a Social Security Washington public affairs specialist

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