August 28, 2010
What is Social Security?
Social Security is a mandatory government program that taxes your income while you are working and pays out benefits (supplemental income) in a number of ways when you retire or if you become disabled. Keep in mind that Social Security is not designed to be your only source of income when you retire, so make sure you are contributing to a retirement plan, such as a 401k or an IRA, in addition to Social Security.
What kinds of benefits can I can through Social Security?
1) Disability benefits are payable to anyone who has accumulated sufficient credits and has:
- an acute mental or physical disability that will prevent him or her from conducting “substantial” work for a year or more (generally defined as earnings of $780 or more per month); or
- a mental or physical condition that is anticipated to result in death.
2) Family benefits are those paid to the family of the disabled or retired person while the person is also receiving benefits. These are only available to certain family members according to the following conditions:
- a spouse if he or she is at least 62 years old,
- a spouse if he or she is under 62 but caring for a child under age 16,
- children if they are unmarried and under age 18,
- children under 19 but still in school,
- children 18 or older but disabled, or
- ex-spouse if he or she is eligible for benefits on beneficiary’s record.
3) Medicare benefits are a form of health insurance payable to those age 65 or older.
4) Retirement benefits are payable at full retirement age (with reduced benefits available as early as age 62) for anyone with enough Social Security credits. The full retirement age is 65 for persons born before 1938. The age gradually rises until it reaches 67 for persons born in 1960 or later. People who delay retirement beyond full retirement age get special credit for each month they don’t receive a benefit until they reach age 70.
5) Survivor benefits are paid to the family of the deceased if he or she acquired enough credits while alive. These benefits are only available to certain family members according to the following conditions:
- a widow(er) age 60 or older
- a widow(er) age 50 or older if disabled
- a widow(er) any age if caring for a child under age 16
- children if they are unmarried and under age 18
- children under 19 but still in school
- children 18 or older but disabled
- parents if the deceased was their primary means of support
- a one-time payment of $255 may be made to your spouse or minor children when you die
- ex-spouse if he or she is eligible for benefits on the record of the deceased
What are Supplemental Security Income benefits?
Supplemental Security Income benefits (SSI) augment income for those who have low earnings and very few assets. This is only payable to those who are 65 or older or are disabled. SSI benefits are financed by generaltax revenues and therefore are not paid from Social Security trust funds and are not based on past earnings.
How do I file for Social Security Income?
To file for benefits, get information, set up an appointment at your local Social Security office or speak to a Social Security representative, call the toll-free number 1-800-772-1213. You can also apply for your benefits online at www.ssa.gov.
Eligibility documents are necessary to file for benefits. These include a birth certificate of each family member applying, a marriage certificate if your spouse is applying, and your most recent W-2 form (or tax return if you’re self-employed).
Who can I contact for more information about Social Security?
The US Social Security Administration has a comprehensive website where you can find answers to your questions and estimate the benefits you will receive upon retirement. You can also call their toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213, or use our Resource Locator to contact the Social Security Office near you.
US Social Security Administration: http://www.ssa.gov/