By Michelle Tiggerman
Special to The SUN
Here are some frequently asked questions about social Security, and the answers.
Question: What are the benefits of using direct deposit or electronic payments?
• It’s safe.
• It’s secure.
• It’s convenient.
• Your checks will not get lost in the mail.
• You choose the account where your payment is deposited.
• You will get your benefits on time, even if you’re out of town or unable to get to the bank.
With few exceptions, nowadays, if you sign up for benefits, you must get your payments electronically. And if you are getting paper checks, you must switch to electronic payments by March 1, 2013. If you don’t have a bank account, you can use the Direct Express prepaid debit card to get Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments deposited directly into your account. Go to www.godirect.org.
Question: What’s the easiest way to apply for retirement benefits?
Answer: The easiest way to apply for retirement benefits is online at www.socialsecurity.gov/applyonline. It’s easy and secure. You can complete it in as little as 15 minutes. In most cases, once your application is submitted electronically, you’re done. There are no forms to sign and usually no documentation is required. Social Security will process your application and contact you if we need more information. You also can apply by calling our toll-free number, (800) 772-1213, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., Monday through Friday. Our representatives will make an appointment to take your application over the telephone or at a local Social Security office.
Question: How can I get an estimate of my retirement benefits?
Answer: Use our online Retirement Estimator at www.socialsecurity.gov/estimator. There, you can enter certain identifying information about yourself, including your name, date of birth, Social Security number, place of birth, and mother’s maiden name. If the personal information you provide matches our records, you can enter your expected retirement age and future wages. The online application will combine your earnings data Social Security has and provide you a quick and reliable online benefit estimate. You can even enter different “what if” scenarios to find out what your benefits will be in different situations. A Spanish-language Retirement Estimator is available at www.segurosocial.gov/calculador. In addition, you can obtain your online Social Security Statement, which provides estimates of future benefits as well as a record of your earnings to make sure your past earnings are reported correctly. Find the online Statement at www.socialsecurity.gov/statement.
Supplemental Security Income
Question: How do I report a change of address if I’m getting Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?
Answer: A person receiving SSI must report any change of address by calling our toll-free number, (800) 772-1213, or by visiting a local office within 10 days after the month the change occurs. You cannot complete a change of address online. You should report your new address to Social Security so you can continue to get mail from Social Security when necessary, even if you get your benefits electronically by direct deposit or Direct Express. Learn more about SSI at www.socialsecurity.gov/ssi.
Question: Is Supplemental Security Income (SSI) taxable?
Answer: No. SSI payments are not subject to federal taxes, so you will not get an annual form SSA-1099. To learn more about SSI, read our publication on the subject, “What You Need To Know When You Get Supplemental Security Income (SSI)” at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/11011.html. If you receive Social Security benefits, they may be taxed. To learn more, see www.socialsecurity.gov/planners/taxes.htm.
How does a blind or visually impaired person sign up for or change a special notice option?
Answer: To sign up or change options, you can:
• Call us toll-free at (800) 772-1213.
• Visit your local Social Security office.
• Contact the U.S. Embassy or consulate if you live outside the United States.
For more information about your choices for receiving information from Social Security, go to www.socialsecurity.gov/notices.
Question:What is a disability “trial work period?”
Answer: A trial work period is a work incentive that allows Social Security disability beneficiaries to test their ability to work without losing benefits. People who receive Social Security disability benefits can work for at least nine months without losing benefits. During this trial work period, you can get full benefits no matter how much you earn, as long as you continue to have a severe disabling impairment and you report your work activity. The trial work period continues until you complete nine trial work months within a 60-month period. Find more information about this and other work incentives in our publication, Working While Disabled — How We Can Help at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10095.html.
Question: I’m 65, not ready to retire, but I want to apply for my Medicare coverage. How can I do that?
Answer: The easiest and most convenient way is to apply online. Use our online application to sign up for Medicare. It takes less than 10 minutes. In most cases, once your application is submitted electronically, you’re done. There are no forms to sign and usually no documentation is required. Social Security will process your application and contact you if we need more information. Otherwise, you’ll receive your Medicare card in the mail. It’s convenient, quick and easy. There’s no need to drive to a local Social Security office or wait for an appointment with a Social Security representative. Get started today at www.socialsecurity.gov/medicareonly.