Your Unanswered Questions...Answered

Social Security 101: What's in it for me Promo Graphic

How long does it take to process my application for benefits?


The length of time it takes to process your application depends on the type of application you have filed and if you provided all the necessary documents to process your claim. For a Disability, or, Supplemental Security Income application, it can take three to five months to make an initial decision.

Once we approve your application for Retirement, Survivors, or Medicare benefits, you can expect your payments to start within 30 to 60 days if you signed up for direct deposit.

How do you calculate my payment amount?


The amount of your monthly payment will depend on how much you earned when you were working, and when you want to start collecting your Social Security payment.  We calculate your retirement payments based on the monthly average of your highest 35 earnings years.

You can use our Retirement Estimator to get personalized estimates of your retirement payment amounts. Calcule sus beneficios de jubilacion acqui.

How can I find out about jobs at Social Security?


You can find information about current Social Security employment opportunities on the Social Security Careers Home page.

The Office of Personnel Management also provides information about jobs at Federal Government agencies, including the Social Security Administration (SSA), at: http://www.usajobs.opm.gov/.

Why didn’t I get a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for 2011?


By law, Social Security and Supplemental Security Income benefits increase automatically if there is an increase in the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W), from the third quarter of the year in which a Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) was last determined to the corresponding period of the current year. There was no increase in the CPI-W from the third quarter of 2008 to the third quarter of 2010, therefore, there will be no COLA in 2011.

For more information on COLA, visit Cost-of-Living Adjustments

How many credits do I need in order to qualify for Social Security retirement?


The amount of credits you need to qualify for social security retirement is the same amount no matter where you work: whether it is for a company, the government, yourself, the military, or a nonprofit organization, you need 40 credits to qualify.

When you work and pay Social Security taxes, you earn up to a maximum of four credits for each year. The amount of money needed to earn one credit usually goes up every year.

In 2010, you had to make $1,120 to earn one credit. Therefore, if you had income of $4,480 in 2010, you would earn four credits for that year.
In some cases, you can qualify for social security payments with fewer than the usual 40 credits.
The number of credits you need depends on your age and the type of social security payments you are applying for. 

What are Delayed Retirement Benefits?


You may choose to keep working even beyond your full retirement age, which is age 67 for anyone born 1960 or later. If you do, you can increase your future Social Security benefits. For information about delayed retirement credits, refer to our Retirement Benefits electronic publication. Once there, navigate to the middle of the page and you will find the section called, Delayed Retirement.

How can disabled children get Social Security?


Children from birth to age 18 with a disability or blindness can receive monthly payments if the child’s:

To find out specific information about your child’s eligibility for Social Security, we encourage you to contact us through any of our normal channels of communication.

Can I get disability after I start getting retirement payments?


If you are receiving Social Security retirement payments, and become disabled after you file, refer to our electronic publication, Disability Benefits

Can I still get disability payments while I’m working?


Refer to our publication, Working While Disabled-How We Can Help, for more information about work limits when receiving disability benefits.

What information do you have for employers?


We have several resources and publications available for employers at our Business Service site. Check out our “Frequently Asked Questions about Business Services”, as well as all our other sites: Retirement, Disability, Survivors, Supplemental Security Income, and Medicare.

If you don’t happen to find the answer to your specific question, feel free to contact us through any of our normal channels of communication.

My paycheck shows a decuction for FICA taxes or OASDI.  What is that?


When you work, you pay taxes into Social Security. These taxes are collected under the Federal Insurance Contributions Act, or FICA, for short.  OASDI is just another abbreviation for Social Security taxes.

FICA also requires your employer to match what you pay, and contribute the money to the Social Security Trust Fund.
For more information about Social Security taxes, visit this page on our website.

Why do I need to start planning and saving for retirement now?


Most financial advisors say retirees will need 70 percent or more of pre-retirement earnings to live comfortably. The average Social Security retirement payment makes up about 40 percent of a person’s pre-retirement earnings.  So young adults will need private pensions, savings and investments to make up the difference. As a young adult, consider planning, saving and investing early. We strongly encourage you to do your own research about saving and investing and pick a plan that works best for you. As you plan for your financial future, refer to our Benefits Planners site, to help you better understand your Social Security protection.

In 2009, we launched a research initiative to better inform the public about retirement planning options, the Financial Literacy Initiative. We are working on this project with the Financial Literacy Research Consortium (FLRC).  The FLCRS consists of three non-partisan, multidisciplinary research centers at Boston College, the RAND Corporation, and the University of Wisconsin.

For free financial planning information, visit: www.socialsecurity.gov/planners., www.choosetosave.org, and www.mymoney.gov.

I believe someone is committing fraud against Social Security. How do I report that?


Social Security considers reports of fraud very seriously. The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) investigates instances of Social Security-related fraud, waste, and program abuse. To report fraud cases, you can reach us by Internet, mail, fax, and phone.

I think someone may be using my Social Security number. What do I do?


The Federal Trade Commission is the agency that handles identity theft; if you believe your identity has been stolen, you should contact that agency to find out what action you need to take.  For general information about protecting your Social Security number, you can refer to our electronic publication, Identify Theft and Your Social Security Number.

I keep hearing that  Social Security isn’t going to be there for my generation. Is that true?


When it comes to the question “will Social Security be there for me?” the first thing to remember is that, it is there for you today in the form of disability and survivor's insurance.

But as far as the long term solvency of the program and whether Social Security is “going broke,” it is really important to understand that when people use the term bankruptcy when talking about the Social Security trust funds, it is not bankruptcy in the same sense as when a person goes bankrupt.

Without any changes to the program, according to the most recent Social Security Board of Trustees Report, Social Security will be able to pay full benefits until 2037. After 2037, again, without any changes to the program, Social Security will still be able to pay about 75% of the scheduled payments we would normally pay to each eligible person. While 75% is not ideal, the fact is that Social Security will not be broke nor will it be insolvent in the way most of us think of those terms. Social Security will still be able to pay 75% after 2037 because millions of people will continue to work and pay payroll taxes. The payroll taxes of today’s workers fund the benefits of today’s retirees. When today’s young workers reach retirement age, and are ready to collect benefits, their kids and grandkids, the workers of tomorrow, will fund their Social Security benefits.

The Social Security program is still strong and will be for decades to come.  Social Security has successfully adapted to the changing needs of the American public over the course of its 75-year history and we will continue to adapt to the changing needs of the people we serve. Any changes to Social Security will need to be worked out between congress and the administration.+


How can you avoid cutting future payments to today’s young workers?

There are a finite number of ways to make sure the Social Security program stays strong. They boil down to two categories. Either you increase the amount of money coming into the program or you reduce the amount of money going out. As mentioned, those changes are up to Congress to decide.

What do non-citizens need to do to get a Social Security number and card?


In general, only noncitizens who have permission to work from the Department of Homeland Security can apply for a Social Security number. If you do not have permission to work, you may apply for a Social Security number only if the law requires you to provide a Social Security number to get general assistance benefits you already have qualified for. Lawfully admitted noncitizens can get many benefits and services without a Social Security number. You do not need a number to conduct business with a bank, register for school, apply for educational tests, obtain private health insurance, apply for school lunch programs, or apply for subsidized housing. You cannot get a Social Security number for the sole purpose of obtaining a driver’s license. See Application for a Social Security Card;(SS-5).  For more information, see Social Security Numbers For Noncitizens or Documents You Need for a Social Security Card.

Can non-citizens get Social Security?


Typically, work performed by some non-citizens who visit the United States (U.S.) for a limited period may not be covered for Social Security purposes. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is responsible for determining whether earnings from any work are subject to Social Security (FICA) taxes. Questions regarding FICA taxes should be referred to the IRS. Check out our Immigration page for more information about our services. To find out specific information about your eligibility for Social Security, we encourage you to contact us through any of our normal channels of communication.

Can people who live outside the U.S. get Social Security payments?


If you are a United States citizen, you can travel or live in most foreign countries without affecting your eligibility for Social Security benefits. If you are planning to be outside the United States for six consecutive calendar months or more, you can find out if you can receive your Social Security payment by using the Payments Outside the United States screening tool

At what age can people start getting Medicare?


Most people age 65 or older are eligible for Medicare.  Certain people under age 65 can qualify if they are eligible for or getting Social Security disability benefits.  You can go here more specific information about qualifying for Medicare.

If you are not ready to retire but would like to file for Medicare only, you can apply online for Medicare only, or you may contact us through any of our normal channels of communication.

What counts as income for purposes of paying Social Security taxes and calculating my retirement payment amount?


We count only the wages you earn from a job or your net profit if you are self-employed. Non-work income such as pensions, annuities, investment income, capital gains and other government benefits are not counted and will not affect your Social Security retirement benefits.
Please note: there are different rules for the Extra Help with Prescription Drug Costs program and for Supplemental Security Income purposes.

What is Open Government?


The Open Government Initiative is President’s Obama’s call to all federal agencies to share information, be more accountable and involve the public in the way government serves them.  You can find out more about Social Security’s open government efforts and stay connected by visiting, Open Government at Social Security.

Do I have to pay Social Security taxes, or can I opt out?


Whether you work for yourself, an employer, the military or nonprofit organization, Social Security coverage is mandatory. But consider this: unlike your private plan, Social Security provides disability and survivors coverage in addition to retirement benefits. And Social Security generally offers greater protection for family members than private pensions.  For more information about the legal authority for collecting taxes, you should contact the IRS.

Can I receive payments if I am a Permanent Resident of the U.S.?


In most cases, in order to receive retirement payments, you will also need to provide evidence of your U.S. citizenship or lawful non-citizen status. But do not delay applying for benefits just because you do not have all the documents needed. If you do not have a document you need, we can help you get it. Visit our Social Security Redbook for further information on How do you prove that you are a lawful non-citizen.

To find out specific information about your eligibility with Social Security, we encourage you to contact us through any of our normal channels of communication.

Do I need to have an attorney represent me when I apply for disability?


You do not needto have an attorney or non-attorney representative to file for Social Security disabilitybenefits. However, you can have an authorized representative help you when you do business with Social Security. We will work with your authorized representative, just as we would with you. If you are considering selecting a representative to help you with your disability claim, check out, “Your Right To Representation”.

What is a representative payee?


When a person who gets Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is determined unable to manage their benefits in their own best interest, Social Security appoints a representative payeeto assume these responsibilities. In these cases, the person’s Social Security payments are sent directly to the representativepayee. The payeeuses these funds to take personal care and well-being of the beneficiary and agrees to report changes in the beneficiary's circumstances that could affect their benefits. Visit our Representative Payee Program site for further information.

At what age can I start collecting retirement benefits?


Currently, the earliest point a worker can start collecting Social Security payments, is at age 62. Some people decide to wait until they are older. The later you wait, the higher your monthly payment will be. Visit Retirement benefits by year of birth, for more information.

How can I find out what my retirement payment amount might be?


If you are thinking about retiring, you should explore one of our many benefit calculators. Our Retirement Estimator, uses a person’s own Social Security earnings to estimate their benefits. This interactive calculator allows a person to compare different retirement options by changing retirement dates or expected future earnings.
If you are a Federal, State, or Local Government Employee who is eligible for a pension based on work not covered by Social Security, you should check out our WEP + GPO calculators.

And if you know anyone who speaks Spanish, tell them, “calcule sus beneficios de jubilacion aqui”. 

Are there special rules if I am self-employed?


Check out our “Frequently Asked Questions about Business Services”, for information on self-employed individuals as well as all our other sites: Retirement, Disability, Survivors, Supplemental Security Income, and Medicare.

If you don’t happen to find the answer to your specific question, feel free to contact us through any of our normal channels of communication.

How can I find out more about spousal benefits, specifically for women?


Did you know we have several publications available about spouse’s benefits? Check out, “What Every Woman Should Know”, and a subpage we dedicated specifically, “For Women”.  If you don’t happen to find the answer to your specific question, feel free to contact us through any of our normal channels of communication.

Can college students get Social Security payments?


At one time, SSA did pay benefits to eligible college students, but the law changed in 1981. We now pay benefits only to students taking courses at grade 12 or below. Normally, benefits stop when a child reaches age 18 unless he or she is disabled. However, if the child is still a full-time student at a secondary (or elementary) school at age 18, benefits generally can continue until he or she graduates or until two months after he or she reaches age 19, whichever is first. For more information, visit our, Top 10 Questions Students Ask SSA.

Social Security does not offer financial aid or college credits. You may want to check out the Department of Education’s Financial Aid Overview for available resources.

What’s Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and how do I apply?


Anyone who is disabled, blind, or age 65 or older can apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). There is no age requirement to apply for SSI, but there are rules for getting SSI. If you are interested in filing an application for SSI, you should contact us through any of our normal channels of communication.

If you have a disability and are working (either for yourself or an employer) you can find information on work incentives and other topics at www.socialsecurity.gov/work. Also, be sure to check out our Red Book, A Summary Guide to Employment Support for Individuals with Disabilities Under the Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income Programs.

What is Medicaid?


Medicaidis a jointly funded, Federal-State health insurance program for low-income people. It covers children, people age 65 or older, blind, and/or disabled and other people who are eligible to receive federally assisted income maintenance payments.

Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia provide Medicaid eligibility to people eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). In these States, the SSI application is also the Medicaid application. Medicaid eligibility starts the same months as SSI eligibility. For more information, visit: Medicaid Information.

How do people qualify for survivor’s benefits?


At our Survivors Planner  you can use our interactive survivors’ calculator to estimate benefit amounts and see a variety of publications available about survivor benefits. You should also visit our Survivors website, for more information about payment eligibility.

It is important to note, even young families with children may qualify for survivor payments.

The rules can be complex and vary depending on your situation. If your spouse or ex-spouse is deceased, you can choose which benefit to apply for now or choose to postpone filing for either benefit until you reach full retirement age. For further information, refer to our publication, What You Need to Know When You Get Retirement or Survivors Benefits.

To find out specific information about your eligibility with Social Security, we encourage you to contact us through any of our normal channels of communication. 

Does Social Security withhold taxes from my benefit payments?


Social Security has no authority to withhold state or local taxes from your benefit.  You will have to pay federal taxes on your benefits if you file a federal tax return and your total income is at a certain level (more than $25,000 if filing individually, more than $32,-000 if filing jointly).  Many states and local authorities do not tax Social Security benefits.  You should contact your state or local taxing authority for more information.

For more information, call the Internal Revenue Service toll-free at 1-800-829-3676 and ask for Publication No. 915, Social Security and Equivalent Railroad Retirement Benefits.

If you wish to have federal taxes withheld from your check, refer to: Withholding income tax from your Social Security benefits.

For specific questions about your tax liability, you should contact the IRS

What effect is there on my Social Security taxes and benefits if I work part of my career overseas?


If you are among the growing number of Americans who spend part of their careers working outside the United States, you may wonder what effect this will have on your Social Security taxes and benefits. The United States has made agreements with many other countries to help you avoid double taxation while working abroad and also help you qualify for future Social Security benefits.

For a full list of the countries which the United States has Social Security agreements with, and to find out how to apply for U.S. or foreign benefits, refer to our electronic publication, How International Agreements Can Help You, and our International Programs website.

Please note: if you have questions about your individual claim and you are in the United States, please call or visit your local Social Security office. If you are outside the United States, see our list of Contacts for Services outside the United States.

I’d like a transcript of the webinar; how can I get one?


We have posted a full-text version of the transcript from the Social Security 101: What's In It For Me Webinar.

I’d like to view other Social Security webinars. Where can I find them?


You can view all our upcoming and past webinars from our Social Security homepage at www.socialsecurity.gov. Once you are on our homepage, navigate to the bottom-right hand corner of our homepage. Select the webinars icon. This will take to you a list of all our available webinars

If I’m a government employee and eligibile for a pension, can I get Social Security, too?


If you are a Federal, State, or local government employee who may be eligible for a pension based on earnings not covered by Social Security, we encourage you to visit our, Government Employees website. Our site provides you with resources explaining your eligibility with Social Security and the formula we may use to modify your benefit amount.  If you are eligible for a pension based on work not covered under Social Security, check out our Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) calculator, and the Government Pension Offset (GPO) calculator.  You can use these tools to help estimate your retirement or disability benefits if you are affected by WEP or GPO.

Work for a state or local agency, including a school system, college or university, may or may not be covered by Social Security.  Each state has their own retirement system, which determines if your earnings are covered by Social Security. For more information, visit our site, State and Local Government Employees.  Also, be sure to check out our webinar, How Some Public Employee or Teacher Pensions May Affect Social Security Benefits.

To find out specific information about your eligibility with Social Security, we encourage you to contact us through any of our normal channels of communication.

Can I change my mind and withdraw my Social Security claim?


Unexpected changes may occur after you make your decision about when to start your Social Security Retirement payments. If you change your mind, you may be eligible to  withdraw your Social Security claim and re-apply at a future date.

Can you tell me more about the Work Incentive Program?


We encourage people who have a disability and are interested in returning to work, to visit our Work Site, and, The Work incentives for People with Disabilities site. You should also check out The Red Book- a guide to work incentives.  We also have a couple of webinars available:  Ticket to Work, and Work Incentive Seminar Event (WISE), a webinar for young adults.

Can I work while collecting retirement payments?


Social Security does not issue partial retirement payments. However, when you decide to retire, you can get retirement or survivor payments and work at the same time. Refer to our How Work Affects Your Benefits publication for more information about how much you can work while receiving retirement payments from Social Security. Note that once you reach your full retirement age, you can collect your full benefit while working, no matter how much you earn.

Each year we review the records for all Social Security recipients who work. If your latest year of earnings turns out to be one of your highest years, we refigure your benefit and pay you any increase due. This is an automatic process and benefits are paid in December of the following year. For example, in December 2011, you should get an increase for your 2010 earnings if those earnings raised your benefit. The increase would be retroactive to January 2011.

Please note: different rules apply if you receive Social Security disability benefits or Supplemental Security Income payments. Also, different rules apply if you work outside of the United States.

I’m in the military and need to apply for Social Security disability. How do I go about that?


Military service members can receive expedited processing of disability claims from Social Security. Benefits available through Social Security are different from those through the Department of Veterans Affairs and require a separate application.

Social Security’s  expedited process is used for military service members who become disabled while on active military service on or after October 1, 2001, regardless of where the disability occurs.

For more information about this, visit our site, Disability Benefits for Wounded Warriors. Also, check out our webinar-Social Security for Wounded Warriors.