Question: How can I protect myself against identity theft?
Answer: First, don't carry your Social Security card with you. Keep it secure at home with your other important papers. Second, don't readily give out your Social Security number. While many banks, schools, doctors, landlords, and others will request your number, it is your decision whether to provide it. Ask if there is some other way to identify you in their records.
If you are the victim of identity theft, you should report it right away. To report identity theft, fraud, or misuse of your Social Security number, the Federal Trade Commission (the nation's consumer protection agency) recommends you:
1. Place a fraud alert on your credit file by contacting one of the following companies (the company you contact is required to contact the other two, which will then place alerts on your reports):
o Equifax, 1-800-525-6285;
o Trans Union, 1-800-680-7289; or
o Experian, 1-888-397-3742.
2. Review your credit report for inquiries from companies you have not contacted, accounts you did not open, and debts on your accounts you cannot explain;
3. Close any accounts you know, or believe, have been tampered with or opened fraudulently;
4. File a report with your local police or the police in the community where the identity theft took place; and
5. File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-438-4338 (TTY 1-866-653-4261).
Question: Can I conduct my Social Security business online in the event of a hurricane or other disaster that keeps me from visiting an office?
Answer: Yes, you can conduct most of your business with Social Security online at www.socialsecurity.gov, where you'll find a wealth of information and services. For example, you can create or access your own mySocialSecurity account, apply online for Social Security benefits or Medicare, and check the status of your pending application. If you're already receiving Social Security benefits, you can change your address, phone number, or your direct deposit information, get a replacement Medicare card, or get an instant proof of income letter. You also can get your Social Security Statement online. Your Statement lets you check and verify your earnings record and see estimates of your future benefits. You also can find out if your local office is open at www.socialsecurity.gov/emergency. That site lists any office closings and delays.
Also, make sure you receive your benefits electronically. While the mail can be disrupted during severe weather or other emergencies, electronic payments arrive in your account on time, all the time, no matter what. Go to www.socialsecurity.gov/deposit to sign up or get more information.
Question: I'm retired and the only income I have is from an Individual Retirement Account (IRA). Are my IRA withdrawals considered “earnings?” Could they reduce my monthly Social Security benefits?
Answer: No. We count only the wages you earn from a job or your net profit if you're self-employed. Non-work income such as annuities, investment income, interest, capital gains, and other government benefits are not counted and will not affect your Social Security benefits. Most pensions will not affect your benefits. However, your benefit may be affected by a government pension from work on which you did not pay Social Security tax. For more information, visit our website at www.socialsecurity.gov or call us toll free at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778).
Question: How do I earn a Social Security Credit?
Answer: Social Security credits, sometimes referred to as quarters of coverage, are the measure of your work under Social Security. You earn Social Security credits when you work and pay Social Security taxes. The credits are based on the amount of your earnings. In 2014, you receive one credit for each $1,200 of earnings, up to the maximum of 4 credits per year. Each year, the amount of earnings needed for a credit goes up slightly as average earnings levels increase. Generally, a person needs 40 credits or 10 years to be eligible for retirement benefits.
There are special rules for the self-employed. Read more about self-employment and Social Security in our online publication, If You Are Self Employed, available at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs.
To learn the amount of earnings required for Social Security credits for prior years, see Quarter of Coverage at www.socialsecurity.gov/OACT/COLA/QC.html
Question: How can I apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?
Answer: If you are applying for SSI based on a disability, you can start the process by going online to complete the disability report at www.socialsecurity.gov/disabilityssi/ssi.html. Then you can call us toll free at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) to schedule an appointment with a Social Security representative. When you meet with a representative, bring the items listed in our online publication, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), available at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs. Even if you do not have all of the things listed, apply anyway. The Social Security staff in your local office can provide guidance to help you get the information you need.
Question: I was turned down for Supplemental Security Income (SSI); can I appeal the decision?
Answer: If you disagree with a decision made on your SSI claim, you can appeal it. Learn more about appealing a decision, including how to submit your appeal online, at www.socialsecurity.gov/disabilityssi/appeal.html.
Question: Does Social Security provide special services or information for people who are blind or visually impaired?
Answer: Yes. Social Security offers a number of services and products specifically designed for people who are blind or visually impaired. If you are blind or visually impaired, you can choose to receive notices and other information from Social Security in ways that may be more convenient for you. To find out more about this service, go to our page, If You Are Blind Or Visually Impaired - Your Choices For Receiving Information from Social Security, at www.socialsecurity.gov/notices or call our toll-free number for more information at 1-800-772-1213, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Many of our publications, such as brochures and fact sheets, are available in Braille, audio cassette tapes, compact discs, or in enlarged print. Our publication, If You Are Blind Or Have Low Vision - How We Can Help, and other publications in alternative formats can be obtained by calling, toll-free, 1-800-772-121 (TTY 1-800-325-0778). For more information, see our page Public Information Materials in Alternative Media at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/alt-pubs.html.
Question: How do I know if I've worked long enough to get Social Security disability benefits?
Answer: To get Social Security disability benefits, you must meet the definition of disability under the Social Security Act and you must have worked long enough-and recently enough-under Social Security to qualify for disability benefits.
The amount of work you need to qualify for disability benefits depends on your age when you become disabled. Generally, you need 10 years of work, and that must include working 5 out of the last 10 years, ending with the year you become disabled. However, younger workers may qualify with as little as one and one half years of work earned in the three-year period ending when the disability starts. See our Disability Planner at www.socialsecurity.gov/dibplan/dqualify3.htm for credit requirements at different ages.
Question: I want to apply for Extra Help with Medicare prescription drug costs. Can state agencies also help with my Medicare costs?
Answer: When you file your application for Extra Help with Medicare prescription drug (Medicare Part D) costs, you also can start your application process for the Medicare Savings Programs-state programs that provide help with other Medicare costs. When you apply for Extra Help, Social Security will send information to your state unless you tell us not to on the application. Your state will contact you to help you apply for a Medicare Savings Program.
To apply for Extra Help and learn more, visit www.socialsecurity.gov/extrahelp.
While we're on the subject of open seasons, the open enrollment period for qualified health plans under the Affordable Care Act is November 15 to February 15. Learn more about it at www.healthcare.gov.
This article was printed in the September 21, 2014 - October 4, 2014 edition.