April 18, 2021

An Introduction to Social Security Benefits

Social Security is a federal program that impacts the lives of nearly every American. While most beneficiaries of Social Security are retirees and their families, this program also pays benefits to:

  • People who are disabled;
  • Survivors of workers who are deceased; and
  • Dependents of beneficiaries.

How does Social Security work?

When you work, a portion of your paycheck is taken to pay taxes to Social Security. It is important to understand that this money is not held in an account for your personal use, but is used to pay benefits to those who are currently Social Security beneficiaries. Any money that is unused is transferred to the Social Security trust funds for future use.

When are you eligible to receive Social Security Benefits?

  • For retirees: If you choose to retire at full retirement age, you automatically become eligible to receive your full Social Security retirement benefits. If you choose to retire before reaching full retirement age, you will receive reduced benefits for the rest of your life. As the full retirement age varies with the year of your birth, please visit http://www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/ageincrease.htm to find out your full retirement age.
  • For the disabled: Should you become unable to work to due to an injury or illness, you may meet Social Security disability requirements and therefore be eligible to collect Social Security disability benefits at any age. For more information on collecting Social Security disability, please visit: ____________
  • For the survivors of workers who are deceased: Widows, widowers, children of deceased workers and parents of deceased workers are in some cases able to collect Social Security benefits.
  • For dependents: The family members of a worker are in some cases eligible to receive benefits. This may include a spouse, an ex-spouse or a child.

If you are unsure about whether or not you qualify to receive benefits, you may wish to access BEST, the Benefits Eligibility Screening Tool. This service, offered by the Social Security Administration, will help you better determine if you are entitled to receive Social Security benefits.  Please visit BEST at: http://www.benefits.gov/ssa/

Can you receive Social Security benefits if you are still working?

You can continue to work while receiving retirement benefits. Note that if you are younger than the current full retirement age and earn more than a certain amount, your monthly benefits will be reduced. Once you reach the full retirement age, your benefits will be increased to make up for previously lost benefits.

How will your Social Security benefits impact your retirement financially?

Social Security is only intended to replace about 40 percent of an average wage earner’s income after retirement. As such, Social Security is meant to act as a supplement to the funds provided by savings, investments and private pensions.

For a quick estimate of your potential Social Security benefits, please visit: www.socialsecurity.gov/estimator.

For a more detailed calculation of your potential Social Security benefits, please visit: www.socialsecurity.gov/planners.

How do you apply for Social Security benefits?

To apply for Social Security benefits, one must complete an application and provide the requested documentation. Please visit http://www.ssa.gov/onlineservices/ to apply online or contact your local Social Security office to apply in person. A directory of Social Security offices can be found at: https://secure.ssa.gov/apps6z/FOLO/fo001.jsp

What documentation will you need to provide when you apply for benefits?

As mentioned above, when you apply for benefits, the Social Security Administration will ask you to provide certain documents. In doing so, it is crucial to make sure that your documents are originals or copies certified by the issuing office, as photocopies will not be accepted.

The following is a list of documents that you may need when filing for Social Security benefits:

  • A Social Security card;
  • A birth certificate;
  • Your children’s birth certificates and Social Security numbers;
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful immigration status if you (or a child) were not born in the United States;
  • Your spouse’s birth certificate and Social Security number;
  • Marriage certificate
  • Military discharge papers; and
  • Your most recent W-2 form, or your tax return, if you are self-employed.

Questions about Social Security?

Should you have questions regarding the application or appeals process, you may call 1-800-772-1213 toll-free. Should you be deaf or hard of hearing, you may call TTY 1-800-325-0778. These lines are available from 7a.m. to 7p.m., Monday through Friday.

For more information, visit http://www.socialsecurity.gov/

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