Democracy substitutes election by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few. ~George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, "Maxims: Education," 1905


PREMIUM LEGAL RESOURCES LEGAL FORMS ASK A LAWYER

by the Social Security Administration

1.) MOST FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS & ANSWERS

2.) THE APPEALS PROCESS FACTSHEET

SOCIAL SECURITY CARDS AND NUMBERS

Q: I don't have a Social Security number. What should I do?

A: If you don't have a S.S. number, you must apply for one from S.S. There is no charge for this service. You can call S.S.'s toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213, and ask for an application for a S.S. card. You may also obtain this application at any S.S. office. If you are 18 or older, you must go to a S.S. office in person to apply.

Q: I lost my S.S. card so I called S.S.'s toll-free number, 1-800-772- 1213, and asked for an application for a replacement card. When I get the application, do I have to provide documents to prove my identity?

A: Yes. Page two of the application lists examples of the identity documents we will accept. You must supply us with originals or certified copies of these documents. If you were not born in the U.S., you will need to submit evidence showing your U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status.

Q: I ve always carried my S.S. card in my wallet. Now, I'm wondering if that's a good idea because my wallet could be lost or stolen and my S.S. number could be used by someone else.

A: It is important to protect both your S.S. card and your number. You can prevent the loss or misuse of your card by keeping it with other valuable personal documents, such as your insurance papers and birth certificate. However, there are occasions when you will need to have your card with you - when you apply for a new job or when you open a bank account, for example. If your card should be lost or stolen, you can apply for a replacement card. If you have evidence that someone is using your S.S. card or number, call S.S. at 1-800-772-1213.

MISLEADING INFORMATION

Q: I recently married and received a letter from a company offering to take care of changing my name on S.S. records for a fee. The letter and the envelope it came in certainly gave me the impression that they were connected with S.S. I learned later they weren't and I also learned that S.S. provides this service for free so I would like to report this company to someone. What should I do?

A: To report the company, refer the complete mailing, including the envelope, to:

S.S. Administration Office of Public Affairs, Misleading Information Post Office Box 17740, Baltimore, Maryland 21235

If it's more convenient, you can take the entire package to your local postmaster, or send a complaint that includes the package to the:

Chief Postal Inspector United States Postal Service 475 L'Enfant Plaza, SW Washington, DC 20260-2100

Also, advise your State's Attorney General or Consumer Affairs Office and the Better Business Bureau in your area. Remember, ALL S.S. SERVICES ARE FREE.

800 NUMBER

Q: I can't get to a phone during business hours. Can I call at night to get an application for a S.S. card?

A: Yes. You can apply for an original or replacement S.S. card by calling S.S.'s toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213, on your touchtone phone after 7 PM on weekends. You'll be asked to give your name and address and the application form will be mailed to you within two weeks.

DIRECT DEPOSIT

Q: I've been told that direct deposit has many advantages. What are they?

A: Among other advantages, direct deposit will mean: 1. you won't need to worry about your checks being lost,stolen, or misplaced; 2. you won't have to worry about cashing your check if you're hospitalized or in ill health; 3. you can be away from home without the worry of a check sitting unprotected in your mailbox; and 4. you won't have to make a special trip to your bank or stand in line to deposit your check.

Q: I'm receiving S.S. My friend tells me that I should have my retirement check sent to my bank. How does this work?

A: Your first step is to call your bank or S.S.'s toll-free number, 1- 800-772-1213, and say that you want to sign up for direct deposit. When you call, have your S.S. number and your checkbook, bank statement, or any papers that show your bank account number. Direct deposit should take effect with either your next check or the one that follows it. Your payment will then be deposited in your savings or checking account each month, automatically.

Q: When is the best time to call S.S.'s toll-free number to get information about direct deposit?

A: You can get more information about how to begin direct deposit of your monthly S.S. check by calling S.S.'s toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213, any business day between 7 AM and 7 PM. Our lines are busiest early in the week and early in the month, so it's best to call at other times.

CHANGE OF ADDRESS

Q: I need to change my address on my S.S. records. How do I do it?

A: Call S.S.'s toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213, and tell them your new address including the ZIP code, your new telephone number, and your S.S. claim number. Our lines are busiest early in the week and early in the month, so it's best to call at other times.

Q: My mother will be moving in January. What does she need to do to make sure she won't miss any of her S.S. checks?

A: Your mother needs to inform S.S. of her new address and phone number as soon as she knows them. She can make a telephone report by calling S.S.'s toll free number, 1-800-772-1213, or she can write or visit the office. Her report should include her S.S. number. Your mother also needs to file a change of address form with the post office.

EARNINGS RECORD

Q: How often should I check my S.S. earnings record? Is there much of a chance that an error may occur?

A: You should check your S.S. earnings record at least once every three years. Errors in your earnings record are more likely to occur if you change jobs frequently or have more than one employer. To check your S.S. earnings record, contact your local S.S. office or call our toll-free number: 1-800-772-1213 and ask for the "Request For Personal Earnings And Benefit Estimate Statement (Form 7004). The form asks a few identifying questions (name, address, date of birth, etc.). About a month after you send in the form, you'll receive a statement that shows your earnings as reported to S.S. by your employer(s). Check our records against your own files. If you find an error, contact S.S. right away with proof of your actual earnings (such as a W-2 form). Our lines are busiest early in the week and early in the month, so it's best to call at other times.

Q: I was talking to an employee benefit specialist at work and she told me that S.S. has a financial planning service. I don't understand the connection between financial planning and S.S.

A: S.S. is not in the financial planning business. However, S.S. can offer you a free Personal Earnings and Benefit Estimate Statement to help you in assessing your financial planning needs. The statement gives you a breakdown of all the wages reported under your S.S. number as well as estimates of what S.S. benefits you and your family would be eligible for. Once you know what to expect from S.S., you can plan your other financial needs. To get your free Personal Earnings and Benefit Estimate Statement, call S.S.'s toll-free number or your nearest S.S. office.

PROOF OF BENEFITS

Q: I need proof of what I receive from S.S. What can I use?

A: Every year S.S. will send you an SSA-1099 form showing how much you received from S.S. in the past year. You can use this as proof of your benefit amount. We'll also send you a notice when your amount increases because of an annual cost of living raise. You can show this notice as proof of how much you get.

BENEFIT COMPUTATIONS

Q: Why is my neighbor's check more than mine?

A: Benefit computations are based on a person's date of birth and complete work history, so differences are very likely. To protect each person's privacy, we cannot give you information about someone else's S.S. record.

RETIREMENT

Q: Are my benefits figured on my last five years of earnings?

A: No. Retirement benefits are calculated on total earnings during a lifetime of work under the S.S. system. Years of high earnings will increase the amount of the benefit, but no group of years counts more than another group.

Q: Will my retirement pension from my job reduce the amount of my S.S. benefit?

A: If your pension is from work where you also paid S.S. taxes, it will not affect your S.S. benefit. Pensions from work that are not covered by S.S. for example, the federal civil service and some state or local government systems probably will reduce the amount of your S.S. benefit.

Q: I will be 62 on August 2 of this year and that's when I plan on retiring. Will my first benefit check be for the month of August or September?

A: Since you were born on the first or second day of the month, you will be eligible the month you were born-- August. But, in most cases, S.S. retirement benefits do not begin the month the person reaches 62; benefits usually begin the following month. To receive retirement benefits, you must be at least age 62 for the entire month. But, the law says that you "attain" your age the day before your birthday. Since you were born on August 2, you legally attain your age on August 1; therefore you're eligible for benefits for August because you're considered 62 for the entire month.

Q: My neighbor, who is retired, told me that the income he receives from his part-time job at the local nursery has also given him an increase in his S.S. benefits. Can that be right?

A: People who return to work after they start receiving benefits may be able to receive a higher benefit based on those earnings. This is because S.S. automatically recomputes the benefit amount after the additional earnings are credited to the individual s earnings record. The earnings can be an advantage as long as they do not exceed the annual exempt amount.

Q: If I work after I start receiving S.S. retirement benefits, will I have to pay FICA taxes?

A: Yes, and your extra earnings may increase your benefits. For additional information, call your local S.S. office or S.S.'s toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213.

Q: I am 70 years of age and still working. Do I have a responsibility to report my earnings to S.S.?

A: In the year you reach age 70, you are responsible for reporting your earnings for the months before the month you reach 70. You do not have to report your earnings if you are 70 or older all year. You can report your earnings by calling S.S.'s toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213 or contacting your local S.S. office. Representatives at the toll-free number can give you the address and telephone number of your nearest S.S. office.

Q: I am almost 62 years old and I understand I can retire at that age and collect S.S. benefits, but that they will be less than if I wait until 65 to retire. How does that work?

A: Your benefits are reduced five-ninths of one percent for each month you are retired before age 65, up to a maximum of 20 percent for people who retire the month they reach 62. But remember, by taking benefits at 62, you'll receive S.S. checks for a longer period of time.

Q: I think S.S. is a rip off compared to a private retirement plan I have. Can I drop out of S.S.?

A: No. S.S. coverage is mandatory. But consider this: unlike your private plan, S.S. provides disability and survivors coverage in addition to retirement benefits. And S.S. generally offers greater protection for family members than private pensions.

Q: I have two children at home and I plan to retire next fall. Will my children be eligible for monthly S.S. checks after I retire?

A: Monthly S.S. payments may be made to unmarried children under age 18, or age 19 if still in high school or children age 18 or over who were severely disabled before age 22 and who continue to be disabled.

Q: I've heard that some people get S.S. retirement benefits and continue working. I'd like to try doing this, but I'm afraid the rules and paper work will be too complicated. Is it hard to follow the rules?

A: It's easier than you think. When you apply for your retirement benefits, the S.S. representative will explain how your earnings will affect your benefit checks. You will need to estimate your future earnings and, at the end of each year, file a report of your actual earnings. Your benefits will be paid based on your estimated earnings so your estimate needs to be as accurate as possible. After you report your actual earnings, we will send you an additional check for benefits you are due if your original estimate was too high. If your estimate was too low and you are overpaid, the money will be withheld from your checks in the next year.

S.S. TAXES

Q: I'm a married woman who works and pays S.S. taxes. A friend of mine told me she'll be eligible for S.S. benefits on her husband's record, even though she's never worked or paid S.S. taxes. That doesn't seem fair. Does that mean that the S.S. taxes I'm paying are wasted, since I could get benefits on my husband's record without ever working?

A: The S.S. taxes you are paying are not wasted. As a married woman who works and pays S.S. taxes, you have advantages by being eligible for your own benefit. You may get a higher benefit when you retire than if your benefit was based solely on your husband's earnings. You can retire before your husband, based on your own earnings, even though your husband continues to work. As a working woman, you earn disability protection for you and your dependent children. Also, in the event of your death, your survivors may be eligible for benefits based on your earnings.

Q: I'm considering opening a small business. Will I pay more in S.S. taxes than I did when I worked for someone else?

A: Yes and no. Self-employed people pay twice as much in S.S. taxes as employees pay. However, because employers pay a matching share, the combined rate is the same as the self-employment tax. But there are special tax credits you can take when you file your tax return that are intended to lower your overall rate. In 1994, the self-employment tax rate is 15.3 percent of your net profit up to $60,600. But if your net earnings exceed $60,600, you must continue to pay the Medicare portion of the S.S. tax (2.9 percent) on the remainder of your earnings. For more information about your tax responsibilities as the owner of a small business, call the IRS toll-free number 1-800-829-1040.

Q: I think I could do better if you let me invest the S.S. I pay into an IRA or some other investment plan. What do you think?

A: Maybe you could--but then again, maybe your investments wouldn't work out. Remember these facts: * your S.S. taxes pay for potential disability and survivors benefits as well as for retirement benefits; * S.S. incorporates social goals - such as giving more protection to families and to low income workers - that are not part of private pension plans; and * S.S. benefits are adjusted yearly for increases in the cost-of-living - a feature not present in many private plans.

Q: Both my husband and I work and pay S.S. taxes. On which record will my benefits be based?

A: You will receive benefits based on your work record if you work long enough under S.S. - usually 10 years - to be entitled to benefits. If your wife's benefit is more that your own S.S., you will receive an additional amount on your husband's record.

SURVIVOR'S BENEFITS

Q: My ex-wife died a month ago and I was wondering if our children, ages 11 and 14, would be eligible for S.S. benefits?

A: Possibly. It depends on whether she had enough work credits to be insured. If she did, your children may be eligible for benefits. You should apply for survivors benefits promptly because benefits are generally retroactive only up to 6 months. You can apply by calling S.S.'s toll-free number, 1- 800-772-1213, or by calling your local S.S. office.

Q: My two children and I have been receiving survivors benefits since my wife died. Will these benefits continue if I remarry?

A: Your remarriage would have no effect on the benefits being paid to your children. If you get benefits only because you are caring for your children, your benefits would end at the time of your remarriage unless you marry someone who is receiving S.S. benefits.

Q: My mother, a widow, died in late January. S.S. tells me that I must return her January benefit check even though she was alive through most of the month. Why is this?

A: S.S. benefits are not pro-rated. To be entitled to a S.S. benefit check for a given month, the person must be alive the entire month. No benefit is payable for the month of death.

Q: I'm a 63-year-old widow receiving reduced S.S. benefits. Can I switch to a higher benefit when I turn 65?

A: Ordinarily, you can't change from a reduced benefit to a full benefit when you reach age 65. But if you are a widow or widower who already has earned enough credits to get S.S. on your own record, or you are continuing to work at higher earnings, you may be able to switch to a higher benefit. You should contact your S.S. office to ask for a benefit computation.

Q: When a S.S. beneficiary dies, does the funeral home notify S.S. or is notification up to the family?

A: Many funeral directors voluntarily provide death information directly to S.S. But, family members of a deceased individual still have the legal responsibility to notify S.S.

Q: My wife, who had worked for about six years, died last month and now I am the sole support for our two young children. Am I eligible for S.S. survivors benefits?

A: Possibly. Depending on your wife's age at death, she may have had enough work credit to be insured. If she was, you and your children may be eligible for benefits. However, if you're working, your earnings may reduce your S.S. benefits.

Q: Our daughter, who had two young children, passed away two years ago. Her husband is planning to remarry and his fiance wants to adopt the children after the marriage. Will the children lose the S.S. survivor's benefits that they currently receive?

A: No. The adoption of a child already entitled to survivor's benefits does not terminate the child's benefits.

MAXIMUM FAMILY BENEFIT

Q: I ve heard that there is a maximum family benefit under S.S. Does this mean that once the maximum is reached, some family members won t get benefits?

A: No. Under S.S., each family member entitled to receive a monthly benefit will receive one. The total benefits received by the family, however, cannot exceed the family maximum amount. That amount is divided among all entitled dependents. The more dependents who receive benefits on the worker s S.S. record, the lower the benefit amount will be for each dependent.

SUPPLEMENTAL SECURITY INCOME

Q: Is the SSI payment for an eligible couple twice that of an eligible individual? And if it isn t, why not?

A: The SSI program provides a basic Federal payment of for an eligible individual and a larger amount for an eligible couple. The payment for a couple is lower than that made to two individuals because married people living together generally share expenses and live more economically than two people living independently.

Q: My father, who receives Supplemental Security Income, just received an insurance settlement as a result of fire damage to his home. Must he report this money to S.S. as income ?

A: No. As long as the money is used to repair the damage to his home, it doesn't count as income for SSI purposes.

Q: My aunt recently broke her hip and can't get around well enough to take care of herself any longer. I want her to come stay with me. She receives Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and thinks that her checks will be reduced if she moves in with me. Is this true?

A: As long as your aunt plans to return to her permanent residence, a temporary stay with you of less than a month will not affect her SSI. There are also some other options your aunt may want to explore. She may be able to stay home and receive help from her State or county. Many States offer services like housekeeping help and meals to SSI recipients. For more information, your aunt should contact her local social services office.

Q: I just got a notice from S.S. that said my Supplemental Security Income (SSI) case is being reviewed. What does this mean?

A: S.S. reviews every Supplemental Security Income case from time to time to make sure the individuals who are receiving checks should continue to get them. The review also determines if the individuals are receiving the correct amounts.

TELECOMMUNICATIONS DEVICE FOR THE DEAF (TDD) SERVICES

Q: Can I use my TDD (Telecommunications Device for the Deaf) to call S.S. on the national S.S. toll-free voice line?

A: TDD use is limited to the special toll-free TDD service line. Voice calls should not be made to the TDD toll- free number and TDD calls should not be made to other S.S. numbers established for voice callers. The S.S. national TDD toll-free number is 1- 800-325-0778, the S.S. toll-free number established for voice callers is 800-772-1213.

DISABILITY

Q: I understand that to get S.S. disability benefits, your disability must be expected to last at least a year. Does this mean that you must wait a year after being disabled before you can get benefits?

A: You do not have to wait a year after being disabled before you can get benefits. You should file as soon as you can after becoming disabled and benefits begin after a 5-month waiting period. The waiting period begins with the month S.S. decides your disability began.

Q: I have been receiving S.S. disability benefits for the past four years and my condition has not improved. Is there a time limit on S.S. disability benefits?

A: No. You will continue to receive a disability benefit as long as your condition keeps you from working. But, your case will be reviewed periodically to see if there has been any improvement in your condition and whether you are still eligible for benefits. And, if you are still eligible when you reach 65, your disability benefit will be automatically converted to retirement benefits.

Q: I had a serious back injury four years ago and received disability benefits for about 18 months until I could return to work. Unfortunately, my back problems have recurred and I don't know how much longer I will be able to continue working. When I initially applied for benefits, I waited several months before I received my first check. If I reapply for benefits, will my wait be as long as it was the first time?

A: Maybe not. It depends on what the new medical reports say and whether additional evidence is required. A worker who becomes disabled a second time within five years after benefits stop can have his or her checks start again, beginning with the first full month of disability if the new claim is approved.

Q: My brother had an accident at work last year and is now receiving S.S. disability benefits for himself, his wife, and daughter. Before his accident, he helped support another daughter by a woman to whom he has never been married. Is the second child entitled to some benefits as well?

A: Yes, even though your brother wasn't married to the second child's mother, S.S. pays benefits to all of his children, even if they were born out of wedlock. Each child is entitled equal benefits.

PROPER DOCUMENTATION

Q: I'm getting ready to sign up for S.S. I heard I have to show you my birth certificate. I've got a copy of it in my safe deposit box. Is this good enough?

A: It depends on what you mean by a "copy." If it's a copy of your birth record that's been certified by the agency that issued your birth certificate, then it's acceptable. "Certified" means it's been signed by the issuing agency and has a raised seal. If all you have is an uncertified photocopy, that's not legally acceptable.

REPRESENTATIVE PAYEES Q: I have an elderly friend who receives S.S. benefits. I'm concerned that she's unable to manage her money to pay her bills on time. Can S.S. help her?

A: Yes. When an individual who gets S.S. or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) checks is unable to manage benefits in his or her own best interest, the S.S. Administration appoints a representative payee to assume these responsibilities. In these cases, the S.S. or SSI benefits are sent directly to the representative payee. The payee takes care of using funds for the personal care and well-being of the beneficiary and agrees to report certain changes in the beneficiary's circumstances that could affect the continuing eligibility to receive benefits. To get more information, call your local S.S. office and ask about "representative payees."

TAXABLE EARNINGS

Q: My 17-year-old daughter has a summer job keeping house for a couple of neighborhood women. Are her earnings taxable for S.S.?

A: Yes. If she earns more than $50 in a calendar quarter from one employer, her earnings are taxable. The employer needs to deduct S.S. taxes from her check. For more information, call S.S.'s toll-free number, 1-800- 772-1213 and ask for the factsheet "Household Workers" (Publication No. 05- 10021).

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A FACTSHEET: THE APPEALS PROCESS

SSA Publication No. 05-10041 September 1993

S.S. wants to be sure that every decision made about your S.S. or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) claim is correct. We carefully consider all the information in your case before we make any decisions that affect your eligibility or your benefit amount.

If we decide that you are not eligible, no longer eligible for benefits, or that the amount of your payments should be changed, we'll send you a letter explaining our decision. If you don't agree with our decision, you can ask us to look at your case again. This is called an appeal.

When you ask for an appeal, we will look at the entire decision, even those parts which were in your favor. If our decision was wrong, we will change it.

WHEN AND HOW TO APPEAL

If you wish to appeal, you must make your request in writing within 60 days from the date you receive our letter. We assume you receive the letter five days after the date on it, unless you can show us you received it later. Call your S.S. office if you need help with your appeal.

THE FOUR APPEAL LEVELS

There are four levels of appeal. They are: (1) reconsideration, (2) hearing by an administrative law judge, (3) review by the Appeals Council, and (4) federal court review. When we send you a letter about a decision on your claim, we'll tell you how to appeal the decision.

RECONSIDERATION

A reconsideration is a complete review of your claim by someone who didn't take part in the first decision. We will look at all the evidence submitted when the original decision was made plus any new evidence.

Most reconsiderations involve a review of your files without the need for you to be present. But when you appeal a decision that you are no longer eligible for disability benefits because your condition has improved, you have a choice of a file review or meeting with a S.S. representative to discuss your case. You can meet with a disability hearing officer and explain why you believe you still have a disability.

CONTINUATION OF BENEFITS

In some cases, you may ask us to continue paying your benefits while we make a decision on your appeal. You can ask for this continuation of benefits when: * you are appealing our decision that you are no longer eligible for S.S. disability benefits because your condition has improved, or * you are appealing our decision that you are no longer eligible for SSI payments or that your SSI payment should be reduced.

If you want your benefits to continue, you must tell us within 10 days of the date you receive our letter. If your appeal is turned down, you may have to pay back any money you weren't eligible to get.

HEARING

If you disagree with the reconsideration decision, you may ask for a hearing. The hearing will be conducted by an administrative law judge who had no part in the first decision or the reconsideration of your case.

The hearing is usually held within 75 miles of your home. The administrative law judge will notify you of the time and place of the hearing.

You and your representative, if you have one, may come to the hearing and explain your case in person. You may look at the information in your file and give new information.

The administrative law judge will question you and any witnesses you bring to the hearing. You or your representative may also question the witnesses.

It is usually to your advantage to attend the hearing. If you don't wish to do so, you must tell us in writing that you don't want to attend. Unless the administrative law judge believes your presence is needed to decide the case, he or she will make a decision based on all the information in your case, including any new information given.

After the hearing, we will send you a letter and a copy of the administrative law judge's decision.

REVIEW BY THE APPEALS COUNCIL

If you disagree with the hearing decision, you may ask for a review by S.S.'s Appeals Council. We'll be glad to help you ask for a review by the Appeals Council. The Appeals Council looks at all requests for review, but it may deny a request if it believes the hearing decision was correct.

If the Appeals Council decides to review your case, it will either decide your case itself or return it to an administrative law judge for further review. You will receive a copy of the Appeals Council's decision or order sending it back to an administrative law judge.

FEDERAL COURT ACTION

If you disagree with the Appeals Council's decision or if the Appeals Council decides not to review your case, you may file a lawsuit in a federal district court.

YOUR RIGHT TO REPRESENTATION

Many people handle their own S.S. appeals with free help from S.S. But you can choose a lawyer, a friend, or someone else to help you. Someone you appoint to help you is called your representative. We will work with your representative just as we would work with you.

Your representative can act for you in most S.S. matters and will receive a copy of any decisions we make about your claim.

Your representative cannot charge or collect a fee from you without first getting written approval from S.S. If you want more information about having a representative, contact S.S. We can give you a free factsheet called S.S. and Your Right to Representation (Publication No. 05-10075).

FOR MORE INFORMATION

If you have questions about your right to appeal, call S.S.'s toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213.

The S.S. Administration treats all calls confidentially whether they're made to our toll-free numbers or to one of our local offices. We also want to ensure that you receive accurate and courteous service. That is why we have a second S.S. representative monitor some incoming and outgoing telephone calls.

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