PREMIUM LEGAL RESOURCES
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
Q: Will my retirement pension from my job reduce the amount of my S.S.
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
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
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.
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
* 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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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."
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-
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
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.
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
* 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.
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
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
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
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
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
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