What are the current tax, benefit and earning (COLA) amounts?

What do the letters after a Social Security or Medicare number mean?

The codes following a Social Security number indicate the type of benefits you are entitled to. The Social Security number followed by one of these codes is often referred to as a claim number and they are only assigned once you apply for benefits. These letter codes may appear on correspondence that you receive from Social Security or on your Medicare card. They will never appear on a Social Security number card. For example, if the Social Security number of the wage earner is 123-45-6789, then once you apply for retirement benefits, your claim number is 123-45-6789A. This number will also be used as your Medicare claim number, once you are eligible for Medicare.

Code Identification
A
Primary claimant (wage earner)
B Aged wife, age 62 or over
B1 Aged husband, age 62 or over
B2 Young wife, with a child in her care
B3 Aged wife, age 62 or over, second claimant
B5 Young wife, with a child in her care, second claimant
B6 Divorced wife, age 62 or over
BY Young husband, with a child in his care
C1-C9 Child – Includes minor, student or disabled child
D Aged Widow, age 60 or over
D1 Aged widower, age 60 or over
D2 Aged widow (2nd claimant)
D3
Aged widower (2nd claimant)
D6 Surviving Divorced Wife
E Widowed Mother
E1 Surviving Divorced Mother
E4 Widowed Father
E5 Surviving Divorced Father
F1 Father
F2 Mother
F3 Stepfather
F4 Stepmother
F5 Adopting Father
F6 Adopting Mother
HA Disabled claimant (wage earner)
HB Aged wife of disabled claimant, age 62 or over
M Uninsured – Premium Health Insurance Benefits (Part A)
M1 Uninsured – Qualified for but refused Health Insurance Benefits (Part A)
T Uninsured – Entitled to HIB (Part A) under deemed or renal provisions; or Fully insured who have elected entitlement only to HIB
TA Medicare Qualified Government Employment (MQGE)
TB MQGE aged spouse
W Disabled Widow
W1 Disabled Widower
W6 Disabled Surviving Divorced Wife

NOTE: This list is not complete, but shows the most common beneficiary codes.

Do I have to pay income tax on my Social Security benefits?

Some people who get Social Security will have to pay taxes on their benefits. Less than one-third of our current beneficiaries pay taxes on their benefits.

You will have to pay federal taxes on your benefits if you file a federal tax return as an individual and your total income is more than $25,000. If you file a joint return, you will have to pay taxes if you and your spouse have a total income that is more than $32,000.

For more information, call the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) toll-free at 1-800-829-3676 and ask for IRS Publication Number 915, Social Security and Equivalent Railroad Retirement Benefits. People who are deaf or hard of hearing may call the IRS toll-free number, 1-800-829-4059.

If you wish to have federal taxes withheld from your check, see Can I have federal taxes withheld from my Social Security check?

The Social Security Administration has no authority to withhold state or local taxes from your benefit. Many states and local authorities do not tax Social Security benefits. You should contact your state or local taxing authority for more information.

Can I receive Social Security benefits and SSI?

You may be able to receive SSI in addition to monthly Social Security benefits, if your Social Security benefit is low enough to qualify. Meanwhile, the amount of your SSI benefit depends on where you live.

The basic SSI check is the same nationwide. Effective January 2009, the SSI payment for an eligible individual is $674 per month and $1,011 per month for an eligible couple. However, many states add money to the basic check. Generally, the more income you have, the less your SSI benefit will be. If your countable income is over the allowable limit, you cannot receive SSI benefits. Some of your income may not count as income for the SSI program, however. For example, the first $20 per month of your Social Security benefits may be excluded in determining your eligibility to SSI.

If you get SSI, you also may be able to get other help from your state or county. For example, you may be able to get Medicaid, food stamps, or some other social services. For information about all the services available in your community, call your local social services department or public welfare office. For complete information on the eligibility requirements for SSI, you should read Supplemental Security Income.

You can apply for Social Security benefits online. However, you cannot apply for SSI online. To do so, call toll-free 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) or visit your local Social Security office.

How can I get a certified copy of a birth certificate?

In general you may obtain a certified copy of a birth certificate by writing or visiting the Bureau of Vital Statistics in the State where you were born. For a complete listing of addresses by State, we recommend that you visit the National Center for Health Statistics website. Costs and requirements vary, so review the instructions on the website first.

Will my benefit amount be the same for the rest of my life?

Your benefit amount will not stay the same—generally, the benefit amount increases each year and protects beneficiaries against inflation. Social Security provides an annual cost-of-living increase that is based on the consumer price index. The 2009 increase for beneficiaries is 5.8 percent and the 2008 increase was 2.3 percent.

There is another way that your benefit might increase. When you work, you continue to pay Social Security taxes, even though you are receiving benefits. And because you pay these taxes, Social Security refigures your benefits to take into account your extra earnings. If the worker’s earnings for the year are higher than the earnings that were used in the original benefit computation, Social Security substitutes the new year of earnings. The higher your earnings, the more your refigured benefit might be.

We cannot tell you here how much your benefit will increase as each case is different and we recompute your benefit using your lifetime earnings. You need not take any special action. A recomputation of your benefits will be done automatically in the year following the close of the year in which you worked. Social Security usually completes all recomputations by September of the following year (remember, employers do not report your income until February 28 of the year following the year of earning). If you are entitled to a higher benefit, it is retroactive to January of the year after the year when you had the additional earnings.

My mother is disabled and I need to stay home to help care for her. Does Social Security provide benefits to a caregiver or housekeeper?

No. There is no provision in the Social Security Act to provide benefits for caregivers of the aged or disabled. However, you may want to contact your local Social Services or Welfare department to determine if there are any locally sponsored programs that might provide you with assistance. They may also be able to provide you with the names of organizations that might help.

Can I borrow from my future Social Security benefits?

No. The Social Security program is not intended to be a source from which people can borrow. The Social Security benefit program is a system of social insurance designed to protect workers and their families against the loss of earnings due to retirement, severe and extended disability, or death. Benefits are intended to replace part of the earnings lost to the worker and the family when the worker retires, becomes disabled, or dies. The Social Security taxes that employees and employers pay on workers’ earnings are not placed in an individual worker’s account, but are pooled in special funds from which benefits are paid to eligible workers and their families. If people were permitted to borrow from the Social Security trust funds, the funds would not be available to pay benefits. In addition, there would be problems when people were unable to repay the money they borrowed or when they became disabled or died before repayment.

Can a child receive benefits on the record of a grandparent?

A dependent grandchild or step-grandchild may receive benefits on the record of a grandparent if the following requirements are met:

  • The grandchild’s natural or adoptive parents are deceased or disabled:
    • At the time the grandparent became entitled to retirement or disability insurance benefits or died; or
    • At the beginning of the grandparent’s period of disability which continued until he or she became entitled to disability or retirement insurance benefits or died.
  • The grandchild was legally adopted by the grandparent’s surviving spouse in an adoption decreed by a court of competent jurisdiction within the U.S.
  • The grandchild’s natural or adopting parent or stepparent must not have been living in the same household and making regular contributions to the child’s support at the time the grandparent died.
  • The grandchild must have lived with the grandparent in the U.S. before reaching age 18 and received at least one-half support from the grandparent for the year before the month the grandparent began receiving retirement or disability benefits or died.

Can I opt out of Social Security?

  •  

    No. 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.

    The law also does not permit a refund of Social Security taxes. The authority for the collection of taxes, including Social Security taxes, is found in the Internal Revenue Code, not the Social Security Act. (See sections 3101(a) and 3102(a) of the Code.) We suggest that you direct any questions you may have about tax liability to that Agency for consideration. The address is:

    Internal Revenue Service
    1111 Constitution Avenue NW
    Washington, D.C. 20224

How can I obtain proof of my military service?

Social Security often needs to have proof of military service. The DD-214 (Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty) is the document most often used as proof of military service.

The SF-180 is the form completed for this request. You can make an online request for proof of military service from the National Archives. See How to Request Military Service Records or Prove Military Service for more information.

Is a copy of my birth certificate good enough to prove my age?

It depends. If your copy is signed by the agency that issued your birth certificate and carries an official seal, then it is acceptable. We cannot accept an uncertified photocopy.

What are the requirements to receive Social Security benefits?

Social Security reaches almost every family, and at some point will touch the lives of nearly all Americans. Social Security helps not only older Americans, but also workers who become disabled and families in which a spouse or parent dies. Today, more than 163 million people work and pay Social Security taxes and more than 50 million people receive monthly Social Security benefits. Most beneficiaries are retirees and their families—about 34 million people. But Social Security was never meant to be the only source of income for people when they retire. Social Security replaces about 40 percent of an average wage earner’s income after retiring, and most financial advisors say retirees will need about 70–80 percent of their work income to live comfortably in retirement. To have a comfortable retirement, Americans need much more than just Social Security. They also need private pensions, savings, and investments.

The Social Security Administration wants you to understand what Social Security can mean to you and your family’s financial future. Their publication, Understanding The Benefits, explains the basics of the Social Security retirement, disability, and ­survivors insurance programs.

I am a surviving divorced spouse. Can I receive benefits on my ex-spouse’s record?

A deceased worker’s former spouse age 60 or older (as early as age 50 if disabled) may qualify for benefits if the marriage lasted at least 10 years. However, a former spouse does not have to meet the age or length-of-marriage rule if he or she is caring for the deceased worker’s child younger than age 16 or disabled and entitled based on the deceased worker’s record. The child also must be the former spouse’s natural or legally adopted child.

Take a look at “Survivor Benefits” (Pub. No. 05-10084) for more information. Benefits paid to a surviving divorced spouse 60 or older will not affect the payment amount for other survivors.

How much can I earn and still receive disability benefits?

We have special rules called work incentives that help you keep your cash benefits and Medicare while you test your ability to work. For example, there is a trial work period during which you can receive full benefits regardless of how much you earn, as long as you report your work activity and continue to have a disabling impairment.

The trial work period continues until you accumulate nine months (not necessarily consecutive) in which you perform what we call services within a rolling 60-month period. We consider your work to be services if you earn more than $700 a month in 2009. For 2008, this amount was $670.

After the trial work period ends, your benefits will stop for months your earnings are at a level we consider “substantial,” currently $980 in 2009. For 2008, this amount was $940. Different amounts apply to people who are disabled because of blindness. The monthly substantial amount for statutorily blind individuals for 2009 is $1,640; for 2008 this amount was $1,570.

For an additional 36 months after completing the trial work period, we can start your benefits again if your earnings fall below the “substantial” level and you continue to have a disabling impairment. For more information about work incentives, we recommend that you read the leaflet, Working While Disabled-How We Can Help (SSA Publication Number 05-10095).

What is the difference between Social Security disability and SSI disability?

The Social Security Administration is responsible for two major programs that provide benefits based on disability: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), which is based on prior work under Social Security, and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Under SSI, payments are made on the basis of financial need.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is financed with Social Security taxes paid by workers, employers, and self-employed persons. To be eligible for a Social Security benefit, the worker must earn sufficient credits based on taxable work to be “insured” for Social Security purposes. Disability benefits are payable to blind or disabled workers, widow(er)s, or adults disabled since childhood, who are otherwise eligible. The amount of the monthly disability benefit is based on the Social Security earnings record of the insured worker.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a program financed through general revenues. SSI disability benefits are payable to adults or children who are disabled or blind, have limited income and resources, meet the living arrangement requirements, and are otherwise eligible. The monthly payment varies up to the maximum federal benefit rate, which may be supplemented by the State or decreased by countable income and resources. See Understanding Supplemental Security Income for an explanation of SSI benefit payment rates.

Do disabled children qualify for benefits?

There are two Social Security disability programs that include disabled children.

Under the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, a child from birth to age 18 may receive monthly payments based on disability or blindness if:

Under the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program, an adult child (a person age 18 or older) may receive monthly benefits based on disability or blindness if:

  • He or she has an impairment or combination of impairments that meets the definition of disability for adults; and
  • The disability began before age 22
  • The adult child’s parent worked long enough to be insured under Social Security and is receiving retirement or disability benefits or is deceased

Can I receive Social Security benefits and SSI?

You may be able to receive SSI in addition to monthly Social Security benefits, if your Social Security benefit is low enough to qualify.

Meanwhile, the amount of your SSI benefit depends on where you live. The basic SSI check is the same nationwide. Effective January 2009, the SSI payment for an eligible individual is $674 per month and $1,011 per month for an eligible couple. However, many states add money to the basic check. Generally, the more income you have, the less your SSI benefit will be. If your countable income is over the allowable limit, you cannot receive SSI benefits. Some of your income may not count as income for the SSI program, however. For example, the first $20 per month of your Social Security benefits may be excluded in determining your eligibility to SSI.

If you get SSI, you also may be able to get other help from your state or county. For example, you may be able to get Medicaid, food stamps, or some other social services. For information about all the services available in your community, call your local social services department or public welfare office.

For complete information on the eligibility requirements for SSI, you should read Supplemental Security Income.

You can apply for Social Security benefits online. However, you cannot apply for SSI online. To do so, call our toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) or visit your local Social Security office.

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