Social Security Administration

What You Need To Know When You Get Retirement or Survivors Benefits

SSA Publication No. 05-10077
January 1998
ICN 468300

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Why You Should Read This Booklet

Now that your Social Security benefits have started, you have important rights––and equally important responsibilities. This booklet explains them. It tells you what services we offer and what we’ll do to keep you up-to-date about changes that may affect your benefits. It also explains what you need to report to us so we can keep your benefits coming on time every month and in the right amount.

We suggest you take time now to read this booklet and then put it in a safe place so you can refer to it in the future.

If you receive a Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payment in addition to Social Security benefits, you should know that there are different rules for that program. The booklet, Social Security—What You Need To Know When You Get SSI (Publication No. 05-11011), explains those rules. Copies are available from Social Security.

There are different rules for people who receive Social Security benefits because they have a disability. The booklet, Social Security––What You Need To Know When You Get Disability Benefits(Publication No. 05-10153), explains those rules. Copies are available from Social Security.

Social Security’s Toll-Free Number
Call 24 hours a day,
including weekends and holidays.
To speak to a representative,
call between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.
any business day.

What’s Inside

Part 1: About Your Benefits
When And How Your Benefits Are Paid
Paying Taxes On Your Benefits
Your Personal Information Is Safe With SocialSecurity

Part 2: Services We Offer
Our 24-Hour Toll-Free Telephone Service
Internet Access
Free Service
What We Will Report To You
How We Will Report To You

Part 3: What You Need To Report To Us
Your Responsibilities
Change In Your Estimated Earnings
If You Move
Changing Direct Deposit Accounts
A Person Who Is Unable To Manage Funds
Getting A Pension From Non-Covered Work
Marriage Or Divorce
If You Change Your Name
Caring For A Child Who Receives Benefits
If A Beneficiary Is Convicted Of A Criminal Offense
Leaving The United States
If You Are A Noncitizen
The Death Of A Beneficiary
If You’re Receiving Social Security And Railroad Retirement Benefits

Part 4: Working And Getting Social Security At The Same Time
How Earnings Affect Your Benefits
A Special Monthly Rule
What Income Counts … And When Do We Count It?
Reporting Your Earnings
Your Earnings Estimate And Your Benefits

Part 5: Other Important Information
If You Become Disabled
Retirement Benefits For Widow(er)s
Benefits For Children
A Word About Medicare
Can You Get SSI?
A Message About Food Stamps
If You Disagree With A Decision We Make

Part 6: Some Frequently Asked Questions

Part 1––About Your Benefits

When And How Your Benefits Are Paid

Social Security benefits are paid each month. The notice you received telling you that your benefit application was approved also told you when you will receive your monthly benefits.

The “No Worry” Way To Get Your Benefits
New Social Security beneficiaries must have their monthly benefits deposited into their bank account. Since August 1, 1996, only beneficiaries who certify they don’t have a bank account receive checks.

Direct deposit protects benefits from loss, theft or mail delay. The money always is on time and ready to use without making a trip to the bank.

If You Receive A Check
If your check isn’t delivered on its due date, wait three workdays before reporting the missing check to Social Security. The most common reason checks are late is because a change of address was not reported.

You shouldn’t sign a check until you are where you will cash it. If you sign the check ahead of time and lose it, the person who finds it could cash it.

If your check is lost or stolen, contact Social Security immediately. Your check can be replaced, but it takes time. To be safe, you should cash or deposit your check as soon as possible after you receive it.

A government check must be cashed within 12 months after the date of the check or it will be void.

If you receive a check you know is not due you, take it to any Social Security office. Or, return it to the U.S. Treasury Department, Division of Disbursement, at the address on the check envelope. Enclose a note telling why you are sending the check back.

Paying Taxes On Your Benefits

Some people who get Social Security have to pay taxes on their benefits. This will apply to you only if you have substantial income in addition to your Social Security benefits.

  • If you file a federal tax return as an “individual,” and your combined income* is between $25,000 and $34,000, you may have to pay taxes on 50 percent of your Social Security benefits. If your combined income is above $34,000, up to 85 percent of your Social Security benefits is subject to income tax.
  • If you file a joint return, you may have to pay taxes on 50 percent of your benefits if you and your spouse have a combined income* that is between $32,000 and $44,000. If your combined income* is more than $44,000, up to 85 percent of your Social Security benefits is subject to income tax.
  • If you are a member of a couple and file a separate return, you probably will pay taxes on your benefits.

*On the 1040 tax return, your “combined
income” is the sum of your adjusted gross
income plus nontaxable interest plus one-half
of your Social Security benefits.

No one pays taxes on more than 85 percent of his or her benefits. Some pay taxes on a smaller amount of their benefits according to a formula developed by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

Every January, you will receive a Social Security Benefit Statement (Form SSA-1099) in the mail showing the amount of benefits you received in the previous year. You can use this statement when you are completing your federal income tax return to find out if any of your benefits are subject to tax. You also can use the SSA-1099 when you need proof of your benefit amount.

Most people who are neither residents nor citizens of the U.S. will have up to 25.5 percent of their benefits withheld. If you are subject to this tax and you become a U.S. resident or citizen, you should notify Social Security.

For more information, call the IRS’s toll-free telephone number, 1-800-829-3676, to ask for Publication 554, Tax Information for Older Americans, and Publication 915, Social Security Benefits and Equivalent Railroad Retirement Benefits.

Your Personal Information Is Safe With Social Security

Social Security keeps personal information on millions of people. That information—such as your Social Security number, earnings record, age and address—is personal and confidential. Generally, we will discuss this information only with you. We need your permission if you want someone else to help with your Social Security business. When you call, we’ll ask you several questions to help us verify your personal identity.

If you ask a friend or family member to call Social Security, you need to be with them when they call so we will know that you want them to help. The Social Security representative will ask your permission to discuss your Social Security business with that person.

If you send a friend or family member to our local office to conduct your Social Security business, send your written consent with them. Only with your written permission can Social Security discuss your personal information with them and provide the answers to your questions.

In the case of a minor child, the natural parent or legal guardian can act on the child’s behalf in taking care of the child’s Social Security business.

We guarantee the privacy of your records. There are times when the law requires Social Security to give information to other government agencies to conduct other government health or welfare programs—such as Aid to Families with Dependent Children, Medicaid and food stamps. Programs receiving information from Social Security are prohibited from sharing that information.

Part 2––Services We Offer

Our 24-Hour Toll-Free Telephone Service

For your convenience, Social Security provides toll-free telephone service. The number is 1-800-772-1213. Most inquiries and reports can be handled by phone, saving you the time and expense of a trip to our office. You can get recorded information 24 hours a day, including weekends and holidays. You can speak to a representative between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on business days.

You can request:

  • an application for a new or replacement Social Security card;
  • a Personal Earnings and Benefit Estimate Statement (SSA-7004) that gives you an estimate of your Social Security benefit based on your lifetime earnings;
  • a benefit verification (the amount of Social Security benefits you receive each month);
  • a replacement Medicare card; or
  • the location of the nearest Social Security office.

In addition, you can call after business hours to access the automated service to request a variety of publications or general information messages.

People who are deaf or hard of hearing may call our toll-free “TTY” number, 1-800-325-0778, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on business days.

To help us serve you better, please have the following items handy when you call:

  • your Social Security number;
  • a list of questions you want to ask;
  • any recent correspondence you received from us; and
  • a pencil and paper to record information and answers to your questions.

Our lines are busiest early in the week and early in the month, so if your business can wait, it’s best to call at other times.

The Social Security 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 Social Security representative monitor some incoming and outgoing telephone calls.

Internet Access

Social Security has the following information available through the Internet:  various publications, forms, reports and program history, with links to information tailored to employers, children, parents and teachers. Type to visit the site.

Free Service

You never have to pay for information or service at Social Security. Some businesses advertise that they can provide name changes, Social Security cards or earnings statements for a fee. All these services are provided free by Social Security.

The Social Security Administration itself is the best source of information about Social Security.

What We Will Report To You

From time to time, we will send you important information about your Social Security benefits. Here is a list of some of the things we’ll report to you.

Cost-Of-Living Adjustments (COLA)
Each January, your benefits will increase automatically if the cost of living has increased. If you receive your benefits by direct deposit, we will notify you of your new benefit amount in advance. If you receive your benefits by check, you also will receive a notice telling you the cost-of-living increase.

Annual Earnings Limit
There is a limit to the amount you can earn and still receive all your Social Security benefits. This amount increases each year. We will notify you of the new amount in advance. For more information, including the 1998 limits, see Part 4 of this booklet.

Other Changes In Your Benefit
If any other change occurs that affects the amount of your benefit, we will let you know promptly.

How We Will Report To You

We generally use the mail when we want to contact you, but sometimes a Social Security representative may come to your home. Our representative will show you identification before talking about your benefits. If you ever doubt someone who says he or she is from Social Security, call the Social Security office to ask if someone was sent to see you.

Part 3––What You Need To Report To Us

Your Responsibilities

It is important to notify us promptly whenever changes occurs (explained in the following sections). Information you give to another government agency may be provided to Social Security by the other agency, but you also must report the change to us.

Failure to report a change may result in an overpayment. If you are overpaid, we will recover any payments not due you. Also, if you fail to report changes timely or you make a false statement, you can be penalized by a deduction from payments or a fine or imprisonment.

You can call, write or visit us to make a report. Have your claim number handy. If you receive benefits because of your own work, your claim number is the same as your Social Security number followed by a letter. If you receive benefits on someone else’s work record, your claim number will be shown on any letter about your benefit that you get from Social Security.

Change In Your Estimated Earnings

If you’re working, we usually ask you to estimate your earnings for the year. If, later, you learn your earnings will be higher or lower than you estimated, let us know as soon as possible so we can adjust your benefits. See Part 4–“Working And Getting Social Security At The Same Time” for help in making accurate estimates.

If You Move

When you plan to move, tell us your new address and phone number as soon as you know them. You can report this information by calling our toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213.

Even though you receive your benefits by direct deposit, Social Security must have your correct address so we can send letters and other important information to you. Your benefits will be stopped if we are unable to contact you.

When you report your new address, let us know the names of any family members who also should receive their Social Security checks there. Be sure to file a change of address with your post office, too.

Changing Direct Deposit Accounts

If you change financial institutions or open a new account, we can change your direct deposit information over the telephone. Have your new and old account numbers handy when you call us. They will be printed on your personal checks or account statements.

A Person Who Is Unable To Manage Funds

Sometimes a person is unable to manage his or her own funds. When this happens, Social Security should be notified. We then can arrange to send benefits to a relative or other person who agrees to use the money for the well-being of the beneficiary. We call this person a “representative payee.”

Please Note: If a person has “power of attorney” for someone, that does not automatically qualify him or her to be the representative payee.

Getting A Pension From Non-Covered Work

If you start receiving a pension from work not covered by Social Security––for example, from the federal civil service system or some state or local pension systems––your Social Security benefit may need to be refigured or offset. Also, tell us if the amount of your pension changes.

For more information, call Social Security to ask for a copy of the factsheets, Government Pension Offset (Publication No. 05-10007), for government workers who may be eligible for Social Security benefits on the record of a husband or wife, and A Pension From Work Not Covered By Social Security(Publication No. 05-10045), for government workers who are also eligible for their own Social Security benefits.

Marriage Or Divorce

If you get married or divorced, it may affect your Social Security benefits, depending on the kind of benefits you receive. If you get:

  • your own retirement benefits––your benefits will continue;
  • wife’s or husband’s benefits––your benefits will stop if you get divorced unless you were married at least 10 years;
  • widow’s or widower’s (including divorced widow’s and widower’s) benefits––your benefits will continue if you remarry when you are age 60 or older;
  • disabled widow’s or widower’s (including disabled divorced widow’s and widower’s) benefits––your benefits will continue if you remarry when you are age 50 or older; or
  • any other kind of benefits––your benefits will stop if you get married, except in special circumstances. Your benefits may be started again if the marriage ends.

If You Change Your Name

If you change your name––because of marriage, divorce or court order––notify us of the change so we can show the new name on our records.

Caring For A Child Who Receives Benefits

If you receive benefits because you are caring for a child who is under age 16 or disabled, you should notify us right away if the child leaves your care. Give us the name and address of the person with whom the child is living.

A temporary separation may not affect your benefits if you continue to exercise parental control over the child, but your benefits will stop if you no longer have responsibility for the child. When the child returns to your care, we can start sending benefits to you again.

Your benefits will end when the youngest unmarried child in your care reaches age 16. Your child’s benefits can continue as explained in the “Benefits For Children” section of Part 5 of this booklet.

If you become the parent of a child after you begin receiving Social Security benefits and the child is in your care, be sure to notify us so that the child also can receive benefits.


When a child who is receiving benefits is adopted, let us know his or her new name, the date of the adoption decree, and the adopting parent’s name and address. The adoption will not cause benefits to end.

If A Beneficiary Is Convicted Of A Criminal Offense

If someone getting Social Security benefits is convicted of a crime, Social Security should be notified immediately. Benefits generally are not paid for the months a person is imprisoned for a crime, but any family members who are eligible may continue to receive benefits.

Benefits usually are not paid to persons who commit a crime and are confined to an institution by court order and at public expense. This applies if the person has been found:

  • guilty, but insane;
  • not guilty by reason of insanity or similar factors (such as mental disease, mental defect or mental incompetence); or
  • incompetent to stand trial.

Leaving The United States

If you are a United States citizen, you can travel or live in most foreign countries without affecting your eligibility for Social Security benefits. However, there are a few countries where we cannot send Social Security checks. These countries are Cuba, Cambodia, North Korea, Vietnam and the republics that were formerly in the U.S.S.R. (except Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Russia).

Let us know if you plan to go outside the U.S. for a trip that lasts 30 days or more. Tell us the name of the country or countries you plan to visit and the date you expect to leave the U.S. We will send you special reporting instructions and tell you how to arrange for your benefits while you are abroad. Be sure to notify us when you return to the U.S. If you are not a U.S. citizen and you return to live in the U.S., you must provide evidence of your lawful alien status in order to continue receiving benefits.

If you work outside the U.S., different rules apply in determining if you can get your benefit checks.

For more information about working or staying outside the U.S., call us to ask for a copy of the booklet, Social Security—Your Payments While You Are Outside The United States (Publication No. 05-10137).


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