When You're Eligible for Retirement Benefits

How Do You Sign Up For Social Security?
You can call our toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213, to apply for benefits or to make an appointment to visit any Social Security office to apply in person.

Depending on your circumstances, you will need some or all of the documents listed below. But don’t delay applying for benefits because you don’t have all the information. If you don’t have a document you need, we can help you get it.

Information Needed:

You will need to submit original documents or copies certified by the issuing office. You can mail or bring them to Social Security. We will make photocopies and return your documents.

Right To Appeal
If you disagree with a decision made on your claim, you can appeal it. The steps you can take are explained in the factsheet, The Appeals Process (Publication No. 05-10041), which is available from Social Security.

You have the right to be represented by an attorney or other qualified person of your choice. More information is in the factsheet, Your Right to Representation (Publication No. 05-10075), which also is available from Social Security.

If You Work And Get Social Security At The Same Time
You can continue to work and still receive retirement benefits. Your earnings in (or after) the month you reach your full retirement age will not affect your Social Security benefits. However, your benefits will be reduced if your earnings exceed certain limits for the months before you reach your full retirement age—65 for persons before 1938 and gradually increasing to 67 for persons born in 1960 or later.

Here’s how it works:

If you’re under full retirement age, $1 in benefits will be deducted for each $2 in earnings you have above the annual limit.
In the year you reach your full retirement age, your benefits will be reduced $1 for every $3 you earn over a different annual limit until the month you reach full retirement age. Then your earnings will no longer affect the amount of your monthly benefits, no matter how much you earn.
These limits increase each year as average wages increase. For the current amounts, contact Social Security to ask for the factsheet, Update (Publication No. 05-10003).

If other family members receive benefits on your Social Security record, the total family benefits will be affected by your earnings. This means we will offset not only your benefits, but those payable to your family as well. If a family member works, however, the family member’s earnings affect only his or her benefits.

If, during the year, your earnings are higher or lower than you estimated, let us know as soon as possible so we can adjust your benefits.

A Special Monthly Rule
A special rule applies to your earnings for one year, usually your first year of retirement. Under this rule, you can receive a full Social Security check for any month you are "retired," regardless of your yearly earnings. Your earnings must be under a monthly limit. If you’re self-employed, the services you perform in your business are taken into consideration as well.

If you want more information on how earnings affect your retirement benefit, call us to ask for a copy of the leaflet, How Work Affects Your Benefits (Publication No. 05-10069). This leaflet has the figures for the current annual and monthly earnings limits.

Your Benefits May Be Taxable
About 20 percent of people who get Social Security have to pay taxes on their benefits. This provision affects only people who have substantial income in addition to their Social Security.

At the end of each year, you will receive a Social Security Benefit Statement (Form SSA-1099) in the mail showing the amount of benefits you received. 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.

Although you’re not required to have federal taxes withheld, you may find it easier than paying quarterly estimated tax payments.

To have federal taxes withheld, you’ll need a form W-4V from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). You can get this form by calling the IRS toll-free number, 1-800-829-3676, or by visiting SSA’s website at www.ssa.gov on the Internet. After completing and signing the form, return it to your local Social Security office by mail or in person.

To get the address of your local Social Security office, call 1-800-772-1213.

Each time you want to make a change (or stop the withholding), complete the W-4V and send it to Social Security.

For more information, call the IRS 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.

Pensions From Work Not Covered By Social Security
If you get a pension from work where you paid Social Security taxes, it will not affect your Social Security benefits. However, if you get a pension from work that was not covered by Social Security—for example, the federal civil service, some state or local government employment or work in a foreign country—your Social Security benefit may be lowered or offset.

For more information, call Social Security to ask for the factsheets, Government Pension Offset—for government workers who may be eligible for Social Security benefits on the record of a husband or wife (Publication No. 05-10007); and The Windfall Elimination Provision—for people who worked in another country or government workers who also are eligible for their own Social Security benefits (Publication No. 05-10045).

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—Cambodia, Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam and many of the former U.S.S.R. republics (except Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Russia)—where we cannot send Social Security checks.

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

Most people who are neither U.S. residents nor U.S. citizens will have 25.5 percent of their benefits withheld for federal income tax.

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

A Word About Medicare
Medicare is a health insurance plan for people who are 65 or older. People who are disabled or have permanent kidney failure can get Medicare at any age.

Medicare has two parts—hospital insurance and medical insurance. Most people have both parts.

Hospital insurance, sometimes called Part A, covers inpatient hospital care and certain follow-up care. You already have paid for it as part of your Social Security taxes while you were working.

Medical insurance, sometimes called Part B, pays for physicians’ services and some other services not covered by hospital insurance. Medical insurance is optional, and you must pay monthly premiums.

If you’re already getting Social Security benefits when you turn 65, your Medicare (Part A) starts automatically. If you’re not getting Social Security, you should sign up for Medicare close to your 65th birthday, even if you aren’t ready to retire. For more information, call us to ask for the booklet, Medicare (Publication No. 05-10043).

Help For Low-Income Medicare Beneficiaries
If you have a low income and few resources, your state may pay your Medicare premiums and, in some cases, other "out-of-pocket" Medicare expenses, such as deductibles and coinsurance.

Only your state can decide whether you qualify for help under this program. If you think you may qualify, contact your state or local medical assistance (Medicaid) agency, social services or welfare office. For more information, contact Social Security to request a copy of the leaflet, Medicare Savings For Qualified Beneficiaries (HCFA Publication No. 02184)

Return to Introduction to Social Security

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