Social Security


The social security program began in 1935 when the Social Security Act was first enacted. At that time, the program was almost exclusively a retirement benefit program. The program gave monthly benefits to covered workers who had reached age 65 and had retired. The program has expanded tremendously since its inception. Today, the program includes disabled workers and others related to a covered worker. Since the social security program touches the lives of so many people at critical points in their lives, it is important to understand the available benefits.

What is social security?

Social security is a system administered by the Social Security Administration, which provides benefits to certain eligible individuals. There are several programs within the social security system, which have the basic objectives of providing for the material needs of individuals and families, protecting the elderly and disabled persons against the expenses of illnesses that could otherwise exhaust their savings, keeping families together, and giving children an opportunity to grow up in health and security.

What types of benefits are available through the social security administration and who is eligible for those benefits?

There are several types of benefits available. These benefits fall under broad categories of Title II or Title XVI benefits. Title II benefits , collectively known as OASDI, are (1) old-age insurance (retirement) benefits, (2) survivors’ benefits, and (3) disability benefits.

Retirement benefits are available to covered workers at age 62. An individual’s monthly benefit depends on his or her earnings history, the age the worker began receiving monthly benefits, and current earned income. If an individual begins receiving benefits at age 65, “normal retirement age,” he or she will receive the full primary insurance amount. Monthly benefits will be smaller if an individual receives benefits prior to age 65 and larger if an individual starts to receive benefits after age 65. Further, until age 70, current earned income can reduce or eliminate monthly benefits.

Survivors’ benefits are available to a worker’s surviving spouse, a surviving divorced spouse, surviving children, and surviving parents. In addition, the social security program provides for a lump sum death benefit.

Disability benefits are available to those who file an application, meet the program’s definition of disability, and have insured status. State agencies initially determine disability, but these determinations are subject to appeal to an Administrative Law Judge and ultimately to federal district court.

Title XVI benefits are known as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. The social security income program assures a minimum level of income to individuals who are 65 years old or over, or who are blind and disabled and who do not have sufficient income and resources to maintain a minimum standard of living.

How do I apply for benefits and how do I appeal a determination?

Generally, a claim for benefits begins with filing an application and furnishing supporting evidence. This process can be very simple, but it can become quite complex. Therefore, as the claimant, you are entitled to have a representative throughout the process, either an attorney or other qualified individual. You may file an application for benefits by contacting any local social security office either in person or by telephone. Employees of the social security office will supply the proper application and enrollment forms and will help in filling them out. If you apply by phone, an employee will take the application over the phone and send it to you for your review. It takes several months to complete the application process, so it is a good idea for you to file as soon as possible under your circumstances. If you disagree with the initial determination of your claim, you may request reconsideration. If you are still dissatisfied, you may request a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. After this decision, you can appeal to the Appeals Council and ultimately to federal district court and beyond. At each stage of the process the claimant is notified in writing and advised of the amount of time allowed for an appeal. Failure to appeal within the allotted time period may foreclose any further review.

How can I check my earnings record?

Any person can check his or her own social security earnings record by completing a Request for Earnings and Benefit Estimate Statement (Social Security form SSA-7004SM). This form is available at any social security office or by calling the Social Security Administration’s toll-free number at 1-800-772-1213. A statement of the wages and self-employment income credited to your record, along with other important information, will be mailed to you. It is a good idea to check the status of your earnings record at regular intervals to make sure your earnings have been posted properly. If your earnings have not been posted correctly, you should contact the social security office and ask how to go about correcting your record. There are specific time limits for correcting your record, so you should report any inaccuracies as soon as they are discovered.

How much should I receive when I retire?

Your benefits from social security are based on multiple factors, such as the amount you pay in during your lifetime, your age at retirement, and the date your retire. Once you begin to receive benefits, the amount you receive will adjust annually with a cost of living adjustment.

Will my benefits be taxable?

Some people who receive social security benefits have to pay taxes on their benefits. You should only be affected 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, 85 percent of your social security benefits may be subject to income tax. Combined income on your 1040 tax return is the sum of your adjusted gross income plus nontaxable interest plus one-half of your social security benefits. 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 between $32,000 and $44,000. If your combined income is over $44,000, 85 percent of your benefits may be subject to tax.

The Internal Revenue Service can provide more information by calling toll-free 1-800-829-3676 and asking for publication 554, Tax information for Older Americans, and publication 915, Social Security Benefits and Equivalent Railroad Retirement Benefits. These publications are also available by “Fax Back” by dialing (703) 368-9694 from your fax machine. At the end of the year, the social security office will send you a 1099 form showing the amount of benefits you have received for the year.

What if I have other questions?

People often have questions about their benefits, or the types of benefits available. The Social Security Administration (SSA) understands this and has prepared many brochures and pamphlets describing various elements of social security. If you have a questions, you should keep this in mind and contact SSA through their toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213. This number is good from any location in the United States and is staffed from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Additionally, the social security office will provide you with further information when you apply for your benefits.

Sources of social security law: As noted above, the social security program has grown from the Social Security Act of 1935. The primary sources of law are the Social Security Act, as amended; the Regulations; the Social Security Rulings; and court decisions. Title II benefits can be found at 42 U.S.C.S. section 401 and in the Regulations at 20 C.F.R., Part 404. Title XVI benefits can be found in the Act at 42 U.S.C.S. section 1381 and in the Regulations at 20 C.F.R., Part 416.1.