September 10, 2009

Your Social Security

by Sharice L. Edwards
Social Security Acting District Manager, Davenport Iowa


If a loved one, friend or neighbor receives Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits but is no longer physically or mentally able to take care of his or her financial affairs, you may want to consider becoming a representative payee. Then, you’ll be able to help them with managing their money.

Keep in mind that being a representative payee is not the same as having power of attorney. Even if you do have power of attorney, you will need to apply to be a representative payee in order to have the benefit payments made to you on the beneficiary’s behalf.

When we learn that a person is no longer able to handle his or her own Social Security or SSI benefits, we conduct a careful investigation and appoint a relative, friend or other interested party to serve as the representative payee. This means that if you agree to be a representative payee and we appoint you, we pay you the person’s benefits to use on his or her behalf.

As a representative payee, you would be responsible for using the benefit payments to help meet the basic needs of the beneficiary. Primarily, the funds should be used to provide food, clothing, shelter, utilities and other essential needs for the person eligible for benefits. As a representative payee, you need to be aware of the beneficiary’s needs so you can decide how benefits can best be used for his or her personal care and well-being.
Each year, Social Security will mail you a form to account for the benefits you have received. The quickest and easiest way to complete the form is online, at You can also complete the paper form and return it to Social Security.

As a representative payee, you will also need to tell Social Security about changes that may affect the beneficiary’s eligibility. This includes things like changes in living arrangements, other income, and resources.

If you decide you want to help someone by becoming their representative payee, you’re in good company. More than seven million people who get monthly Social Security or SSI payments each month have a representative payee because they need help managing their money.

By agreeing to serve as a representative payee, you have taken on an important responsibility — one that can make a positive difference in both the beneficiary’s life and your own. Learn more by reading our online booklet, A Guide For Representative Payees, available on our website at

Learn more about Social Security by visiting


You probably already know that when it comes time to apply for retirement, you can do it online at But did you know that spouses can apply online, too?

That’s right. If you are a spouse applying for benefits based on your husband’s or wife’s record, you can do it online from the convenience of your own home. It’s so easy!
Wonder whether you may qualify to apply for spouse’s benefits? If you are a spouse who has not worked or who has worked for very low wages, you could be entitled to a benefit equal to as much as one-half of your retired spouse’s full benefit. Even if you are divorced, you may be eligible for benefits based on the employment record of your former spouse.
To get benefits on your spouse’s record, you must be at least age 62 or have a qualifying child in your care — a child who is under age 16 or who receives Social Security disability benefits.

The amount of your spousal benefit depends on your age at retirement. If you begin receiving benefits before full retirement age, your benefits will be permanently reduced in most cases.

You also may be eligible for a retirement benefit based on your own earnings. If that benefit is higher than the spousal benefit, Social Security would pay you the higher benefit. We compare which of the two benefits would be more beneficial to you, and discuss the options you have.

If you have reached your full retirement age and are eligible for a spouse’s benefit as well as your own retirement benefit, you may choose to receive the spouse’s benefits only in order to continue accruing delayed retirement credits on your own Social Security record. You may then file for benefits at a later date and receive a higher monthly benefit based on the effect of delayed retirement credits.

Remember that if you are a spouse who is taking care of a minor child (16 or under) or a child who is disabled and gets Social Security benefits on your or your spouse’s record, you can receive a benefit, regardless of your retirement age.

Read more about Social Security Retirement Benefits at

Ready to apply for benefits right now? You can do it online at


Today, most adults in America carry a cell phone. If they don’t, they probably have a landline phone at home. Although millions of people go online each year and take advantage of our convenient services at, we still offer a full range of services over the telephone too.

That’s an important thing to remember when you need to do business with Social Security. You can conduct many business transactions with our automated telephone services 24/7. Simply dial 1-800-772-1213. And by calling that same number, you can talk with a Social Security representative from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday to Friday.
Our toll-free 800 number service, which marked its 20th anniversary late last year, has now answered over a billion phone calls. Yes, that’s billion with a ‘b!’ And this year alone Social Security will handle more than 60 million calls.

Our phones 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. Also, whenever you call, have your Social Security number handy.

Bilingual representatives are available to assist our non-English speaking members of the public.

Do you have a Social Security question or problem and cannot call during normal business hours? Recorded information and many automated services are available 24 hours a day — including weekends and holidays. Callers can use these automated services to report a change of address or telephone number, start or change direct deposit of benefits, request a proof of income letter or a replacement Medicare card, and order some of our most popular public information pamphlets.

Of course, if you have a computer, you may find that the information and services offered online are even more convenient at While you’re online, you can read more about our toll free phone service at
But if you don’t have a computer or prefer to do business over the phone, we invite you to call us. Social Security is never more than a phone call away: 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778).


Question: How many Social Security numbers have been issued since the program started?
Answer: Social Security celebrates its 74th anniversary on August 14th. Since numbers were first issued in November 1936, about 442 million numbers have been assigned. Want to learn more about the history of Social Security cards and numbers? Step back in time with a visit to our history page. Visit

Question: Can a widow receive Social Security benefits on her husband’s record?
Answer: Yes. When a person who has worked and paid Social Security taxes dies, certain members of the family may be eligible for survivors benefits. Social Security survivors benefits can be paid to:

  • A widow or widower — full benefits at full retirement age, or reduced benefits as early as age 60;
  • A disabled widow or widower — as early as age 50;
  • A widow or widower at any age if he or she takes care of the deceased’s child who is under age 16 or disabled, and the child gets Social Security benefits;
  • Unmarried children under 18 (or up to age 19, if they are attending high school full time);
  • Children at any age who were disabled before age 22 and remain disabled; and
  • Dependent parents age 62 or older.

Even if you are divorced, you may still qualify for survivors benefits. Learn more by visiting our benefit calculators at

Question: How do I qualify for benefits as a divorced spouse?
Answer: You can receive benefits as a divorced spouse on a former spouse’s Social Security record if you:

  • Were married to the former spouse for at least 10 years;
  • Are age 62 or older;
  • Are unmarried; and
  • Are not entitled to a higher Social Security benefit on your own record.

In addition, the former spouse must be eligible to receive his or her own retirement or disability benefit. If the former spouse is eligible for a benefit, but has not yet applied for it, you can still receive a benefit if you meet the eligibility requirements and have been divorced from the former spouse for at least two years. Generally, we won’t continue to pay benefits if you remarry someone other than your former spouse. Learn more, and determine what your benefit might be by visiting our online Benefit Calculators at

Question: It seems difficult to figure out what plan to get for Medicare prescription drug coverage. What is the easiest way to compare plans?
Answer: The easiest way to get a handle on Medicare prescription drug plans is to use the Medicare Prescription Drug Plan Finder at There you can find and compare plans in your area. Or, you may find it better to get personalized counseling about plans in your area by calling 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).