Question: I worked for the last 10 years and I now have my 40 credits. Does this mean that I get the maximum Social Security retirement benefit?
Answer: Probably not. The 40 credits are the minimum number you need to qualify for retirement benefits. However, we do not base your benefit amount on those credits; it's based on your earnings over a lifetime of work. To learn more about how you earn Social Security credits and how they work, read or listen to our publication How You Earn Credits, available at www.socialsecurity.gov/ pubs.
Question: I can't find my Social Security card. How can I get a new one?
Answer: First, consider whether you really need a new card. You need to apply for a replacement Social Security card only if you don't know your Social Security number or, if you need to show your card to a new employer. Even then, you may only need a Social Security number printout to verify your number. If you decide that you do need a card, you can replace it for free in three easy steps.
Step 1: Gather documents proving your identity and citizenship or immigration status.
Step 2: Complete an Application For a Social Security Card (Form SS-5)
Step 3: Take your completed application and original documents to your local Social Security office or your local Social Security Card Center. You'll receive your replacement card in about 10 to 15 days. The types of documents you need to provide depends on your specific situation. Find out what you need by visiting our "decision tree" at www.socialsecurity.gov/ ssnumber.
If you don't need a new card and the printout will do, you still need to show us documents to prove your identity and U.S. citizenship or immigration status. However, you can get your printout during your office visit. Learn more about the Social Security number printout by visiting www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs and typing "printout" in the publication search box on the left side of the screen.
Question: I'm trying to figure out the best time to retire based on my future earnings. How can I calculate my own retirement benefit estimate?
Answer: We suggest you use our Retirement Estimator at www.socialsecurity.gov/estimator. Our Retirement Estimator produces estimates based on your actual Social Security earnings record, so it's a personalized, instant picture of your future estimated benefit. Also, you can use it to test different retirement scenarios based on what age you decide to start benefits. For example, you can find out your estimated monthly payments if you retire at age 62, 70, or any age in between. Try it out now at www.socialsecurity.gov/ estimator.
Question: I've been working for about ten years and haven't given much thought to the Social Security taxes I've been paying. How do I earn Social Security credits?
Answer: A "Social Security credit" (sometimes referred to as a "quarter of coverage") is the basic unit for determining whether a worker is insured under the Social Security program. The amount needed for a credit increases automatically each year as average wages increase. For 2013, workers receive one credit for each $1,160 of earnings. A worker can receive a maximum of four credits for any year. Generally, you need 40 credits to be eligible for retirement benefits. Learn more at www.socialsecurity.gov/OACT/COLA/QC.html
Question: I'm applying online for disability benefits. What is the difference between the disability application and the disability report? Do I have to complete both?
Answer: Yes, you will need to complete both when you apply for disability benefits. To receive Social Security disability benefits, you must file a disability application. A disability report provides information about your current physical or mental condition and we need this to process your disability application. You should complete a disability application, a disability report, and an authorization to release medical records to file a claim for disability benefits. To learn more, and to apply online, visit www.socialsecurity.gov/ applyfordisability.
Question: How do I know if I have worked long enough to qualify for Social Security disability benefits?
Answer: You must have worked long enough - and recently enough - under Social Security to qualify for disability benefits. Social Security work credits are based on your total yearly wages or self-employment income. You can earn up to four credits each year. The amount needed for a credit changes from year to year. In 2013, for example, you earn one credit for each $1,160 of wages or self-employment income. When you have earned $4,640, you've earned your four credits for the year. The number of work credits you need to qualify for disability benefits depends on your age when you become disabled. Generally, you need 40 credits, 20 of which you earned in the last 10 years, ending with the year you become disabled. To learn more, see our Disability Planner at www.socialsecurity.gov/ dibplan/dqualify3.htm.
Rebecca Miller is the manager of the Social Security Administration office in Wheeling.