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Your Social Security Questions Answered

Question: How do I earn Social Security credits, and how many do I need to qualify for benefits?

Answer: We use your total yearly earnings to figure your Social Security credits. The amount needed for a credit in 2016 is $1,260. You can earn a maximum of four credits for any year. The amount needed to earn one credit increases automatically each year when average wages increase.

You must earn a certain number of credits to qualify for Social Security benefits. The number of credits you need depends on your age when you apply and the type of benefit application. No one needs more than 40 credits for any Social Security benefit.

For more information, visit our website at www.socialsecurity.gov.

Question: What is substantial gainful activity?

Answer: We use the term “substantial gainful activity,” or “SGA,” to describe a level of work activity and earnings. Work is “substantial” if it involves doing significant physical or mental activities or a combination of both.

If you earn more than a certain amount and are doing productive work, we generally consider that you are engaging in substantial gainful activity. For example, the monthly SGA amount for 2016 is $1,130. For statutorily blind individuals, that amount is $1,820. You would not be eligible for disability benefits. You can read more about substantial gainful activity and if your earnings qualify as substantial gainful activity at www.socialsecurity.gov/oact/cola/sga.html.

Question: What can I do at www.socialsecurity.gov?

Answer: There are many things you can do on Social Security’s website. You can conduct most of your Social Security business with us online at www.socialsecurity.gov/onlineservices. You can get an estimate of future benefits, find out if you qualify for benefits now, and even apply for benefits. You can complete a number of other tasks online, too, including replacing your Social Security card in some states. You can estimate your retirement benefit using our Retirement Estimator, which allows you to get an instant, personalized estimate of your future benefit based on different retirement ages and scenarios. You can even open your own my Social Security account to plan for and manage your benefits at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount.

Question: Can I refuse to give my Social Security number to a private business?

Answer: Yes, you can refuse to disclose your Social Security number, and you should be careful about giving out your number. But, be aware, the person requesting your number can refuse services if you don’t give it. Businesses, banks, schools, private agencies, etc., are free to request someone’s number and use it for any purpose that doesn’t violate a federal or state law. To learn more about your Social Security number, visit www.socialsecurity.gov/ssnumber.

Question: I’m 17 and eager to start my first job, but my mother misplaced my Social Security card. How can I get another?

Answer: If you know your Social Security number, you may not need to get a replacement card to obtain employment. However, if a prospective employer requests it, you can get a replacement Social Security card by following the steps below. There is no charge for a Social Security card, but you are limited to three per calendar year and 10 replacement cards during your lifetime.

You will need to:

Show the required documents. We need to see different documents depending on your citizenship and the type of card you are requesting. Go to www.socialsecurity.gov/ssnumber to find out what documents you will have to show;

Fill out an Application for a Social Security Card; and

Take or mail your application and original or certified copies of the original documents to your local Social Security office.

For more information, read our pamphlet, Your Social Security Number and Card at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs.

Question: Why should I sign up for a my Social Security online account?

Answer: my Social Security gives you a personal online account you can securely use to check your Social Security information and do business with us. With a my Social Security account you can:

Keep track of your earnings and verify them every year;

Get an estimate of your future benefits if you are still working;

Get a replacement Social Security card if you meet certain criteria and reside in these locations;

Get a letter with proof of your benefits if you currently receive them; and

Manage your benefits:

Change your address or telephone number;

Start or change your direct deposit;

Get a replacement Medicare card; and

Get a replacement SSA-1099 or SSA-1042S for tax season.

To find all of the services available and set up an account, go to www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount.

Question: I prefer reading by audio book. Does Social Security have audio publications?

Answer: Yes, we do. You can find them at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs. Some of the publications available include What You Can Do Online, How Social Security Can Help You When a Family Member Dies, Apply Online for Social Security Benefits, and Your Social Security Card and Number. You can listen now at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs.

Question: I am receiving Social Security retirement benefits and I recently went back to work. Do I have to pay Social Security (FICA) taxes on my income?

Answer: Yes. By law, your employer must withhold FICA taxes from your paycheck. Although you are retired, you do receive credit for those new earnings. Each year Social Security automatically credits the new earnings and, if your new earnings are higher than in any earlier year used to calculate your current benefit, your monthly benefit could increase. For more information, visit www.socialsecurity.gov or call us at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778).

Question: Do Members of Congress have to pay into Social Security?

Answer: Yes, they do. Members of Congress, the President and Vice President, federal judges, and most political appointees, have paid taxes into the Social Security program since January 1984. They pay into the system just like everyone else, no matter how long they have been in office. Learn more about Social Security benefits at www.socialsecurity.gov.

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