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Social Security questions and answers

By: Vonda VanTil, Social Security Public Affairs Specialist

Question: When a person who has worked and paid Social Security taxes dies, who is eligible for survivors benefits?
Answer: Social Security survivors benefits can be paid to:
•    Widows or widowers — full benefits at full retirement age, or reduced benefits as early as age 60;
•    Disabled widows or widowers — as early as age 50;
•    Widows or widowers at any age if they take care of the deceased’s child who is under age 16 or disabled and receiving Social Security benefits;
•    Unmarried children under 18, or up to age 19 if they are attending high school full time. Under certain circumstances, benefits can be paid to stepchildren, grandchildren, or adopted children; and
•    Children at any age who were disabled before age 22 and remain disabled
Even if you are divorced, you still may qualify for survivors benefits based on the earnings record of a former spouse. For more information, go to www.socialsecurity.gov.
Question: What is a Social Security “credit?”
Answer: During your working years, earnings covered by Social Security are posted to your record. You earn Social Security credits based on those earnings. The amount of earnings needed for one credit rises as average earnings levels rise. In 2011, you receive one credit for each $1,120 of earnings. You can earn up to a maximum of four credits a year. Most people will need a minimum of 40 credits (or 10 years of work) to be eligible for retirement benefits.
Question: What’s so easy about applying online for benefits?
Answer: There’s no need to go to a local Social Security office or wait for an appointment with a Social Security representative.You can apply in less than 15 minutes. Just visit www.socialsecurity.gov. Once you submit your electronic application, you are done. In most cases, there are no forms to sign or documents to mail. Try it at www.socialsecurity.gov.
Question: What is the earliest age that I can begin receiving retirement benefits?
Answer: You can get a reduced benefit as early as age 62. Keep in mind that your monthly benefit amount would be about 33 percent higher if you wait until age 66 and nearly 80 percent higher if you defer payments until age 70. Visit our Retirement Estimator to find out how much you can expect to receive. You can find it at www.socialsecurity.gov/estimator.
Vonda VanTil is the public affairs specialist for West Michigan.  You can write her c/o Social Security Administration, 3045 Knapp St NE, Grand Rapids MI 49525 or via email at vonda.vantil@ssa.gov

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