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10 Social Security Facts You Need to Know

1. You must apply for benefits. Social Security payments arenít automatically received when you reach full retirement age. You can apply at the local Social Security office, online at www.socialsecurity.gov or by phoning 1-800-772-1213. You should contact the Social Security Administration about three months before you want to collect benefits, says Joy Chang, 54, communications director for the Seattle region of administration.

2. You wonít receive full benefits at age 65. The age at which full benefits are payable is increasing gradually until it reaches 66 in 2009 and 67 in 2027.

3. You need to decide whatís the right time to start receiving benefits. This is tricky, especially for a married couple. Your retirement benefits can start at age 62. However, youíll receive a benefit amount that is less for the rest of your life than what youíd receive if you waited until your full retirement age or if you worked beyond it. If you work or donít take your benefits until age 70, youíll receive extra credits and your ongoing benefit will be larger.

Social Security wonít tell you when to begin getting benefits, Chang says. However, an online benefits calculator can help you weigh the circumstances, she says. If youíre married, your retirement benefit could be affected by your spouseís account, so you need to get information from the administration on those options, Chang adds.

4. You need to realize that Social Security benefits wonít provide your full retirement costs. Savings, investments and a pension are ways you can add to your retirement income. Start planning and saving early, she says.

5. You need to review your annual Social Security statement when itís received to make sure there arenít errors in reported wages. ďItís important to check,Ē says Chang. An employer may have failed to report part of your income or to use the correct Social Security number. If youíre self-employed, a mistake could have been made in your tax return.

6. You need to know that the amount of money that you can make that will affect your benefits only applies if you retire early. After you reach full retirement age, there are no limits on what you can earn.

7. You may be paying income taxes on your Social Security benefits, if you have other taxable income from wages, self-employment, interest or dividends. However, you wonít be paying federal income tax on more than 85 percent of your social Security benefits based on Internal Revenue Service rules.

8. Youíll likely need a Medigap policy to fill in payments Medicare doesnít pay. Private health insurance plans (Medicare Advantage) provide Medigap coverage. For information on Medicare coverage, go to medicare on SeniorArk, or youíll need to contact the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services at www.medicare.gov.

9. You need to apply for Medicare, Part A, at age 65, if you are still working. It provides hospital coverage, and you can get it for no cost. Most people donít sign up for Part B, outpatient health care expenses including doctor fees, in this situation, because their work insurance is likely to provide better coverage.

10. Medicare, Part D, pays for prescription drugs only, and you donít get it through the Social Security office. Itís purchased through private providers.


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