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February Q & A With Social Security

Feb 4, 2014, 9:31 a.m.

By Kirk Larson

Social Security Washington Public Affairs Specialist

Question:

It’s hard for me to get around because of my disability. Can I apply for disability benefits from home?

Answer:

Yes — in fact, the best way to apply for disability benefits is online. Our online disability application is convenient and secure. You can apply for benefits over the Internet at www.socialsecurity.gov/applyfordisability. If you do not have access to the Internet, you can call us at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) to schedule an appointment to visit your local Social Security office to apply. However you decide to apply, begin by looking at our Disability Starter Kit at www.socialsecurity.gov/applyfordisability. It will help you prepare for your application or interview.

Question:

What’s the average monthly Social Security benefit for a retired worker? How is the retirement benefit amount calculated?

Answer:

The current average monthly Social Security benefit for a retired worker is $1,294. Social Security benefits are based on earnings averaged over most of a worker’s lifetime. Your actual earnings are first adjusted or "indexed" to account for changes in average wages since the year the earnings were received. We calculate your average monthly indexed earnings during the 35 years in which you earned the most. We apply a formula to these earnings and arrive at your basic benefit amount. Learn more by visiting us online at www.socialsecurity.gov.

Question:

My cousin and I are both retired and get Social Security. We worked for the same employer for years, but he gets a higher Social Security benefit. Why is that?

Answer:

Your payments are based on your earnings over your lifetime. Unless you are both the same age, started and stopped work on the exact same dates, and earned the very same amount every year of your careers, you wouldn’t get the same benefit as your cousin. Social Security benefits are based on many years of earnings — generally your highest 35 years. To learn more about Social Security retirement benefits, visit www.socialsecurity.gov and select the “Retirement” link.

Question:

I am nearing my full retirement age, but I plan to keep working after I apply for Social Security benefits. Will my benefits be reduced because of my income?

Answer:

No. If you start receiving benefits after you’ve reached your full retirement age, you can work while you receive Social Security and your current benefit will not be reduced because of the earned income. If you keep working, it could mean a higher benefit for you in the future. Higher benefits can be important to you later in life and increase the future benefit amounts your survivors could receive. If you begin receiving benefits before your full retirement age, your earnings could reduce your monthly benefit amount. After you reach full retirement age, we recalculate your benefit amount to leave out the months when we reduced or withheld benefits due to your excess earnings. Learn more about Social Security reading our publication, How Work Affects Your Benefits, at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10069.html.

Question:

How does Social Security decide whether I am disabled?

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