Similar to any government website, ssa.gov, the official site of the Social Security Administration, is full of helpful information. Finding what you need in the long list of publications, forms, and other web resources, however, is not always easy. Here is a guide to help you navigate the site based on some of the most common questions people have. The links included in each answer will take you to the applicable pages and forms on the Social Security website.

How Do I Apply for a Card?

Social Security number (SSN) is a nine-digit number that the U.S. government issues to all U.S. citizens and eligible U.S. residents who apply for one. The number allows the government to keep track of your lifetime earnings and the number of years worked. You must apply for a number and a card in person because the Social Security office has to verify certain documents. You can, however, go online to complete and print the application to take to your local office.

If you need a replacement card, you may be able to apply online if you are 18 or older, have a driver’s license or state-issued identification card, are not requesting any change in your Social Security card, have a U.S. mailing address, and have created an online “my Social Security account.” U.S. Territories and the following 16 states do not yet participate in the online renewal program: Alabama, Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, Kansas, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, and West Virginia.

Key Takeaways

  • If you’ve never had a Social Security card, you must apply for one in person at your Social Security office.
  • You may apply online for a replacement card under certain circumstances.
  • You need 40 credits to be eligible for full retirement benefits, and you can earn no more than four credits per year, with one credit earned for each $1,360 you make in a year as of 2019.

Where is my nearest Social Security office?

Before you visit an office, check the website to see if you can complete all or some of the paperwork online. You are also likely to need supporting documents when you arrive, such as a birth certificate or passport for identification.

Retirement Benefits

How do I apply for retirement benefits?

First, determine if you’re eligible for Social Security (not everyone is). If you are, you can apply for Social Security and Medicare.

Can I work and receive benefits at the same time?

Yes, but your Social Security benefits may be reduced. This page provides an overview of working and receiving benefits including benefit calculations and changes that might take place once you reach full retirement age.

How can I calculate my monthly benefits?

The average benefit for retired workers as of June 2019 was $1,351.51, but the benefit you will receive is based on a variety of factors. You can use the retirement estimator to calculate your benefits, but read the information before you begin. For example, to use the calculator, you need to have earned 40 credits.

$1,351.51

The average monthly Social Security retirement benefit as of May 2019.

What is a credit?

As of 2019, you receive one credit for each $1,360 you earn in a year. You need 40 credits to qualify for full retirement benefits. You can receive a maximum of four credits per year.

If I get a pension, will that affect my benefits?

Whether or not your benefits are affected by a pension depends on where the pension is from. Pensions from government jobs in which you did not pay Social Security taxes can be affected. Also, read about the windfall elimination provision. This provision may apply to you as well.

Are my spouse and kids eligible to receive my benefits?

Probably, but the rules are complicated. Read about spousal benefits and check out the survivor planning information. Your children can receive benefits too. Read about the eligibility requirements. Social Security has numerous FAQs about benefits for spouses, children, and others who might be eligible to receive payments.

Spouses who do not qualify for Social Security benefits may nevertheless receive spousal benefits of their own if their husbands or wives qualify for Social Security.

Disability Benefits

Where can I learn more about disability benefits?

Social Security provides disability benefits for people of all ages with rules enumerated in a 16-page document. You can apply for disability benefits online. Before completing the application, you should read this six-page publication that includes instructions and frequently asked questions.

Can I go back to work and still collect disability benefits?

Yes, you can. Social Security may allow you a nine-month trial period to see if you’re able to work.

If I reach retirement age, will I receive disability and retirement benefits?

No. Once you reach full retirement age, you will lose disability benefits and gain retirement benefits. Assistance for children includes children whose parents are receiving disability benefits and children who are themselves disabled.

What is a compassionate allowance?

Some people’s disabilities clearly meet Social Security’s definition of disabled. Those people may be eligible to receive benefits more rapidly. The website has an extensive section on compassionate allowance.

General Questions

What is SSI?

These initials stand for supplemental security income, which provides cash assistance to the aged, the blind, and the disabled to meet basic living needs. It is not paid for by Social Security taxes. First, verify that you are eligible. Then, learn about the application procedure.

How do I change my direct deposit information?

You can do this online. Log in to your online account or contact your bank. You can also complete a direct deposit form, print it, and take it to your local Social Security office.

Can Social Security garnish my wages?

If you owe child support, alimony, taxes, or restitution, Social Security may garnish your wages to meet those obligations.

Do I have to pay taxes on my Social Security wages?

Some people have to pay taxes on their wages but never on more than 85% of their benefits. You can find basic information along with information about voluntarily withholding.

The Bottom Line

The links above answer the most common questions, but you can find more answers by first going to the frequently asked questions page. If you do not find the answer there, search the publications section. If you still have questions, call your local Social Security office.