You don’t have to be retired or even close to retirement to benefit from a personal "My Social Security" account. Calling Social Security is rarely necessary once you have one. You can do much of your business with us online.

With your personal My Social Security account, you can:

• Request a replacement Social Security card (in most states and the District of Columbia).

• Estimate your future benefits to compare different dates or ages to begin receiving benefits.

• Check the status of your Social Security application when you do decide to apply.

• Review your work history.

If you already receive benefits, you can also:

• Request a replacement Social Security card (in most states and the District of Columbia).

• Get a benefit verification or proof of income letter.

• Set up or change your direct deposit.

• Change your address.

• Request a replacement Medicare card.

• Get a Social Security 1099 form (SSA-1099).

• Opt out of receiving certain notices by mail and receive them in the secure Message Center.

Create a my Social Security account at ssa.gov/myaccount

Frequently asked questions about Social Security:

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 socialsecurity.gov/ssnumber.

Question: I’m 17 and eager to start my first summer 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.

• 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 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 socialsecurity.gov/myaccount.

Question: I noticed that my date of birth in Social Security’s records is wrong. How do I get that corrected?

Answer: To change the date of birth shown on our records, take the following steps:

• Complete an Application For A Social Security Card (Form SS-5);

• Provide documents proving: U.S. citizenship (if you have not previously established your citizenship with us); Age; and Identity. All documents must be either originals or copies certified by the issuing agency. We cannot accept photocopies or notarized copies of documents. For details on the documents, visit socialsecurity.gov/ss5doc.

• Mail your completed application and documents to your local Social Security office.

Question: How are my retirement benefits calculated?

Answer: Your Social Security benefits are based on earnings averaged over your lifetime. Your actual earnings are first adjusted or "indexed" to account for changes in average wages since the year the earnings were received. Then 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. This is the amount you would receive at your full retirement age. You may be able to estimate your benefit by using our Retirement Estimator, which offers estimates based on your Social Security earnings. You can find the Retirement Estimator at www.socialsecurity.gov/estimator.

Question: I worked the first half of the year, but plan to retire this month. Will Social Security count the amount I earn for this year when I retire?

Answer: Yes. If you retire mid-year, we count your earnings for the entire year. We have a special “earnings test” rule we apply to annual earnings, usually in the first year of retirement. Under this rule, you get a full payment for any whole month we consider you retired regardless of your yearly earnings. We consider you retired during any month your earnings are below the monthly earnings limit, or if you have not performed substantial services in self-employment. We do not consider income earned, beginning with the month you reach full retirement age. Learn more about the earnings test rule at www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2/rule.htm.

Vonda Van Til is the Public Affairs Specialist for West Michigan. You can write her c/o Social Security Administration, 3045 Knapp NE, Grand Rapids MI 49525 or via email at vonda.vantil@ssa.gov.