Social Security update: Representative payees

Millions of people get monthly Social Security benefits or Supplemental Security Income payments. Some need help managing their money. When we receive information that indicates you need help, we'll assign a representative payee to manage your benefits for you. We try to select someone who knows you and wants to help you. A representative payee receives your monthly benefit payment on your behalf and must use the money to pay for your current needs, including:

• Housing and utilities.

• Food.

• Medical and dental expenses.

• Personal care items.

• Clothing.

• Rehabilitation expenses (if you're disabled).

If you need help managing your benefits, tell a Social Security representative that there is someone you want to be your representative payee. They should be someone you trust and see often, and who clearly understands your needs. Social service agencies, nursing homes, or other organizations are also qualified to be your representative payee. Ask them to contact us. You can write to us within 60 days of being assigned a representative payee if you don't agree that you need one or if you want a different representative payee.

We also offer an option, called Advance Designation, which allows you to choose a representative payee in advance. In the event you can no longer make your own financial decisions, you and your family will have peace of mind knowing you already chose someone you trust to manage your benefits.

You can submit your advance designation request when you apply for benefits or after you are already receiving benefits.

You may do so through your personal my Social Security account at ssa.gov/myaccount, by telephone, or in person.

For more information visit www.ssa.gov/payee.

Social Security tips:

•Social Security Statements are currently mailed to workers age 60 and over who aren't receiving Social Security benefits and do not yet have a my Social Security account. The Statements are mailed three months prior to your birthday.

Instead of waiting to receive a mailed Statement, we encourage people to open a my Social Security account at socialsecurity.gov/myaccount so they can access their Statement online, anytime.

Some people who get Social Security must pay federal income taxes on their benefits. Still, no one pays taxes on more than 85 percent of their Social Security benefits.

You must pay taxes on some portion of your benefits if you file an individual federal tax return and your income exceeds $25,000.

If you file a joint return, you must pay taxes if you and your spouse have combined income of more than $32,000.

If you are married and file a separate return, you probably will have to pay taxes on your benefits.

You can read more about tax preparation in relation to Social Security at socialsecurity.gov/planners/taxes.htm.

Social Security benefits include monthly retirement, survivors, and disability benefits. They don't include Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments, which are not taxable.

You can get a replacement 1099 or 1042S when you open your own personal my Social Security account at socialsecurity.gov/myaccount.

•If you're a victim of identity theft and you have done all you can to identify and fix the problem, including contacting the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), but someone is still using your social security number, Social Security may assign you a new number.

If you decide to apply for a new number, you'll need to prove your identity, age, and U.S. citizenship or immigration status. You'll also need to provide evidence you're having ongoing problems because of the misuse of your current Social Security number.

You can read more about identity theft at socialsecurity.gov/pubs.

•Many factors affect your eligibility for benefits, including how long you worked and your age. Social Security is now processing more claims in which entitlement or eligibility is affected by a same-sex relationship.

We encourage you to apply for benefits right away, even if you aren't sure you're eligible. Applying now will protect you against the loss of any potential benefits.

You can apply safely and securely at socialsecurity.gov/applyonline. Learn more about Social Security for same-sex couples by visiting socialsecurity.gov/same-sexcouples.

Social Security survivor benefits can be paid to:

• A widow or widower--unreduced benefits at full retirement age, or reduced benefits as early as age 60;

• A disabled widow or widower--as early as age 50;

• A widow or widower at any age if he or she takes 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;

• Children at any age who were disabled before age 22 and remain disabled; and

• Dependent parents age 62 or older.

Even if you are divorced, you still may qualify for survivor benefits. For more information, go to socialsecurity.gov.

• The Social Security Statement provides estimates of benefits for you and your family, as well as your earnings record and information you should consider about retirement and retirement planning.

It is easy to access your statement online by creating a my Social Security account. To create an account, visit socialsecurity.gov/myaccount.

The "right" time to retire is different for everyone and depends on your individual situation.

To help you make your decision, we offer an online fact sheet, When To Start Receiving Retirement Benefits, that highlights some of the factors to consider. Find this publication at socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10147.html.

The fastest and easiest way to apply for retirement benefits is to go to socialsecurity.gov/retireonline and use our online application to apply for Social Security retirement or spouses benefits.

To do so, you must:

• Be at least 61 years and 9 months old;

• Want to start your benefits in the next four months; and

• Live in the United States or one of its commonwealths or territories.

You can apply as early as four months before you want your monthly benefits to begin. Applying online for retirement benefits from the convenience of your home or office is secure and can take as little as 15 minutes.

• If you were born on or before 01/01/1954 and your spouse is receiving Social Security benefits, you can apply for retirement benefits on your spouse's record as long as you are at your full retirement age.

You then will earn delayed retirement credits up to age 70, as long as you do not collect benefits on your own work record.

Later, when you do begin receiving benefits on your own record, those payments could very well be higher than they would have been otherwise.

If your spouse is also full retirement age and does not receive benefits, your spouse will have to apply for benefits and request the payments be suspended. Then you can receive benefits on your spouse's Social Security record.

If you were born on or after 01/02/1954 and wish to receive benefits, you must file for all benefits for which you are eligible. Social Security will determine the benefits you are eligible for and pay you accordingly.

For individuals born on or after 01/02/1954, there is no longer an option to select which benefit you would like to receive, even beyond your full retirement age.

Widows are an exception, as they can choose to take their deceased spouse's benefit without filing for their own.

•You can apply for Medicare online even if you are not ready to retire. Applying online can take less than 10 minutes. There are no forms to sign and usually no required documentation. We'll process your application and contact you if we need more information. Visit ssa.gov/benefits/medicare to begin.

People are usually eligible for Medicare at age 65. If you want to start receiving Medicare at age 65, your initial enrollment period begins three months before your 65th birthday and ends three months after that birthday.

Some Medicare beneficiaries may qualify for Extra Help to pay for the monthly premiums, annual deductibles, and co-payments related to the Medicare Prescription Drug program.

You must be receiving Medicare, have limited resources and income, and reside in one of the 50 states or the District of Columbia to qualify for the Extra Help. More information on Extra Help is available at www.ssa.gov/benefits/medicare/prescriptionhelp.

Following are other publications that may be of interest:

• Apply Online for Medicare -- Even if You Are Not Ready to Retire ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10530.pdf.

• When to Start Receiving Retirement Benefits ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10147.pdf.

For more information, visit socialsecurity.gov.