One of the most talked about and debated federal government programs is Social Security. It impacts practically every working American, retired or disabled person, and their dependents.
Social Security is a government insurance program funded by employee and employer contributions. People receive benefits when they retire, become disabled, or are the surviving dependents of a person who contributed to Social Security.
Most people have a Social Security Number, and, in fact, the Internal Revenue Service requires tax returns to list the Social Security Numbers of dependents age one year and older. However, if you do not have a Social Security Number or have lost your card or changed your name because of marriage or divorce, call or visit a Social Security Office. The national toll free telephone number is 1-800-772-1213 and the Jackson office number is 1-601-965-5731.
Social Security taxes are collected through an employee payroll deduction, listed as FICA on the pay stub. Self-employed persons also contribute to the program. Generally, a person must work at least 10 years to be eligible to collect Social Security later. A specific formula using a person's average earnings over his or her working life, adjusted for inflation, determines the benefits received when eligible. A person's age at retirement is also a factor.
To learn your Social Security earnings records and an estimate of your retirement, disability, or survivor benefits, contact the Social Security Office for a "Personal Earnings and Benefit Estimate Statement" request form. Checking your record with the Social Security Office every few years ensures the office has correct information on your earnings history.
If you plan to retire soon, apply for your retirement benefits at least three months in advance. Make an appointment with the Social Security Office and bring your Social Security card, birth certificate, and most recent W-2 form or tax return if you are self-employed. If the benefits are for dependent children, bring their birth certificates. If you are applying for benefits based on your husband or ex-husband's employment record, bring your marriage license and his Social Security Number. Bring your bank account number if you would like the benefits deposited directly into your account.
If the Social Security Office denies your application, you have the right to appeal the decision. Several levels of appeals are available, and you have the right to be represented by an attorney to assist you.