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Questions about your social security? Read on

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In this week’s column, I’d like to go over some of the most common questions that are regularly asked about Social Security. Question: Is it true that there won’t be an increase in Social Security and Supplemental Security Income payments in 2010? How was that decided? Answer: Monthly Social Security and Supplemental Security Income benefits will not automatically increase in 2010. By law, benefits increase automatically each year only if there is an increase in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers from the third quarter of the last year to the third quarter of the current year. This year there was no increase in the CPI-W from the third quarter of 2008 to the third quarter of 2009. However, President Obama has called on Congress to pass legislation extending an additional $250 economic recovery payment to beneficiaries. To learn more, visit socialsecurity.gov/-cola. Question: I got an e-mail that says it’s from Social Security, but I’m not so sure. They want me to send in my Social Security number, date of birth, and mother’s maiden name for “verification.” Did it really come from Social Security? Answer: No. Social Security will not send you an e-mail asking you to give us your personal information, such as your Social Security number, date of birth, or other private information. Beware of such scams — they’re after your information so they can use it for their own benefit. When in doubt, or if you have any questions about correspondence you receive from Social Security, contact your local Social Security office or call us at (800) 772-1213 to see whether we really need any information from you. Question: I’m reaching my full retirement age and am thinking about retiring in the first quarter of next year. When is the best time of year to apply for Social Security benefits? Answer: If you are planning to retire in early 2010, you can apply now and complete the process before the start of the busy holiday season. Your monthly payments will then begin on time in 2010. To apply, just go to socialsecurity.gov/applytoretire. Applying online for retirement benefits from the convenience of your home or office is secure and can take as little as 15 minutes. It’s so easy. Question: My wife and I live in Montana, but plan to spend the winter in Arizona. My wife will turn 62 while we are down south. Can she apply for benefits in Arizona, or do we have to wait until we get back home to apply for retirement at our local Social Security office? Answer: These days, you don’t even have to be near a Social Security office to apply for benefits. Regardless of where you and your wife are living, you can apply for retirement benefits online at socialsecurity.gov/-applytoretire. It’s so easy to do, and it can take as little as 15 minutes to complete and submit the application. If she prefers, your wife can file a retirement benefit application at any Social Security office — including the one closest to you in Arizona, or wherever you happen to be. You can also apply by phone by calling (800) 772-1213 or (800) 325-0778. Question: I am about to apply for Social Security disability benefits. I have two children, ages 9 and 12. If my application is approved, will they get benefits, too? Or do the children also have to be disabled to qualify for benefits on my record? Answer: If you qualify for Social Security disability benefits, your children may receive dependent’s benefits based on your work record, even if they’re not disabled themselves. As long as you receive benefits, their benefits will continue until they reach age 18, or until age 19 if they are still in high school. If your children are disabled, however, at the time that they reach age 18, they may be able to continue receiving benefits into adulthood. For more information, visit our Web site on disability benefits at socialsecurity.gov/disability. Question: I am 59 years old and I currently receive Social Security disability benefits. Can I still get my regular Social Security retirement benefits when I reach retirement age? Answer: If you are still receiving Social Security disability benefits when you reach your full retirement age, we will automatically switch you from disability benefits to retirement benefits at that point. The money amount will remain the same — we will just classify you as a retiree instead of a person with a disability. Question: I’m 42 years old and have been approved to receive Supplemental Security Income disability benefits. I learn that my payment will be reduced because I live with my parents. Why’s that? Answer: SSI is a needs-based program, so any other income you receive — including non-monetary income such as help with your bills or other expenses — can have an effect on your benefit payment. Your SSI payments may be reduced if you are receiving food, shelter or monetary assistance. If you move, or if the situation in your parents’ household changes, be sure to contact Social Security. Question: I am trying to save up for a station wagon. I have $900. How much cash can I have in the bank without affecting my SSI eligibility? Answer: The resource limit is $2,000. Unless you have other valuable resources, this means you could save up to $2,000 before you would become ineligible for SSI. We generally do not count your primary car, the home you live in or certain amounts set aside for burial expenses as resources. In some cases, if the vehicle you’re saving for is part of a plan to return to work, you can have higher resources — but Social Security would need to approve your plan. Sue Olsen is the manager of the Social Security office in Roseville. .