Top Questions About Social Security

Find answers to common questions about Social Security, including retirement and disability benefits, how to get, replace, or correct your Social Security card, and more.

Social Security and How It Works

What’s Social Security?

Social Security is a federal government program that provides a source of income for you or your legal dependents (spouse, children, or parents) if you qualify for benefits. You also need a Social Security number to get a job.

Find how to apply to get a Social Security number or to replace your Social Security card.

How Do Benefits Work and How Can I Qualify?

While you work, you pay Social Security taxes. This tax money goes into a trust fund that pays benefits to those who are currently retired, to people with disabilities, and to the surviving spouses and children of workers who have died. Each year you work, you’ll get credits to help you become eligible for benefits when it’s time for you to retire. Find all the benefits Social Security Administration (SSA) offers.

There are four main types of benefits that the SSA offers:

How to Open a “my Social Security” Account

If you receive or will receive Social Security benefits, you may want to open a "my Social Security" account. This online account is a service from the SSA that allows you to keep track of and manage your SSA benefits, and allows you to make changes to your Social Security record.

How to Find More Help

If you have specific questions about your Social Security benefits, you can review the Social Security Administration’s frequently asked questions or contact Social Security Administration directly.

Social Security Retirement Benefits Planner

How much Social Security income you’ll receive depends on:

  • Your earnings over your lifetime

  • The age at which you'll begin receiving benefits

  • Whether you'll be eligible to receive a spouse’s benefit instead of your own

You can use Social Security’s retirement benefits planner to:

  • Estimate your benefits at each age, from 62 (the earliest you can receive them) to 70 (when you hit your greatest amount)

  • Apply for retirement benefits

  • Learn about earning limits if you plan to work while receiving Social Security benefits

Get, Replace, or Correct a Social Security Card

What is a Social Security Card?

Your Social Security card is an important piece of identification that you'll need to get a job and collect Social Security and other government benefits.

When you apply for a Social Security number (SSN), the Social Security Administration (SSA) will assign you a nine-digit number, which is the same number printed on the Social Security card that SSA will issue you. If you change your name, you will need to get a corrected card.

How to Get a Social Security Card

  1. Gather your documentsLearn what documents you'll need to get an original, replacement, or corrected Social Security card, whether it's for a child or adult, U.S. citizen or noncitizen.

  2. Complete your applicationRead the instructions for and fill out an application for a new, replacement, or corrected card.

  3. Mail your application—Print your application and find out where to take it in person or mail it.

Getting a Social Security Number for a New Baby

When to Get a Social Security Number for Your Child

The easiest way to get a Social Security number for your child is at the hospital after they are born and when you give information for your child’s birth certificate.

If you wait to apply for a number at a Social Security office, there may be delays while SSA verifies your child’s birth certificate. Processing times average about two weeks. See SSA’s frequently asked questions for an estimate for your state. Learn more with the Social Security Numbers for Children publication.

If you want to claim your child as a dependent on your income tax return, open a bank account in their name, get medical coverage for them, or apply for government services for them, they will need their own Social Security number.

Apply for a Replacement Social Security Card Online

A new feature on the SSA website allows you to apply for a replacement Social Security card online via your my Social Security account.

To apply for a replacement card online, you must: 

  • Be a U.S. citizen age 18 or older with a U.S. mailing address (this includes APO, FPO and DPO addresses)
  • Not be requesting a name change or any other change to your card
  • Have a valid driver's license or a state-issued identification card from one of the following: 
    • Arizona (driver's license only)
    • Arkansas
    • California
    • Colorado
    • Delaware (driver's license only)
    • District of Columbia (driver's license only) 
    • Florida
    • Georgia
    • Idaho (driver's license only)
    • Illinois
    • Indiana
    • Iowa
    • Kentucky
    • Louisiana
    • Maine
    • Maryland
    • Massachusetts
    • Michigan
    • Mississippi
    • Missouri
    • Montana
    • Nebraska
    • New Mexico
    • North Dakota (driver's license only) 
    • Pennsylvania 
    • Rhode Island
    • South Dakota 
    • Texas
    • Vermont
    • Virginia
    • Washington 
    • Wisconsin (driver's license only) 
    • Wyoming

Follow these instructions if you want to change or correct your Social Security card.

Prevent Identify Theft

Keep your Social Security card in a safe place to protect yourself from identity theft if it's lost or stolen. You are limited to three replacement cards in a year and 10 during your lifetime.

Contact SSA

For more information, contact SSA. If you live outside the U.S., SSA's Office of International Operations may be able to help you.

SSA Benefits for U.S. Citizens Overseas

Getting SSA Benefits While Living Overseas

U.S. citizens can travel to or live in most, but not all, foreign countries and still receive their Social Security benefits. To find out if you can receive benefits in the country you’ll be living in or visiting, use the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) payment verification tool and pick the country from the drop-down menu options.

If I Work Overseas, Does it Count Toward My Social Security Record?

If you do not have enough credits from your work in the United States to qualify for retirement benefits, you may be able to count your work credits from another country. The SSA has agreements with 24 countries. If you earned credits in one of those countries, they can help you qualify for U.S. benefits.

Get Proof of Social Security Income

How to Get Proof of Income

You can get either type of Social Security verification online:

Reasons to Prove Your Social Security Income

You may need to provide proof of your Social Security income if you're:

  • Applying for energy benefits or other assistance programs
  • Moving into a new rental house or apartment
  • Applying for a bank loan for a large purchase
  • Filing a tax return and lost or didn't receive your SSA-1099/1042S form in the mail

You can also contact the Social Security Administration (SSA) to schedule an appointment with your local office.

Government Checks and Payments

Lost, Missing, Stolen, or Expired Federal Payments

Report your lost, missing, stolen, or expired federal check or direct deposit to the agency that issued the payment. You can get contact information from the A-Z Index of U.S. Government Departments and Agencies.

To get an update on your claim, contact the Bureau of the Fiscal Service's Check Claims office.

If You're Not Sure Why You Received a Payment

Contact the authorizing agency directly to find out why they sent the payment. 

If you're unsure which agency authorized the payment, call the Treasury Regional Financial Center (RFC) that issued your check. They can help you determine which government agency you need to contact. To find which RFC you need to call, look for its city and state at the top center of the check. 

Make Payments to the Federal Government

Learn how to use Pay.gov to make secure, electronic payments to government agencies from your checking or savings account. You can use the online service for VA medical care copayments, U.S. District Court tickets, USCG Merchant Mariner user fee payments, and more.

If you need help, contact Pay.gov customer service

Report the Death of a Social Security or Medicare Beneficiary

The Social Security Administration (SSA) processes death reports for both Social Security and Medicare recipients.

What You Need to Do

To report a death:

Social Security Checks Stop Payment

The SSA can’t pay benefits for the month of a recipient’s death. That means if the person died in July, the check received in August (which is payment for July) must be returned. 

If the payment is by direct deposit, notify the financial institution as soon as possible so it can return any payments received after death. 

Family members may be eligible for Social Security survivors benefits when a person getting benefits dies. Visit the SSA's Survivors Benefits page to learn more. 

Set Up Direct Deposit for Your Federal Benefits

How to Receive Federal Benefits

To begin receiving your federal benefits, like Social Security or veterans benefits, you must sign up for electronic payments with direct deposit.

If You Have a Bank or Credit Union Account: 

If You Don't have a Bank or Credit Union Account: 

Make Changes to an Existing Direct Deposit Account:

Learn how to make changes to an existing direct deposit account. You also may contact the federal agency that pays your benefit for help with your enrollment.

Social Security Benefits for People with Disabilities

If you have a disability, two programs from the Social Security Administration (SSA) may be able to help.

Understand the SSDI and SSI Programs for People with Disabilities

  • Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is for people who have become disabled after earning enough Social Security work credits within a certain time. 

  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is for people with disabilities or who are 65 or older with little to no income and resources. SSI is not Social Security. Although the names sound similar and the Social Security Administration runs the program, it does not fund SSI. 

Definition of Disability

To qualify for either program, you must meet SSA’s definition of disability

  1. You can’t work

  2. Your disability is expected to last for at least one year or result in death

  3. Your impairment is on Social Security’s list of disabling medical conditions

Social Security uses a step-by-step process to decide if you have a disability. Partial and short-term disabilities do not meet SSA’s standard. They're not eligible for benefits.

Benefit Eligibility Screening Tool

Use the Benefit Eligibility Screening Tool to find out if you may qualify for SSDI or SSI.

Learn More and Apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

Work Requirements

When you work and pay Social Security taxes, you earn Social Security “work credits.” You earn up to four a year depending on your income. To be eligible for SSDI, you must have earned a certain number of work credits, some of them recently. The number of work credits you need depends on your age when you stopped working due to your disability.

Benefits for Family Members

Your spouse or former spouse and your children may be eligible for benefits when you start getting SSDI.

Applying for SSDI

You can apply for benefits online, by phone, or in person.

  • If your application is denied, you can appeal the decision.

  • If it's approved, you’ll have a five-month waiting period for benefits to start. You’ll receive benefits for the sixth full month after the date SSA finds your disability began.

  • You’ll be enrolled in Medicare two years after you begin receiving SSDI payments.

Returning to Work

You can usually return to work without losing your SSDI if you earn less than a “substantial” amount. In 2019, the SSA considered average earnings of $1,220 or more per month "substantial."

You can try out your ability to return to work for at least nine months. You won't lose your SSDI benefits or Medicare coverage. See the booklet Working While Disabled: How We Can Help to learn more.

Learn More and Apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

SSI benefits are for adults and children with a disability and little income or resources. Seniors 65 and older without a disability may be eligible if they meet the income limits. People who are eligible to receive SSDI may be eligible for SSI too.

In most states, people who receive SSI also receive Medicaid coverage. Many states also provide supplemental payments to certain SSI recipients.

Defining Disability for SSI

Adults under 65 must meet SSA’s definition of disability.

For a child, disability means:

  • Having a physical or mental impairment that causes marked and severe functional limitations

  • The disability is expected to last for at least one year or result in death

Applying for SSI

Adults can apply for SSI by phone, in person at a local Social Security office, or in some cases online. To apply for SSI for a child, you can start the process online but will need to complete it either in person or by phone.

  • You can appeal if your claim is denied.

  • Explore a listing of SSI topics to learn more detailed information.

Going to Work

SSI work incentives help you go to work by reducing your risk of losing your SSI or Medicaid coverage. You can earn $65 a month without it affecting your cash benefit. Beyond that, your SSI payment will go down $1 for every $2 you earn.

When your earnings plus any other income exceed your state’s SSI income limits, you won't receive SSI. Your payments will start again for any month your income drops to less than the SSI limits. You can learn more in the booklet Working While Disabled: How We Can Help.

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Last Updated: September 16, 2019