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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

Social Security provides you with a source of income when you retire or if you can’t work due to a disability. It can also support your legal dependents (spouse, children, or parents) with benefits in the event of your death. 

What's Social Security?

Social Security is a program run by the federal government. The program works by using taxes paid into a trust fund to provide benefits to people who are eligible. You’ll need a Social Security number when you apply for a job.

Find how to apply for 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

  • 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. You can also make changes to your Social Security record.

How to Find More Help

If you have specific questions about your Social Security benefits, you can:

Contact the 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

The Social Security Administration issues Social Security cards to:

  • U.S. citizens

  • Permanent Residents

  • Non-citizens who work in the U.S.

See how you can get a Social Security card corrected or replaced. Find out how to get one for your new baby. 

What is a Social Security Card?

Your Social Security card is an important piece of identification. You'll need one to get a job, collect Social Security, or receive other government benefits.

When you apply for a Social Security number (SSN), the Social Security Administration (SSA) will assign you a nine-digit number. This is the same number which is 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 documents - Learn what documents you'll need to get an original, replacement, or corrected Social Security card. These documents apply for children and adults, whether they’re  U.S. citizens or noncitizens.

  2. Complete your application - Read the instructions 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 to.

Getting a Social Security Number for a New Baby 

The easiest way to get a Social Security number for your child is at the hospital after they are born when you apply 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.

Your child will need their own Social Security number so you can:

  • Claim your child as a dependent on your income tax return

  • Open a bank account in their name

  • Get medical coverage for them

  • Apply for government services for them

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. 

In most states, you can apply for a replacement card online. However, there are exceptions. Find out if this service is available in your state.

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

Prevent Identity 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 Earnings and International Operations may be able to help you.

SSA Benefits for U.S. Citizens Overseas

Learn how to collect Social Security benefits while you're overseas.

Get 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. You can find out if you can receive benefits overseas by using the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) payment verification tool. Once you access the tool, pick the country you're visiting or living in from the drop-down menu options.

Earn SSA Work Credits in Some Countries

You may not have enough credits from your work in the United States to qualify for retirement benefits. But, 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.

Government Checks and Payments

Find out how to report your lost, missing, stolen, or expired government check or direct deposit. Also learn why you received a check and how to make a payment to the government.

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. You may be able to find the authorizing agency in the memo line of the check. View this diagram of a sample Treasury check to help you locate the authorizing agency contact information on your own check. Scroll about half way down the page to see the diagram. 

If you're unable to find 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, U.S. Coast Guard 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

You must report the death of a family member receiving Social Security or Medicare benefits. The Social Security Administration (SSA) processes death reports for both. Find out how you can report a death and how to cancel benefit payments. In addition to canceling SSA and Medicare benefits, find out what other benefits and accounts you should cancel

How to Report a Death to Social Security

To report a death:

How to Stop Social Security Check Payments

The SSA can not 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. Find out how to return a check to the SSA.

If the payment is by direct deposit, notify the financial institution as soon as possible so it can return any payments received after death. For more about the requirement to return benefits for the month of a beneficiary’s death, see the top of page 11 of this SSA publication.

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

Learn how to set up direct deposit to receive 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, Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income may help financially. To find out if you’re eligible for either program, use the Benefit Eligibility Screening Tool.

Definition of Disability

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

  1. You’re unable to do substantial gainful activity (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.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) 

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

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

How to Apply for SSDI

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

  • If your application is approved, you’ll have a five-month waiting period for benefits to start. 

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

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

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. 

How to Apply for Supplemental Security Income (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 application is denied.

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

Working While Receiving SSDI or SSI

Whether you receive SSDI or SSI, you may be able to work without it impacting your benefits if you earn less than a certain amount. You can find all the details in the booklet Working While Disabled: How We Can Help.

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Last Updated: May 28, 2021

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