Social Security number as tax ID

Q: When did Social Security numbers start being used for tax ID?

A: President Kennedy signed into law Public Law 87-397 on October 5, 1961. This legislation was designed to cut down on tax cheating by assigning a tax identity number to every taxpayer.

 In 1962, the Internal Revenue Service adopted the Social Security number (SSN) as its official taxpayer identification number. IRS assigns a tax number to people not eligible for a SSN. 

The Tax Reform Act of 1986, signed into law by President Reagan, required that every dependent age 5 or older listed on a tax return had to have his or her own SSN. This new requirement doubled the Social Security number workload the following year. 

Related to this, many children today receive a Social Security number (SSN) as part of their birth registration, a process called Enumeration at Birth. Starting when birth certificate information is provided at the hospital, this voluntary and free process allows the state agency issuing birth certificates to share information about the child with the Social Security Administration. A SSN is then provided to the child and mailed to the parents without any additional paperwork or cost.  

More about Social Security numbers for children is here. General information for obtaining, updating or replacing a SSN card is at There is no charge for any SSN activity.


Does it matter if I retire in December or January?

Q: I am 63, work full time, and plan to retire effective either this December 31 or January 2, 2015. Is there any difference as far as how much I can earn while on Social Security either way? I may work occasionally at my present job after retiring.   

A: At age 63 there is no difference between retiring at the end of December compared to the beginning of January. Either way, you work all through December, and probably start Social Security retirement effective with January. Payment for January arrives in February.  

For the annual retirement test in any given year, how much you can earn without penalty is based on whether you will be younger than your full retirement age (FRA) the entire year, reach FRA during the year, or are older than FRA. For your birth year, FRA is 66.Since you will be younger than FRA all of 2015, the lowest retirement test limit will apply before reducing benefits. In 2014, that amount is $15,480. 

Retirement test earnings amounts for calendar year 2015 are not yet available. When announced they will be posted in the SSA retirement planner at    

Although this person will be retired for the full 2015 calendar year, people retire all months of the year with many earning over their earnings test amounts before retiring. So that these people can start their Social Security retirement, a one-time special rule using monthly earnings, rather than calendar year earnings, is usually applied during the year that SSA retirement benefits are started.  

Annual retirement test earnings include only your own calendar year gross wages and net self-employment.

Paying Medicare premiums without Social Security

Q: I will sign up for Medicare at age 65 soon, but am not getting Social Security yet. How do I pay Medicare premiums if not receiving monthly SSA benefits? 

A: If not receiving Social Security monthly benefits, a quarterly Medicare premium payment schedule is arranged that is payable by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account, by check or money order, or by credit card. Details are on the Medicare website,, in the “Your Medicare Costs” section. 

Note that there are different parts to Medicare and you might not have a Medicare premium to pay yet. 

Most people enroll in Medicare Part A (Hospital) at age 65 even if working and having employment based insurance. Part A does not have a monthly premium.  

Medicare Part B (Medical) has a monthly premium and can be refused. If you have suitable medical insurance through the current employment of you or your spouse, you might not need Part B yet. Before deciding, check with your employer health coverage.  

See the booklet “Medicare” for general information about the parts of and enrolling in Medicare.  

Complete your application for just Medicare online. Learn how at 

No charge for SSN update

Q:  I looked for instructions to change my name on my Social Security card and found a website that charged money for this. A friend said changing my name with SSA is free. Is it? 

A:  Yes, it is free. Social Security does not charge a fee for Social Security number (SSN) card actions. See the Numbers & Cards section at for needed evidence and a downloadable application. 

To protect your personal information and avoid identity theft, you cannot electronically submit the Social Security number (SSN) application. Some areas of the country have centralized sites to process SSN card actions but generally completed applications and evidence can be brought or mailed to your local office. 

It is important to note that any document submitted as evidence must be either the original or a copy certified by the issuing agency. A photocopy that you made yourself or a copy that you had notarized cannot be used. The website links to addresses to use if you need a certified copy of a document showing a birth, marriage or divorce within the United States. All evidence is returned to you. 

SSN cards are mailed from a central location when processing is complete. Allow approximately two weeks to receive your corrected or replacement card.

The name on your card should be the same as reported by your employer so that your wages are correctly shown on your work record. Have your employer correct your payroll record after your SSN card is updated. 

Be careful when searching the Internet for Social Security information. Avoid private for-profit websites that charge for services provided free by Social Security, including name changes to your SSN card.  

Go to or for accurate information and free services.  





What is the disability waiting period?

Q: What is the disability waiting period? 

A: Social Security disability requirements include a waiting period of five full calendar months before entitlement to benefits can begin. Benefits are paid starting for the sixth full month after the date a disability is determined to begin. 

This date, called the onset, is when the person became disabled and not when the application was submitted or the decision made. 

For example, say someone’s Social Security disability due to illness or injury was established as beginning on September 22, 2014, the onset date. The waiting period would be the five full months of October 2014 – February 2015 with payment effective starting with March. Since Social Security payments are made in the following month, payment for March arrives in April. 

When a person files a disability application and approved near the onset date, he or she has to wait until the waiting period is completed before benefits start. If approved after the waiting period, benefits begin right away. Using the above example, if the person is approved for disability in January 2015, he or she is still in the waiting period and must finish it before benefits start. If the decision is made in May 2015, the waiting period is already completed and benefits can begin immediately. Either way, the waiting period applies. 

In addition to the Social Security disability program, the Social Security Administration is responsible for the very different, low income, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. SSI also has disability benefits but does not have a disability waiting period. If eligible for both programs, a person might receive SSI during the Social Security waiting period. Then, when Social Security disability begins after the waiting period, the amount of those benefits will reduce or end the SSI.


Living apart and Social Security spousal benefits

Q: My husband and I are not divorced but have lived apart for many years. Can I still receive Social Security through his record?  

A: Living together is not required for Social Security spousal benefits as a wife or husband. Your individual SSA retirement amounts might prevent spousal benefits but living apart while married will not.   

In addition, having lived apart will not prevent either of you from potentially receiving future survivor benefits as widow or widower.  

Should you divorce, SSA benefits might be payable as a divorced spouse or surviving divorced spouse if the marriage lasted at least ten years and other requirements are met.  

More about Social Security benefits for a current or former spouse is in the SSA website Retirement Planner section. See “how members of your family may qualify for benefits.”  

You can file an online application for benefits as a spouse. Details are here 

Go here to learn more about Social Security survivors benefits.


Receiving Social Security? Keep your earnings estimate current.

Q: I work part-time while receiving Social Security retirement and will earn less this year than originally estimated. Should I change my estimate with Social Security?

A: Yes, if you expect to earn over annual earnings test amounts, update your 2014 earnings estimate with Social Security now if your original estimate has changed. You can update your estimated earnings anytime during the year.

Your annual gross wage or net self-employment earnings can reduce Social Security benefits for the year until you reach full retirement age (FRA). Earnings test amounts for 2014 are at and in How Work Affects Your Benefits (SSA publication 05-10069). Pensions, investment and other non-employment income are not included for earnings test purposes. Earnings test amounts for 2015 are not yet available.

If you have not yet reached full retirement age, keeping your estimated calendar year earnings current with Social Security is important, especially if your original estimate was below the earnings test amount and you will actually earn over it.

If you expect to earn more than originally planned, with earnings to be over the 2014 earnings test amount for your age, updating your estimate now can prevent or reduce the chance of your being incorrectly paid and needing to refund money to Social Security.

If your current estimate is lower than originally expected, updating it now can release any withheld benefits to you faster. Revise your earnings estimate up or down as needed during the year. Report your actual earnings at the end of the year if you earn over the annual limit for your age.

People receiving Social Security because they have a disability do not have an earnings test and should contact Social Security to learn about available incentives if returning to work. 

Immediately is the best time to report changes to Social Security, including changes to your address, earnings or marital status.  Read “What You Need To Know When You Get Retirement or Survivors Benefits” (SSA publication 05-10077).

Change your estimate or report other changes by calling Social Security nationally at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY-1-800-325-0778) from 7:00am – 7:00pm, or contact your local office.




Social Security in other countries

Q: How does the Social Security program of the United States compare with similar programs in other countries?

A: Many countries have Social Security type programs but there is not one basic international program. Program purposes and policies vary from country to country.

The Social Security website contains the principal features of social security programs in more than 170 countries.  

To learn program basics for a given country, go to the Research, Statistics, & Policy Analysis section of the SSA website and then to the publication Social Security Programs Throughout the World. Portions of this publication are updated every six months. 

For example, follow these links for information about the social security programs of Canada and Mexico 

Learn about our Social Security retirement, survivors and disability programs at Create your personal my Social Security account at the same time.

DDS makes disability decisions

Q: Do Social Security employees have medical training so they can evaluate medical information for disability application decisions? 

A: Local Social Security employees do not make medical decisions for disability applications and do not evaluate medical evidence for Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) applications. 

Whether a person files online or by personal interview, when a disability application is received, Social Security representatives review it to verify that the non-medical eligibility requirements are met. For example, the SSA employee will verify that an applicant for Social Security disability meets the work requirement or that a person filing for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) meets the income and resource requirements of that need-based program. If these non-medical requirements are not met, they will complete the application to a denial since a medical decision would not be required. 

When non-medical requirements are met, the local office reviews application materials for completeness, including applicant details to describe the disabling impairments, medical treatment, medical releases and related employment and vocational information. 

For the actual medical decision, the disability claim goes to a State agency, usually called a Disability Determination Service (DDS). These state agencies, fully funded by the Federal Government, are responsible for developing medical evidence and making the initial determination on whether or not a claimant is disabled or blind under the law. Samples of DDS decisions from all the States are reviewed within Social Security to maintain national requirements. 

Following a national, step-by-step disability evaluation process, DDS employees make the disability decision and return the application to the local Social Security office for additional work as needed. Depending on the decision, this could be to complete any remaining development before payment begins or, if a denial, holding a file for the appeal period.

Mid-year retirement and the annual earnings test

Q: I have been working all year and will retire soon. Does Social Security start counting my wages with the day I start retirement or from the beginning of the year? Can I start Social Security retirement now or must I wait until 2015 due to my earnings? 

A: If you are at least age 62 and meet all requirements, start Social Security retirement when you want, whether this year after you retire, in 2015, or some other time.  

Your question refers to the annual retirement earnings test. Earnings for the retirement test include your calendar year gross wages and net income from self-employment. Other income is not included for the earnings test. 

People retire all during the year. Since those retiring mid-year might have already earned over earnings test levels for the year, there is a special one-time rule, usually used during the first year of retirement, that lets people receive Social Security retirement benefits based on monthly earnings. Using this one-time exception, you should be able to start SSA retirement when you retire despite your total earnings for this year.

Based on this one-time rule, a person retiring in 2014, at least age 62 but younger than full retirement age the entire year, can receive Social Security retirement for months that gross wages do not exceed $1,290 even though overall calendar year earnings are far above retirement test amounts. Slightly different rules apply for self-employment.   

Earnings test amounts for 2015 are not yet known, but 2014 information is here