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Plan carefully when deciding at what age to start collecting Social Security benefits

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Plan carefully when deciding at what age to start collecting Social Security benefits
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Q: I know the age for unreduced Social Security retirement is increasing. How do I find out what it is for me?

A: Legislation enacted in 1983 is gradually increasing full retirement age (FRA) from age 65 to age 67 based on year of birth. People can begin SSA retirement at age 62 but starting before FRA results in reduced benefits and starting benefits afterwards, as late as to age 70, results in higher benefits.

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If born between 1943-1954, your FRA is age 66. Detailed FRA dates are at www.socialsecurity.gov through the Retirement or Filing Online for Retirement Benefits sections or directly at www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2/retirechart.htm.

Advantages and disadvantages exist to starting benefits both before and after FRA. With your other financial tools, calculators and retirement planning information on the SSA website can help you decide what is best for you.

Q: Is there a minimum Social Security benefit amount?

A: There is no minimum monthly Social Security benefit although, for administrative reasons, Social Security will not pay a benefit of less than $1. To receive SSA retirement based on your own earnings, you must have worked enough over the years to have 40 credits. Since you can earn a maximum of four credits per year, you need at least 10 years of work to become eligible for retirement benefits.

The actual amount of your SSA retirement is based on your best 35 years of gross wages or net self-employment. Survivor and disability benefits are computed differently.

Q: What medical information do I need to get for my disability application? I have an appointment to apply with Social Security.

A: You do not have to obtain medical records although you should provide them if you already have copies. You will need to provide names and addresses of your medical providers plus periods of treatment. Expect to sign medical releases so Social Security can contact these sources.

Medical data is only one part of the overall evidence used for a disability application. Information about you, including work history, education, and especially how your illness or injury impacts on your daily life is requested on the Adult Disability and Work History Report, form SSA-3368.

More details about SSA disability benefits is on the SSA Web site, www.socialsecurity.gov.

Did you know? In 1935, the life expectancy of a 65-year old was 12.5 years. Today it is 18 years. There are currently 3.3 workers for every Social Security beneficiary. That number will decrease to 2.1 workers per beneficiary in 2034. By that time, there will be almost twice as many older Americans as there are today. One more statistic: more than one million people have applied for Social Security retirement benefits the fast, easy, convenient way -- online. When planning your retirement, use the calculators and other tools available at www.socialsecurity.gov.

Howard Kossover is a public affairs specialist with the Social Security Administration office in Grand Forks, N.D. You can reach him by e-mail at howard.kossover@ssa.gov.

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