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Social Security: What you need to know

Q: In 2008, how much can I earn and still receive my Social Security benefits?

A: This general information does not apply disability benefits. Also, a special, one-time, monthly earnings test is used, usually in the first year of retirement, so that people can receive Social Security checks for months they are retired, regardless of yearly earnings.

Earnings levels vary depending if you are under or over full retirement age (FRA), the age at which a person may first become entitled to full (unreduced) retirement benefits. FRA for people born from 1943-1954 is age 66.

If you are under your full retirement age (FRA) throughout 2008, $1 in benefits will be deducted for each $2 you earn above the 2008 annual limit of $13,560.

If you attain full retirement age in 2008, $1 in benefits will be deducted for each $3 you earn above $36,120. There is no limit on earnings starting with the month you reach full retirement age.

Earnings for the annual earnings test include only your gross wages and net earnings from self-employment. Pensions, spouse's earnings, or other income do not apply. If your work plans change, update your estimated earnings for the year with Social Security to keep benefits accurate.

To learn how your estimated earnings may affect benefits, use the earnings test calculator on the SSA website,

See Calculate your benefits in the Retirement section. Several questions on this topic are in the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section or see How Work Affects Your Benefits, available online at, by calling the SSA national toll-free number, 800-772-1213 (TTY 800-325-0778), or from your local office.

Q: Can a noncitizen be issued a Social Security number (SSN) card?

A: Exceptions exist but, in general, only noncitizens having permission to work from the Department of Homeland Security can get a Social Security number. Detailed information about requirements to obtain a SSN, including evidence needed and a downloadable application, is at

Q: Does Medicare provide coverage outside of the United States?

A: Medicare generally does not pay for hospital or medical services outside the United States, except for some emergency services in Mexico and Canada. This is even if you get sick or hurt while traveling. If traveling outside the country sign up for direct deposit for secure delivery of your benefits. Also, if you plan to stay outside the country more than 30 days, other rules may apply. Find out about these rules in Your Payments While You Are Outside the United States, Publication No. 05-10137 on the Web site, or by calling the national number 800-772-1213 (TTY 800-325-0778).

Q: My son needs to replace his Social Security number (SSN) card for a summer job. Can this be done online?

A: He can learn the specific evidence needed and download the SSN card application from the website,

Once completed, he must mail or bring the application and needed documents to his local SSA office or, in a few areas of the country, a SSA card center. Documents must be originals or copies certified by the issuing agency. SSA cannot accept photocopies or notarized copies. Processed SSN cards are centrally mailed and not issued by local offices.

Did You Know? The first monthly Social Security retirement check went to Ida May Fuller of Vermont in January 1940, for $22.54. Miss Fuller lived to be 100 and collected Social Security benefits for 35 years. Today Social Security benefits represent about 40 percent of income for the elderly. Ninety percent of Americans age 65 and older receive Social Security benefits. Social Security is for much more than retirement.

In 2008, over 50 million Americans of all ages will receive nearly $614 billion in Social Security retirement, survivor and disability benefits including about 115,434 people in North Dakota and about 801,237 people in Minnesota.

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