What should I know about Social Security benefits?

Authored By: GeorgiaLegalAid.org
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Social Security

Social Security benefits in Georgia


What are Social Security benefits?

Social Security is a retirement and insurance program for older and disabled Americans and their families. You are eligible to get Social Security if you, or your family member, have paid enough taxes into Social Security. There are four basic categories of cash benefits under Social Security:

  • retirement, 
  • disability,
  • survivor benefits, and
  • dependent’s benefits. 

Rules, payment schedules, and eligibility for each program are distinct. Although you may qualify for more than one type of benefit under Social Security, you can collect only one of these four benefits at a time. 


Retirement Benefits

Individuals and their dependents are eligible for retirement benefits if the worker: 

  • was born in 1929 or later and 

  • has paid into Social Security for at least ten years. 


You will get partial benefits if you: 

  • Worked at a job that has paid into Social Security for at least ten years total, and

  • Retire at the age of 62. 


You will get full retirement benefits if you:

  • Worked at a job that has paid into Social Security for at least ten years total, and

  • Retire at full retirement age. Full retirement age depends on when you were born, but is between 66 and 67. 


You will get full benefits plus a bonus if you:

  • Worked at a job that has paid into Social Security for at least ten years total, and

  • Delay your benefits past full retirement age and you get an extra 8% a year up to age 70. If you start benefits at age 70, you will get an extra 32% on top of your full retirement benefit amount.


Your retirement benefits are based on how much you earned while working. The more you earned during your career, the higher your benefit will be.

Disability Benefits

The Social Security Administration considers you disabled if: 

  • you have a severe physical or mental condition that prevents you from working,  and 

  • that condition has lasted or is expected to last for at least 12 months or the condition will result in death. 


Once eligible, a person's benefits will continue until you are able to work again on a regular basis. Social Security does not pay for partial disability or for short-term disability that lasts less than 12 months. Social Security Disability benefits are paid only if you or your family members if you have worked long enough to qualify. The length depends on the age when you become disabled. Eligibility requires medical documentation of the disability.

How is Social Security different from Supplemental Security Income?

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is often confused with Social Security benefits. Both programs are run through the Social Security Administration and many people are eligible for both. However, there are many differences between the two programs in who qualifies and how they are run, including:

  • Eligibility. Anyone who pays into Social Security long enough is eligible for those benefits. On the other hand, SSI benefits are not based on your work history, but your income and resources.

  • Health Insurance. With Social Security benefits, you qualify for Medicare after a 24-month waiting period. With SSI, you are immediately automatically qualified for Medicaid. 

  • With Social Security certain dependents or survivors are eligible for benefits on the worker's account. With SSI, dependants or survivors are not eligible to receive SSI benefits on the worker's account.

Survivor's Benefits

Social Security provides benefits to the worker, but also to their family when the worker retires, becomes disabled, or dies. However, not every surviving family member can collect these benefits. Among those dependents eligible for Survivors Benefits on the record of the insured are:

  • The spouse of a retired or disabled worker entitled to benefits who: 

    • Is age 62 or over; or 

    • Is caring for a child under the age of 16 or a disabled child over the age of 16 if that child is entitled to benefits on the worker's Social Security record.

  • The divorced spouse of a retired or disabled worker who would get benefits, if ex-spouse is age 62 or over and was married to the worker for at least 10 years.

  • The divorced spouse of a fully insured worker who has not yet filed a claim for benefits if 

    • both are age 62 or over, 

    • were married for at least 10 years, and 

    • have been finally divorced for at least 2 continuous years.

  • Certain dependent, unmarried children of a retired or disabled worker who is entitled to benefits, or of a deceased insured worker.

  • The surviving spouse (including the surviving divorced spouse) of a deceased insured worker, if the widow(er) is age 60 or over.

  • The disabled surviving spouse (including a surviving divorced spouse in some cases) of a deceased insured worker if: 

    • the widow(er) is between age 50 and 60, and 

    • becomes disabled within a specific period of time.

  • The surviving spouse (including surviving divorced spouse) of a deceased insured worker. They must be caring for an entitled child of the deceased who is either under age 16 or disabled before age 22.

  • The dependent parents of a deceased insured worker at age 62 or over.

Dependant’s Benefits

A biological child, adopted child, or dependent stepchild can receive Social Security benefits based on a worker’s disability if they are:

  •  unmarried and younger than 18 years old. 

  • If the child is still in high school at age 18, the child will continue receiving benefits until they graduate or reach age 19, whichever is sooner. 

  • A dependent child may be eligible for up to 50% of the amount of the disability benefits received by the disabled worker.

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What are my rights and responsibilities?

  • You have the right to request that the Social Security Administration estimate your future benefits for you. This will be done at no charge to you. You can find out how long you have paid into Social Security to find out if you are eligible to get retirement benefits.

  • You have the right to apply for Social Security benefits if you believe you meet the eligibility requirements. Filing for Social Security is free.

  • If you meet the eligibility requirements for Social Security, you have the right to get Social Security benefits.

  • You have the right to a cost-of-living increase each January if the cost of living has gone up.

  • You have the right to appeal most decisions about Social Security benefits. You are responsible for filing an appeal to the correct party and within a certain amount of time.

  • If you get Social Security disability benefits, you are responsible for contacting the SSA any time a change happens that could affect your benefits. Changes you must report include:

    • If you take a job while you get disability payments,

    • If you get other disability benefits,

    • If you are offered services under SSA’s Ticket to Work program,

    • If you move,

    • If you change your direct deposit account,

    • If you can no longer manage your own benefits,

    • If start getting a pension from a job that did not pay into Social Security,

    • If you get married or divorced,

    • If you change your name,

    • If you care for a child that gets benefits,

    • If you become a parent after you start receiving benefits,

    • If you adopt a child who is receiving benefits,

    • If you have a warrant out for your arrest,

    • If you are convicted of a crime,

    • If you violate parole or probation,

    • If you leave the United States for 30 days or more,

    • If you are not a citizen and return to live in the United States,

    • If your citizenship status changes,

    • If a beneficiary dies,

    • If you are also getting Railroad Retirements.

  • If you are receiving benefits for a child you must contact the SSA when:

  • The child turns 18,

  • An 18-year-old child is still in high school,

  • The child is disabled,

  • Your stepchild is getting benefits based on your work and you divorce their parent.

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How can I apply for Social Security benefits?

You can apply for Social Security benefits:

  • Online (for retirement and disability benefits only)

  • By calling  1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) to make an appointment at your local Social Security office, or 

  • Visiting your local Social Security office to apply.


You must provide information and documents, including:

  • your original birth certificate or other proof of birth;

  • proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status if you were not born in the United States;

  • a copy of your U.S. military service paper(s) if you had military service before 1968;  and

  • a copy of your W-2 form(s) and/or self-employment tax return for last year.


If you are applying for Social Security disability benefits, you must also provide:

  • Names, addresses, and phone numbers of doctors, caseworkers, hospitals, and clinics that took care of you and the dates of your visits;

  • Names and dosages of all the medications you are taking;

  • Medical records from your doctors, therapists, hospitals, clinics, and caseworkers, that you already have in your possession;

  • Laboratory and test results.


For survivor’s benefits, you must also provide proof of the worker’s death. 

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How can I appeal a Social Security decision?

You have the right to appeal if: 

  • you are denied Social Security benefits, 

  • you don’t agree with the amount you are offered, or 

  • you have Social Security and changes are made to your benefit amount.


There are four levels of appeals. If you do not get a favorable result at the first appeal, you can appeal to the next level. The levels are:

  1. Reconsideration. You will get a letter after your application telling you what the SSA decides in your case. After you get that letter, you must contact the SSA in writing within 60 days to request a reconsideration. You can make this request online or by mailing a Request for Reconsideration form to the SSA.


A reconsideration is a review of the evidence by someone at the SSA who did not take part in the original decision. 


  1. Administrative Law Judge Hearing. If you disagree with the reconsideration decision, you can ask for a hearing. The administrative law judge will set the time and place of the hearing. Hearings might be conducted by video conference. Before the hearing the SSA might ask you to submit more evidence to support your claim. At the hearing:

    1. The judge will question you and any witnesses you bring to support your application;
    2. The judge might also ask medical or vocational experts to give information;
    3. You or your representative may also question the witnesses.

After the hearing you will get a letter telling you of the judge’s decision.

  1. Appeals Council Review. If you disagree with the judge’s decision, you can appeal that decision to the Social Security Appeals Council. The council may:

    1. Review your case and issue a decision,

    2. Decline to review your case if they agree with the hearing decision,

    3. Send the case back to the hearing judge for another review.

You will receive a letter explaining whatever decision the Appeals Council makes.

  1. Federal Court. You can appeal the Appeals Council’s decision or denial to a federal district court. The Appeals Council’s letter will tell you how to file a lawsuit to appeal your case.

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What happens if I have an overpayment?

An overpayment happens when the SSA gives you more money than what they believe you actually should have received. An overpayment might happen if:

  • Your actual income is more than you estimated,

  • Something changes that gives you more income or resources and you do not report that change to the SSA,

  • You were getting Social Security Disability benefits are no longer disabled,

  • The SSA incorrectly computes your benefit amount,.


If the SSA decides there was an overpayment, they will send you a notice asking for a full refund within 30 days. You can: 

  • If you agree that there was an overpayment, you can make plans to repay the amount, 

  • If you do not believe you were overpaid or if you think the amount is wrong, you can appeal.

    • You must appeal within 60 days of getting the overpayment letter.

  • If you do not believe you should have to repay the amount, you can ask for a waiver. To get a waiver you must prove:

    • The overpayment was not your fault,

    • It would be a hardship for you to pay back the overpayment.

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How do I get my Social Security benefit money?

There are two options for getting your Social Security benefit payments. You can get your money through:

  1. Direct deposit. The SSA will deposit your payments directly to your bank or credit union account.

  2. Prepaid debit card. The SSA will issue you a Direct Express card that will automatically load each month with your funds. You do not need a bank account to get a prepaid card, but there are some fees to use this card.

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Can I get Social Security benefits if I am not a citizen of the United States?

You may be eligible for Social Security if you are not a citizen, but are living in the United States if you:

  • Are lawfully present in the U.S., including:

    • permanent residency or 

    • other classifications under the Immigration and Naturalization Act, Family Unity or Immediate Relative provisions, or 

    • others fully insured for benefits and who meet U.S. lawful presence requirements.

  • Meet all the regular eligibility requirements for Social Security.

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Can someone else manage my Social Security benefits?

Social Security has the Representative Payment Program for beneficiaries who cannot manage their own payments. In this case, the SSA appoints someone to manage the payments on the beneficiary’s behalf. This person is called a payee. The SSA prefers a family or friend to serve as a payee. If no family or friend is able, the SSA will appoint a qualified organization. Some payees must fill out a Representative Payee Report each year to prove how the payments are used.


Payees that do not need to fill out the Representative Payee Report are:

  • Natural or adoptive parents of a minor child beneficiary who primarily reside in the same household as the child;

  • Legal guardians of a minor child beneficiary who primarily reside in the same household as the child;

  • Natural or adoptive parents of a disabled adult beneficiary who primarily reside in the same household with the beneficiary; and

  • Spouse of a beneficiary,

  • State mental institutions that participate in an onsite review program.

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Last Review and Update: Apr 28, 2022
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