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AARP Bulletin

Top 25 Social Security Questions

Confused about when to claim or whether you're eligible for benefits? We have answers

11. How much money does the U.S. government owe to the Social Security trust fund, and will it be repaid?

To prepare for the boomers' retirement, Social Security has collected more in taxes than it pays in benefits. Surplus funds go into the trust fund and are invested in U.S.-guaranteed Treasury bonds. In 2009, the trust fund held $2.5 trillion in bonds and earned 4.9 percent in interest. These bonds are just as real as U.S. Treasury bonds held by mutual funds or foreign banks. Ultimately, it's up to the American people to ensure the government keeps its promise to retirees, just as it would to other investors.

12. I have a pension from the Army. Will that affect my Social Security benefits?

It will not. You can get both your Social Security benefits and your military pension. If you served in the military before 1957, you did not pay Social Security taxes, but you will receive special credit for some of that service. Special credits also are available to people who served from 1957 to 1967 and from 1968 to 2001.

13. I didn't work enough to qualify for Social Security. My husband gets it, but he is ill and may not live much longer. Will I be able to collect benefits?

Yes, but your benefit will depend on your age and situation: If you are at full retirement age or older, you'll get 100 percent of your deceased husband's benefit. A widow or widower between 60 and full retirement age receives a reduced benefit.

14. Is it true that some people are collecting Social Security benefits who never paid into the system?

Social Security is an earned benefit. In order to collect a retirement benefit, a worker must pay into the system for at least 10 years. In some cases, nonworking family members, such as a spouse, may be eligible for benefits based on the worker's record. Tough rules in place assure that only legal residents can collect Social Security benefits.

15. I filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy after being laid off. Do Social Security benefits count as income in bankruptcy, or are they protected?

Your benefits are protected. Social Security is excluded from the calculation of disposable income when setting up a debtor repayment plan.

Next: Can you receive Social Security in a foreign country? >>

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