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Top 25 Social Security Questions

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

En español | Here are the most frequently asked questions about Social Security that AARP has received from you.

See also: 10 things you should know about Social Security.

Social Security_Top 25 Questions

Social Security benefits are calculated on the amount of money you earn during your lifetime. — iStockphoto

1. I am about to turn 62 and plan to file for Social Security. How do I get started?

You should apply three months before you want to start collecting. Sign up online or call 1-800-772-1213. Here are some documents you may have to produce: your Social Security card or a record of the number; your birth certificate; proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status; military discharge papers if you served before 1968; and last year's W-2 tax form or tax return if you're self-employed.

2. How is my Social Security benefit calculated?

Benefits are based on the amount of money you earned during your lifetime – with an emphasis on the 35 years in which you earned the most. Plus, lower-paid workers get a bigger percentage of their preretirement income than higher-paid workers. In 2010, the average monthly benefit for retirees is $1,172.

3. If I remarry, can I still collect Social Security benefits based on my deceased first husband's record?

You can — subject to several rules. In general, you cannot receive survivor benefits if you remarry before age 60 unless that marriage ends, too, whether by annulment, divorce or death of your new husband. If you remarry after age 60 (50 if disabled), you can still collect benefits on your former spouse's record. After you reach 62, you may get retirement benefits on the record of your new spouse if they are higher.

4. Why won't retirees get a cost-of-living adjustment for 2011? Many of us count on this for food, medicine and other bills.

COLAs are based on the consumer price index, which tracks inflation. Because inflation has been flat, according to the CPI, there will be no benefit increase — for the second year in a row. AARP is calling on Congress to provide beneficiaries with financial relief.

5. I am 56 and receive Social Security disability benefits. At what point will I switch to regular Social Security? Will the monthly amount change?

When you reach full retirement age, your disability benefits will automatically convert to retirement benefits. The amount will remain the same.

Next: What if someone dies before applying for benefits? >>

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