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10 Surprising Facts About Social Security

Check out these little-known facts about one of America's best-loved programs

10 Surprising Things About Social Security

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Don't leave these lesser-known social security benefits hanging.

1. Kids get benefits, too.

Your unmarried children under age 18 — or 19 if still in high school — can receive benefits based on your work record if you're collecting Social Security retirement or disability benefits. Grandchildren also are eligible for benefits on a grandparent's record if they are dependents and receive no financial support from a parent.

2. In some cases, so do parents.

Moms and dads who rely on an adult child for at least half of their financial support can receive survivor benefits if that child dies.

3. You've got time to fix errors.

Mistakes in your earnings record could lead to reduced future benefits. Typically, you have three years, three months and 15 days after the year in which you earned the wages to fix mistakes. Social Security makes exceptions if, say, you have documentation of earnings or the error is obvious.

4. Chances of owing taxes are increasing.

Up to 85 percent of your benefits could be taxed, depending on your income. Because these income limits haven't changed for decades despite rising wages, the chances you'll owe taxes on benefits also have increased. Less than 10 percent of beneficiaries paid federal income tax on their benefits in 1984, the first year benefits were taxed. Now about 40 percent do, and, under current law, that's expected to climb to more than half in three decades.

5. You can change your mind.

Regret taking early — and reduced — benefits at 62? No problem. You have 12 months after starting benefits to withdraw your application — provided you repay all the money received so far. Miss the deadline? Don't worry, you get another chance for a do-over. Continue receiving benefits until your full retirement age, then suspend benefits without having to repay those you already received. Benefits will grow 8 percent annually until age 70, when you can restart benefits to get the maximum payout.

6. Most creditors can't touch.

Your benefits are protected from private creditors. But Uncle Sam can garnish monthly benefits to repay debts such as back alimony, child support, restitution, federal taxes and federal student loans. Be aware, if your Social Security benefits are deposited in an account with other money, the bank must protect two months' worth of benefits from creditors. The bank can freeze the rest of the money, leaving it up to a court to decide whether creditors get the cash.

7. Newlyweds may not qualify.

You generally must be married for at least nine months to qualify for survivor benefits if your spouse dies. Among the exceptions: The spouse died in an accident or in the line of duty while in a uniformed service.

8. You can get a new number.

Under very limited circumstances — if, say, you're a victim of domestic violence or identity theft — you may be able to get a new Social Security number.

9. Your ID is unique to you.

Once a Social Security number is used, it's never assigned again — even if the original owner died. Social Security, which has issued more than 453 million so far, says it has enough numbers to last several more generations without changes to the system.

10. Forwarding services have stopped.

For decades, Social Security was the Pony Express for missing persons. The agency would forward letters to people who couldn't be located. Letters could be from relatives notifying the missing person about a death in the family or news of unclaimed property. The service was free if the cause was humanitarian, but cost $35 if it was notifying a person of unclaimed property. Social Security stopped the service in May 2014, though, because of so many locator resources now available for free online.

Eileen Ambrose is a senior editor and writer for the Money Team. She previously was a personal finance columnist with the Baltimore Sun.