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New to Social Security? Here's What You Should Know About Your Benefits

Find helpful information on when you'll receive checks, how the system works and more

Your Social Security Mailbox questions answered

Adam Voorhes

New to Social Security benefits? Get to know basics on how the system works.

En español | Q: I am new to Social Security and have some questions about how the system works. At what point in the month will I get my Social Security payment?

A: Social Security uses a birthday system to decide when to pay your retirement benefits.

If your birthday falls on the 1st to 10th of the month, Social Security will pay benefits on the second Wednesday of the month. If your birthday is from the 11th to the 20th, payment is on the third Wednesday. And if your birthday is from the 21st to the 31st, payment is on the fourth Wednesday of the month.

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People who are newly joining Social Security also should know that retiree benefits are paid the month after they are accrued. If you become eligible for your first benefit for the month of October, Social Security will pay your October benefit in November.

To see when benefits will be paid, go to Social Security's website and search for "payment dates."

Q: What happens if Social Security pays me too much and wants to take the money back?

A: If Social Security makes a mistake and overpays you, there are several ways for you and the agency to straighten out your account. You can pay back the money by mail, using a check, money order or credit card. The repayment can be mailed to the Social Security Administration, P.O. Box 3430, Philadelphia, Pa. 19122-2992. You can also make a payment in person at a Social Security office.

But don't do your own calculation. If you didn't receive a notification from Social Security about an overpayment, call to make sure you and the agency agree on how much is owed and how it will be repaid. For questions about overpayments, call 800-772-1213 (TTY 800-325-0778).

You should be aware that Social Security can also get the money back by withholding your monthly check until the overpayment is repaid in full. While Social Security works hard to collect on overpayments, it also can be flexible. The agency's website says "if paying back the money would be a hardship, we might accept installment payments or offer a compromise settlement."

Q: Can my creditors garnish my Social Security benefits?

A: It depends on whom you owe money to. Generally speaking, banks and credit card companies can't touch your Social Security benefits. But when you owe money to the federal government — especially for unpaid taxes and student loan debt — a portion of your Social Security benefits can be taken. The feds also can tap into your benefits to enforce court orders for child support and alimony.

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Q: If I receive workers' compensation for a job-related injury, will those payments affect my Social Security disability benefits?

A: Perhaps. The answer depends on your individual situation. The bottom line generally is that your Social Security disability will be reduced if your benefits from workers' comp, Social Security disability and other programs total more than 80 percent of your average earnings in years before you became disabled. It's a complicated calculation that Social Security will compute.

A fuller explanation can be found in the fact sheet: "How Workers' Compensation And Other Disability Payments May Affect Your Benefits" (pdf).

Stan Hinden, a former columnist for the Washington Post, wrote How to Retire Happy: The 12 Most Important Decisions You Must Make Before You Retire. Have a question? Check out the AARP Social Security Question and Answer Tool.

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