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Lifestyles

January 21, 2012

Social Security: Make your New Year's resolutions be about the future

Happy 2012 from Social Security! With the arrival of the new year, many people are putting together lists of goals and resolutions. Here are some New Year's resolutions that you may find worth keeping:

First, you should think about retirement. Whether you're 26 and beginning a career or 62 and thinking about the best time to stop working, give some thought to what your retirement plan will be. Social Security is the largest source of income for elderly Americans today, but it was never intended to be your only source of income when you retire. You also will need savings, investments, pensions or retirement accounts to make sure you have enough money to live comfortably when you retire. The earlier you begin your financial planning, the better off you will be. For tips to help you save, visit www.mymoney.gov.

Remember to plan ahead. The best way to begin planning for retirement is by using the free resources provided by Social Security. Start by using our Retirement Estimator, where you can get a personalized, instant estimate of your future retirement benefits using different retirement ages and scenarios. Visit the Retirement Estimator at www.socialsecurity.gov/estimator.

Please make sure you have all your numbers. While tax season may seem far away, now is the time that many taxpayers start gathering records and documentation for filing tax returns. One of the most important things you need is a Social Security number for everyone whom you will claim as a dependent. If you don't have a number for one of your dependents, you need to apply now to have the Social Security number in time to file your tax return. Learn more at www.socialsecurity.gov/ssnumber.

You can also help a loved one. Sometimes we get the most satisfaction out of helping someone else. If you know someone who could benefit from Social Security, tell him or her about our website and online services. You can even help a loved one apply for retirement or Medicare benefits -- or for Extra Help with Medicare prescription drug costs _ in as little as 10 minutes.

You probably already know that there was an increase in Social Security and Supplemental Security Income monthly payments at the beginning of the year. If you receive monthly Social Security or SSI payments, you received a 3.6 percent cost-of-living adjustment beginning with this month's payment.

For people who receive Social Security retirement benefits, there is more good news. In addition to receiving a little more each month, you may now earn more income without offsetting your benefits because the "earnings test" numbers also have gone up.

If you have reached your full retirement age (age 66 for anyone born between 1943 and 1954), the earnings test does not apply and you may earn as much money as you can without any effect on your benefits.

However, if you are younger than full retirement age, collecting benefits and still working, we do offset some of your benefit amount after a certain earnings limit is met. For people under full retirement age in 2012, the annual exempt amount is $14,640, and if you do reach that limit, we withhold $1 for every $2 above that limit from your monthly benefit amount. For people who retired early, continue working and will obtain full retirement age in 2012, the annual exempt amount is $38,880 and we will withhold $1 for every $3 you earn over the limit from your monthly benefits. You can learn more about the earnings test and how benefits may be reduced by visiting our website, www.socialsecurity.gov, and searching on the topic "earnings test." You also may want to read our publication, "How Work Affects Your Benefits."

It's available at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10069.html.

tracey L. weaver is district manager of the Oneonta office of the Social Security Administration. 'Senior Scene' columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/seniorscene.

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