Couples have extra options. Spouses are entitled to Social Security benefits of up to 50 percent of the higher earner's check if that amount is higher than the payments based on his or her own working record. Widows and widowers are entitled to the higher earner's full retirement payout. Dual-earner couples who have reached their full retirement age can even claim twice by first signing up for a spousal payment, then claiming again later based on their own work record (which will then be higher due to delayed claiming). Ex-spouses are also eligible for benefits if the marriage lasted at least 10 years.
Existing beneficiaries can get a do-over. If you've already signed up for Social Security and received a reduced payout, it's not too late to boost your check. If you pay back the entire amount you have already received from Social Security without interest, you can then qualify for higher payments for the rest of your life.
Social Security numbers have significance. The first three digits of your Social Security number are assigned based on geographical region, with the lowest numbers being assigned in the Northeast and increasingly higher numbers assigned to residents in the West. The middle two digits, called the group number, are allocated in a precise but nonconsecutive order between 01 and 99. The last four digits are issued in a sequential order. Over 420 million unique numbers have been issued and they are not reused after a person's death. Social Security numbers have been assigned shortly after birth since 1989, which makes younger American's Social Security numbers somewhat predictable if you know a person's date of birth and home town, which is common information that young people list on social networking websites, according to research by Alessandro Acquisti, an associate professor of information technology and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University. "Do not offer personal information such as date of birth and hometown publicly," he advises.
Paper Social Security checks will soon be retired. Social Security recipients will be required to collect payments by direct deposit into a bank account or a government Direct Express Debit MasterCard beginning on March 1, 2011. Existing beneficiaries must switch to electronic payments by March 1, 2013. Paperless payments are expected to save $300 million over five years, according to Treasury Department estimates.
The trust fund has a projected deficit. The Social Security trust fund is currently projected to be sufficient to provide payments until the end of 2037. Then, unless changes are made to the program, there will only be sufficient resources to pay about 78 percent of scheduled benefits. Congress is currently considering a variety of potential fixes, including tax increases, benefit cuts, and pushing back the retirement age. A U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging report released in May found that relatively minor tweaks could put the trust fund back on sound financial ground for at least 75 more years. "It's a shame that the tone of the 75th celebration is sort of nostalgic," says Berkowitz. "I would hope that the 75th anniversary is not only about how good things used to be, but also about how good things could still be in the future."