Q Is it true I must now receive my benefits through direct deposit?
A Anyone applying for benefits on or after May 1, 2011, will be required to receive his payments electronically, while those already receiving paper checks will need to switch by March 1, 2013.
Paper checks no longer will be an option for most people. If you don't have a bank account, you can get your benefits through the Direct Express debit MasterCard. Switching from checks to electronic payments is fast, easy and free at www.godirect.org.
You also can call the U.S. Treasury Processing Center's toll-free help line at 1-800-333-1795 or speak with a bank or credit union representative or contact Social Security for help.
Q What is the benefit amount a spouse may be entitled to receive?
A If you are eligible for both your own retirement benefit and for benefits as a spouse, we will always pay you benefits based on your record first.
If your benefit as a spouse is higher than your retirement benefit, you will receive a combination of benefits equaling the higher spouse's benefits.
A spouse generally receives one-half of the retired worker's full benefit unless the spouse begins collecting benefits before full retirement age. If the spouse begins collecting benefits before full retirement age, the amount of the spouse's benefit is reduced by a percentage based on the number of months before he or she reaches full retirement age. For example, based on the full retirement age of 66, if a spouse begins collecting benefits:
• At age 65, the benefit amount would be about 46 percent of the retired worker's full benefit
• At age 64, it would be about 42 percent
• At age 63, 37.5 percent
• At age 62, 35 percent
However, if a spouse is taking care of a child who is either under age 16 or disabled and receives Social Security benefits on the same record, a spouse will get full benefits, regardless of age.
Learn more by reading our retirement publication at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10035.html.
Q I'm applying for disability benefits. Do I automatically receive Medicare benefits if I'm approved for disability benefits?
A You will receive Medicare after you receive disability benefits for 24 months.
When you become eligible for disability benefits, we will automatically enroll you in Medicare. We start counting the 24 months from the month you were entitled to receive disability, not the month when you received your first payment.
Special rules apply to people with permanent kidney failure and those with Lou Gehrig's disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). Learn more about Social Security disability benefits by reading our publication at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10029.html.
Get answers to your Social Security questions each Thursday from the Social Security District Director Martin Coffey. Submit questions by writing to Business Editor Dave Flessner, Chattanooga Times Free Press, P.O. Box 1447, Chattanooga, TN 37401-1447, or by emailing him at email@example.com.