Q: "If both my spouse and I are entitled to Social Security benefits, is there any reduction in our payments because we are married?"
A: No. We calculate lifetime earnings independently to determine each spouse's Social Security benefit amount, and couples are not penalized simply because they are married. When each member of a married couple meets all other eligibility requirements to receive Social Security retirement benefits, each spouse receives a monthly benefit amount based on his or her own earnings.
If one member of the couple earned low wages or failed to earn enough Social Security credits to be insured for retirement benefits, he or she may be eligible to receive benefits as a spouse.
Q: "How do I change my citizenship status on my Social Security record?"
A: To change the citizenship shown on our records you need to:
• Complete an application for a social security card (form SS-5), available at www.socialsecurity.gov/ssnumber/ss5.htm; and
Show us documents proving your age, identity and new or revised citizenship status.
We only accept certain documents as proof of citizenship. These include your U.S. passport, a certificate of naturalization or a certificate of citizenship. If you are not a U.S. citizen, Social Security will ask to see your immigration documents.
• Take (or mail) your completed application and documents to your local Social Security office. All documents must be either originals or copies certified by the issuing agency. We cannot accept photocopies or notarized copies of documents. For more information, visit www.socialsecurity.gov.
Q: "Who decides whether I can get disability benefits?"
A: First, Social Security will review your application to make sure you meet the basic eligibility requirements for disability benefits. We will check whether you worked enough years to qualify. Also, we will evaluate any current work.
If you meet these requirements, we will send your application to the disability determination services office.
This state agency evaluates your medical condition and makes the disability decision for us. Doctors and disability specialists in the state agency ask your doctors for information about your condition.
They consider all the facts in your case. They use the medical evidence from your doctors and hospitals, clinics, or institutions where you have been treated and all other information.
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 dflessner@ timesfreepress.com.