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Tips on using Social Security website

BY TOM MARGENAU Modified: June 11, 2012 at 2:31 pm •  Published: June 11, 2012

I get lots of email from readers who tell me they have a hard time finding answers to their questions at the Social Security Administration website:

Or, I often hear from readers telling me they want to "see something official in black and white" before they will believe whatever I wrote in my column.

I frequently steer both groups of inquirers to the same part of SSA's website. It is the "Publications" section. SSA produces hundreds of pamphlets and fact sheets for the public designed to explain Social Security laws and regulations.

Frankly, I'm kind of partial to that little corner of the website because I used to be SSA's chief editor of all their publications.

Of course, I don't think they are quite as good as they were before yours truly hung up his blue editing pencil to retire to the sunny beaches of San Diego about seven years ago! But I believe they still provide the most readable and understandable explanations of Social Security rules that you will find on the web.

To find these publications, go to At the home page, you'll find a box on the left side of the page labeled, "Top Services."

One of those services is "Get a publication." Clicking on that link will take you to a page that lists each of the more than 100 publications the agency produces. You can scroll through them one by one.

But it would be better to narrow your search by pulling down the "Topic" box. There you will find publications listed under categories such as "Retirement" or "Disability" or "Medicare" and quite a few more.

Some of my favorite publications are:

— Understanding The Benefits (under the Introduction to Social Security section);

— What Every Woman Should Know (under the Introduction to Social Security section);

— Your Retirement Benefit - How It Is Figured (under the Retirement section);

— Special Payments After Retirement (under the Retirement section);

— How Work Affects Your Benefits (under the Work and Earnings section);

— Blue Book -- Disability Evaluation Under Social Security (under the Disability section); and

— Understanding Supplemental Security Income (under the Supplemental Security Income section).

Some of my readers aren't content with seeing a pamphlet or fact sheet with an explanation of the rules. They want to see the rules themselves. Many write asking me to cite the specific law that covers a certain Social Security topic.

(These are the kind of folks who, when you ask them for the time, will take 30 minutes to tell you how a watch works!) Frankly, I'm not much help to these people.

I worked for the Social Security Administration for 32 years and maybe needed to look up an actual law a half dozen times.

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