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Older residents get retirement benefits advice

By Valerie Baldowski

vbaldowski@henryherald.com

The advantages or disadvantages of early retirement; what the "full-retirement age" is for different segments of the population; and how working after retirement may affect benefits, were just some of the topics explored by local residents, who gathered recently at the Heritage Senior Center in McDonough for a Social Security Retirement Benefits seminar, presented by the Covington Social Security office.

Connie Boree, a claims representative with the office, gave an overview of the Social Security program, which included a history going back to its beginnings in 1935.

Boree discussed where the money comes from to pay out benefits, how Social Security credits are earned by working, what to expect when applying for disability, and what documentation is needed when applying for benefits.

Social Security is not meant to be used as a sole source of income, without saving for retirement, she said. "We were never meant to be retirement. Some people ... never save for their future, for their retirement," said Boree. "When this all started during the Great Depression, it was invented to keep people from starving to death. That's the sole reason for Social Security ..."

Boree said she has seen an increase in the number of people collecting benefits, because of the recession, and aging Baby Boomers. Some who come into her office worry that Social Security will be phased out, but she said the program is safe.

"A lot of people were afraid it would go away. That's not going to happen," she said.

Employees can begin to collect Social Security benefits at age 62, but she advises waiting until age 65 or 66, so they will be eligible for full-retirement benefits.

Boree said older residents need to stay informed. "It's very important, and I would say to those people who don't know all the bits and pieces, please go online. We've got tons of information online. You can find out just about everything," she added.

After the seminar, some of the attendees gave their feedback. One of those was Shirley Whigham, 64, of Stockbridge. A Henry County government employee, Whigham was notified in advance of the seminar through an e-mail she received at work. Hearing the information presented was useful for her, said Whigham, who will turn 65 in January.

"It did help me, because I needed to know about Medicare," she said. "I found out that I have to apply for it, whether I'm working or not, and I have to do it prior to my turning 65, which is in two months."

Diane McCollum, 61, of McDonough, said what brought her to the seminar was a desire to find out what will happen when she begins collecting benefits. "I'm going to be 62 in July [2011], so I want to find out what I need to do to start drawing my Social Security at 62," said McCollum.

She retired at age 53, from the DeKalb Community Service Board, then worked part-time for a period of time. McCollum, who said she has been married three times, admitted she will need to bring proof of marriage, and divorce documentation when visiting the Social Security office.

She said the tips Boree provided, as well as the advice to seek information on the agency's web site, was helpful. "It was great, it gave me a lot of good information," added McCollum. "First of all, the online stuff is good, what all I need to provide, when I go in, what I need to bring with me."

McCollum also learned she may need to apply for a new Social Security card, if she has had her current card for a long period of time, in order to facilitate filing for benefits online. "I didn't know that, so I got an application," she added.

David Mintz, 61, of McDonough, attended the seminar with his wife, Teresa. Mintz, who has been unemployed for two years, said he plans to retire in February. They decided to attend the seminar after seeing an advertisement in a newsletter at the Heritage Senior Center, he said.

"We learned the process, the time-frames, the benefits ... It answered a lot of questions that I had," he said.

Teresa Mintz, 57, retired from AT&T at age 49. She said the seminar was a tool to gather information to help her husband file for Social Security retirement benefits.

"I'm helping him through the paperwork process," she said. "Even though I'm quite a bit younger, I need to know if there are any pitfalls that I was going to run into, in the application process, helping him through.

"I already investigated the web site, and everything like that, and I wanted to make sure I wasn't missing anything."

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On the web:

www.ssa.gov.