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Tom Margenau clears up readers’ confusion about Social Security benefits and Supplemental Security Income payments in the latest edition of his column, Social Security And You:

Near the end of last year, around the holidays, I wrote a column that addressed what I called the 12 Myths of Social Security. It was supposed to be a takeoff on the “12 Days of Christmas” — get it?

Anyway, earlier this year, I wrote another column addressing what I said was an even bigger misconception about Social Security benefits (that I hadn’t included in the list of 12 Myths) — the fact that a person may not take reduced benefits on a spouse’s Social Security record and then later switch to full benefits on his or her own account. (But please note that this rule does not apply to widows and widowers.)

Also note that “reduced” is the key word in that rule. A person who waits until age 66 to start Social Security can take spousal benefits and then later, at age 70, for example, switch to full benefits on his or her own record and get a 32 percent delayed retirement bonus.

But recently it’s dawned on me that I left out the biggest Social Security misunderstanding of all from both of those columns. And that is the confusion people have between Social Security benefits and Supplemental Security Income payments.

Not a day goes by that I don’t get dozens of emails from people who tell me things like: “I am getting SSI benefits …” or “I am about to turn 62 and want to sign up for my SSI checks” when they mean to say “I am getting Social Security” or “I want to sign up for my Social Security checks …”

And the confusion isn’t just a matter of semantics. Social Security and Supplemental Security Income are two very different programs. Their only similarities are their names and the fact that they’re both managed by the Social Security Administration.

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