Social Security disability, retirement or both?

Q: My brother is 64 years old but in poor health even though he still works full-time. His doctors are telling him to retire. The doctors say he should qualify for disability. What would be the best for him? Social Security or disability? 

A: Just to be clear, retirement, survivors and disability benefits are all Social Security, just different parts. 

Social Security disability information is here. Your brother should especially look at the Disability Planner section. 

Since the disability definition for Social Security purposes is based on ability to work, not just health, it is unlikely that a disability application by your brother would be approved as long as he continues working full-time, assuming no employer subsidy or special considerations that allow him to work. 

In general, if working in 2014 and having earnings that average more than $1,070 a month, a person cannot be considered disabled. Usually disability clients file for benefits after they stop working or have greatly reduced work activity. With that, the decision to file or not is his.  

Only your brother can decide what is best for him. He can file an application for Social Security disability or retirement. Disability benefits are not reduced for age. Retirement benefits are reduced for age if started when the person is younger than full retirement age (FRA).

Since your brother is at least the minimum SSA retirement age of 62, another available option is for him to file for both disability and retirement (reduced for age) benefits at the same time. 

If he does this, retirement benefits could be received while the disability application is pending. If disability is not approved, his retirement benefits continue at the reduced rate. If the disability application is approved, the benefit amount is reviewed and increased although not to 100 percent. Final amounts would be based on the number of months that he received a reduced retirement.

You can estimate your reduced retirement amount

It has been many years since age 65 was routinely full retirement age (FRA). Except for people born in 1937 or earlier, FRA is an older age, resulting in a reduced retirement amount for benefits started at age 65. The legislative change to FRA was included in the Social Security Amendments of 1983, signed into law by President Reagan. 

Despite this change taking place years ago, I routinely receive questions from people who do not seem to be aware of it. Very recently, several questions arrived from a person reaching age 65 in March of 2015, when he planned to retire. He wanted to start his Social Security retirement at that time but was concerned about avoiding a reduced retirement amount. 

As noted above, since he will be age 65 in 2015, starting his SSA retirement that March results in a reduced benefit because he will still be younger that his full retirement age (FRA) of 66. The way to avoid a reduced Social Security retirement benefit is by waiting to start until FRA. 

Once at least age 62, you can start your SSA retirement with any month you chose. Any reduction or increase depends on the number of months that you are before or past your full retirement age (FRA). Reductions are permanent but any cost of living adjustments are received. 

Information and calculators are at the SSA Retirement Planner. Use the Retirement Estimator to obtain your approximate full retirement age (FRA) amount based on your own work record.

In the Retirement Planner, use the “Find your retirement age” chart to find your own full retirement age (FRA). More than just providing a FRA, this chart also shows the month-by-month percentage of reduction from age 62 to FRA. Each full retirement age has slightly different reduction percentages because the number of months from age 62 to the FRA will be different from the other FRA’s.

Full retirement age is 66 for people born between1943-1954. For them, starting SSA retirement before age 66 means a reduced amount, with different reductions for each month. Below are two images from the FRA page for these years of birth. The first shows what the FRA is and the second is an example of the monthly reduction rates for FRA at age 66. Neither is a full image.

Using these charts to estimate the retirement amount for any month is easy. For example, use a birthdate of March 7, 1950, and an FRA amount of $1,500. Starting SSA retirement effective March 2016 at age 66 provides an unreduced $1,500 monthly amount. Using this, here are results of several 2015 retirement months.

Depending on expected 2015 earnings and the 2015 SSA retirement earnings limits, which are not yet known, this person might decide to start Social Security retirement effective with January 2015, even with an actual retirement date in March. That is 14 months early, providing a monthly benefit reduced to about 92.2 percent of the FRA amount, or about $1,383.  

Benefits started effective March 2015, are 12 months early. Starting then results in a monthly retirement about 93.3 percent of the FRA, equal to about $1,399 per month,  while benefits started with April are 11 months early and reduced to about 93.9 percent or $1,408. Start benefits when best for you, whether before, at or after FRA.  

Also part of the Retirement Planner, the “Compute the effect of early or delayed retirement” calculator provides the same basic reduced benefit information while also including benefit amount increases information for retirement started when you are older than full retirement age. Early or delayed refers to before or after your full retirement age. This calculator uses the term “primary insurance amount” which means the same thing as your full retirement age (FRA) amount. As above, use the Retirement Estimator to estimate your personal FRA amount based on your own work record.

 

 

 

 

 

 

OASDI Beneficiaries by State and County (2013)

The annual Social Security Administration publication OASDI Beneficiaries by State and County (2013) is available.  

Quoting from the preface: 

This annual publication focuses on the Social Security beneficiary population—people receiving Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) benefits—at the local level. It presents basic program data on the number and type of beneficiaries and the amount of benefits paid in each state and county. It also shows the numbers of men and women aged 65 or older receiving benefits.”

In your state or county, how many people receive Social Security monthly benefits?

How is that divided between Social Security retirement, survivors or disability benefits?

How much money does that bring in to your local economy?

Find out here. 

As of December 2013, 18.3 percent of the entire United States population received a Social Security retirement, survivors or disability benefit. Including family members, this was approximately 70 percent retirement benefits, 11 percent survivors, and 19 percent disability.

In North Dakota, 17.1 percent of the population received Social Security benefits, 17.5 percent in Minnesota, 19.3 percent in South Dakota and 20.5 percent in Montana. What about where you live?  

When looking up your state or county information, keep in mind that benefit amounts are shown in thousands of dollars.

What SSA widow / widower benefits are not age based?

My preceding post was about Social Security survivors benefits to a widow or widower based on age, payable once the eligible person is at least age 60.

This leads to the question of what widow or widower Social Security survivors benefits are not based on age. There are two, each with its own requirements.

At any age, Social Security survivor benefits might be payable to a widow or widower if a child of the deceased also receives suvivors benefits on that record. The surviving parent must be taking care of the child and the child must be younger than age 16 or disabled.

Since taking care of the eligible child is the reason for payment of benefits, age of the surviving parent does not change the amount payable to the widow or widower. However, their individual benefits for a year can be reduced by employment earnings due to the annual earnings test, just as for a person receiving Social Security retirement. Amounts paid to the widow(er) can potentially lower amounts payable to eligible children. For these reasons, people otherwise eligible for this type of benefit sometimes choose not to receive it, especially if working full-time.

The other is based on disability, with an age requirement. Called disabled widow(er) benefits, these can be paid if the person is at least age 50, but not age 60, and determined to be disabled within a certain period of time. Exceptions exist but usually the disability must have started within seven years of the spouses death.

Not being discussed today, divorced spouses of a worker who dies can receive the same types of survivors benefits as a widow or widower, provided that the marriage lasted 10 years or more and other requirements are met.

Read the booklet “Survivors Benefits” (SSA publication 05-10084) for general information about Social Security survivors benefits.

 

Survivor benefits if twice widowed

This interesting question came from a woman so, for convenience, the answer refers to Social Security survivors benefits for a widow. The information also applies to a widower.

Q: I did not work outside the home, but have been widowed twice. I started Social Security widows benefit at age 60 after my first husband died. Eventually I remarried, continuing those benefits, until now at age 65 was widowed for a second time. The SSA representative said I could receive a larger benefit amount from my second husband now or wait for an even higher amount at age 66. Please explain this.

A: It was excellent that this person contacted Social Security to learn about possible benefits. Social Security representatives can provide options to consider based on personal information you provide, but the decision is yours. Ask questions until you understand your options.

A person can be eligible for benefits on more than one Social Security work record. For this question, survivors benefits are possible through the work records of two deceased husbands. More routine examples are people who are eligible for retirement through their own work record and that of a spouse or through their own retirement and a suvivors record as widow or widower. When eligible on more than one record, combined benefit amounts will equal the highest individual benefit amount.

Age 60 is the earliest a widow or widower can start Social Security survivors benefits based on age. The younger you start, the larger the reduction. As with SSA retirement benefits, each month of delay in starting provides a larger monthly amount, but only up to when you reach your survivors full retirement age (FRA). Survivors FRA’s are different from retirement FRA’s.

For example, when started at age 60 the monthly reduction in survivors benefits is about 28.5 percent so this woman receives about 71.5 percent of the maximum survivors benefit amount on her first husband’s record.

Since she remarried after age 60, SSA survivors benefits through her first husband continued. These benefits cannot be paid if a person remarries before age 60, unless that marriage ends. Although possible, for simplicity it is being assumed that she did not receive SSA benefits as a spouse through her second husband’s work record.

Based on the question, she is younger than her full retirement age (FRA) for survivors benefits and SSA benefits from her second husband’s work record will be higher than those already being received.

Effective with the month of the second husband’s death, one option she has is to begin widow’s benefits through his work record immediately. These would be reduced for age. If exactly age 65, she would receive about 95.3 percent of the full amount.

Another option is that she could continue receiving only the widows benefit through her first husbands record and delay starting benefits through the second husband until she was older. That benefit amount would increase with each month of delay up to FRA when she would receive 100 percent of the amount payable through his record.

People of all ages receive monthly Social Security survivors benefits. Learn more at www.socialsecurity.gov/survivorplan/survivors.htm

Replace your Medicare card online

Do you need to replace your Medicare card?

There is no charge to do this. Go to the Social Security website, www.socialsecurity.gov.

From the homepage, click on the “Numbers & Cards” section and then on the “Replacement Medicare Card” link.  

This brings you to an information page. Click on the start button at bottom right of that page and make your request.

What you should know when requesting a replacement Medicare card:

  • Your new Medicare card will arrive in the mail in about 30 days
  • It will be mailed to the address that Social Security has on file for you
  • If you have moved and not reported your new address, contact Social Security to do so. When doing this, you can request a replacement Medicare card at the same time. The national SSA toll-free number is 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) with SSA representatives available from 7:00am – 7:00pm, business days. 
  •  If you need immediate proof of Medicare coverage, contact your local office.

Did you know? Online opportunity to replace Medicare cards first became available on July 11, 2000.  

 

When do I get credit for my 2013 earnings?

Q: I retired effective January 2014, so my current Social Security payment only reflects earnings through 2012. When will my retirement amount include 2013 wages? What do I need to do to make that happen?  

A: Earnings for 2013 are automatically reviewed for possible increase to your retirement benefits when posted to your work record, approximately by October 2014. You do not need to do anything for this to happen. The automatic review includes employment from wages and self-employment.  

Employers pay estimated taxes to IRS based on wages paid during the year but specific information of how much individual employees earned during a year are only sent to the Social Security Administration with annual W-2’s. Your employer reports earnings to Social Security at about the same time you receive your W-2 form. The employer report is a copy of the W-2.  

Employers of all sizes can register to report W-2 information electronically with Social Security Business Services Online. Incentives exist to encourage electronic W-2 reporting but many still are received by paper, requiring additional handling and processing time.  

W-2 processing for a year is usually completed during the fall of the following year, approximately October. Social Security receives more that 250 million wage reports annually. These are processed by employer report, not by individual employee. If you worked for more than one employer during the year, your total earnings will not be posted to your personal earnings record all at one time. Earnings from each employer will be added to your record when that employer’s report is processed.  

Your 2013 earnings will be automatically reviewed for possible increase to your retirement benefits when posted to your work record. While this review is automatic, it does not mean that benefit amounts will increase a significant amount or even at all. Retirement benefits are based on your best 35 years of employment, with the actual earnings amounts adjusted (indexed) to account for changes in average wages over the years. New earnings would have to replace earnings already used to increase your retirement amount. If 2013 earnings increase benefits, the increase is retroactive to the start of 2014.   

Since Social Security posts W-2 information all during the year, this automatic review might be sooner, especially if the employer reports W-2 data electronically with Social Security Business Services Online, but final reviews are completed when all W-2’s for the preceding year are processed in the fall. 

This review is done automatically every year that new earnings are posted to your work record. You do not need to take any action for this to happen.  See page 9 of “How Work Affects Your Benefits” at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/EN-05-10069.pdf.

Whether or not receiving monthly benefits, you can check your personal Social Security earnings record by creating your my Social Securityaccount and looking at your SSA Statement. Earnings on the Statement are updated as described above, with earnings for a year posted during the fall of the next.

Can I replace my Social Security card by mail?

Q: Can I replace my Social Security card by mail or do I have go to a SSA office?

A: At no charge, replacement Social Security number (SSN) cards can be requested by mail or at a SSA office. Either way, you need to complete the same application and present the same original documents.

Download the application and learn what documents are needed at www.socialsecurity.gov/ssnumber/.  

Documents submitted must be either original or a copy certified by the issuing agency, not a photocopy or notarized copy. All documents are returned to you.

Warning: There is no charge for any Social Security number action. Be aware of private for- profit websites that charge fees for providing the SSN card application. Go to the official Social Security Administration website, www.socialsecurity.gov.

For Congressional staff and now You: learn about SSA disability

On May 27, 2014, Congressional staff learned about the Social Security disability program when Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, keynoted a Capitol Hill presentation by SSA executives.  

Now you can watch this presentation.

This was a teaching session, not a committee hearing.

Included were details about the growth, solvency and sustainability of the disability program by Stephen C. Goss, Chief Actuary, Social Security Administration.

Other sections were about who receives disability, basic eligibility requirements and the disability process including the initial claim and different levels of appeal.

You can watch the video of this teaching session or just see the slides used.

I urge you to take advantage of this opportunity. Information is easily understandable, without technical jargon. 

After introductions, Stephen Goss’s presentation begins at about 6:45 in the video. Other Social Security executives discussed program information after his portion until about 1:00:00 when audience questions began. The full video is about 1:17:34 in length with several guest introductions and comments included during the session.

Social Security at age 62

Every so often, I have mentioned that Social Security legislation is now gender neutral, meaning that benefit requirements are the same for women and men. This has not always been the case.

Today, June 30, is the anniversary of legislation that helped provide men with the same retirement benefits already enjoyed by women. Although few are probably aware of it now, this legislation was important to any man starting Social Security retirement benefits before reaching full retirement age (FRA).

Today’s concept of full retirement age was not required when Social Security first began because the Social Security Act of 1935 did not contain provisions for retirement payments before age 65. 

Concerning age for retirement, the 1935 Act, section Title II-Federal Old-Age Benefits, states:

“SEC. 202. (a) Every qualified individual (as defined in section 210) shall be entitled to receive, with respect to the period beginning on the date he attains the age of sixty-five, or on January 1, 1942, whichever is the later …”

For men, this changed on June 30, 1961 when the Social Security Amendments of 1961 were signed by President John F. Kennedy. Along with other provisions, these Amendments permitted male workers to elect early retirement at age 62.

When were women able to start Social Security retirement at age 62? November 1956, when Dwight D. Eisenhower was President.

When to start your Social Security retirement is an individual decision but starting before reaching full retirement age remains very popular. Use the free, personalized, online planning tools and calculators in the SSA Retirement Planner to help plan your SSA retirement. For some topics to consider, read the SSA publication “When to Start Receiving Retirement Benefits.”