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About Howard Kossover

I am the Social Security Public Affairs Specialist for North Dakota and western Minnesota. Based in Grand Forks ND, I work with organizations, government agencies and businesses concerning all aspects of the Social Security programs.

Using your SSA Statement

In previous posts, I have encouraged readers to create a personal my Social Security account at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount/. Whether or not you now receive Social Security monthly benefits, online services are there for use. To create a my Social Security account, you must be at least 18 years old, have an email address and a United States mailing address. There are no fees to do this. As of September 30, nearly 14.5 million people had opened their free my Social Security account. 

If not yet receiving ongoing benefits, the major tool available is your Social Security Statement.

Many people think only of retirement when Social Security is discussed, but, in fact, the program includes disability and survivors benefits too. Including family member benefits, retirement represents about 70 percent of national Social Security benefits, survivors about 11 percent, and disability about 19 percent.Nationally, about 18.3 percent of the entire United States population, including adults and children of all ages, receive monthly Social Security benefits. 

Of course, retirement is the desired Social Security benefit, but studies show that just over 1 in 4 of today’s 20 year-olds will become disabled before reaching age 67 and people die at all ages.   

For all of these possibilities, your Social Security Statement is a great family financial planning tool. After creating your my Social Security account, look at your Statement (sample here), especially your earnings record and estimated benefits sections, at least annually. 

Directly from your actual Social Security work record as reported by employers, your earnings record for many years is shown. This is the only place where you can see your personal earnings history. Future Social Security benefits on your record are based on your lifetime earnings. Review your record for accuracy. If there is an error, follow the correction instructions. 

Now look at the estimated benefits section. The Social Security website retirement planning section, contains tools to estimate retirement amounts but disability and survivors estimates, potentially to your children and other family members, are only on your Statement. Useful at all ages and especially for young families with dependent children, these current estimates can be a foundation for your other family financial planning. 

Creating your personal my Social Security account lets you access your Statement whenever desired. Starting for December birthdays, this past September the Social Security Administration resumed periodic mailings of paper Statements. Workers attaining ages 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, 55, and 60 who are not receiving Social Security benefits and who are not registered for a my Social Security account will receive the Statement in the mail about 3 months before their birthday. After age 60, people will receive a Statement every year. The agency expects to send nearly 48 million Statements each year.




Boomers, Social Security and Someday

Are you a Baby Boomer?

Boomers have been filing for Social Security retirement for several years already.

On October 15, 2007, at an event hosted by Michael J. Astrue, then the Commissioner of Social Security, the nation’s first Baby Boomer, Kathleen Casey-Kirschling, filed for her Social Security retirement benefits online at www.socialsecurity.gov 

Ms. Casey-Kirschling, who was born one second after midnight on January 1, 1946, was eligible for benefits beginning January 2008 and graciously helped promote filing for Social Security retirement online. 

Here is a photo of Ms. Casey-Kirschling from that 2007 event:

Today, nationally over 50 percent of all Social Security retirement  applications are filed online. Learn how here.

Over the next 20 years, nearly 80 million Boomers will retire.

Someday, do you plan to retire? Boomer or not, Social Security should be part of your planning.

Lots of SSA retirement planning information is on the Social Security website, www.socialsecurity.gov, in the Retirement Benefits section and especially in the Retirement Planner area. Different calculators to help your planning are there including the Retirement Estimator, that connects to your own work record to provide an individual estimate.

Someday is closer than you think. Create your personal my Social Security account for additional estimates and to check your earnings record for accuracy.

Medicare Part D (Prescription Drug Coverage) Open Season & Extra Help

The Medicare Part D (prescription drug coverage) plan open enrollment period runs from October 15 to December 7.   

Review your existing Part D plan each year. A plan that previously fit your needs might not be your best choice now. You need a list of your medicines, including dosages and frequency, to compare plans.  Spouses can choose different plans.  

Social Security representatives cannot help you choose a Part D plan.  

Learn about Part D at the Medicare website, www.medicare.gov. To find a Part D plan, go to the “Find health & drug plans” section. 

Everyone currently enrolled in Medicare can purchase a Part D prescription drug plan. Unlike Medicare Part A (Hospital) or Part B (Medical), Part D plans are purchased through private insurers. You shop for the plan that best suits your needs. Joining a Medicare prescription drug plan is voluntary and participants pay an additional monthly premium for the coverage.  

Although Social Security representatives cannot help you choose a Part D plan, the agency does administer the Extra Help portion of Part D for people with limited income and resources. 

Extra Help is an income and resource based subsidy to help pay for part of monthly premiums, annual deductibles, and prescription co-payments.  

People with Medicare and receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are automatically eligible for Extra Help and should not apply.   

Applying for the Part D Extra Help program does not enroll you in a prescription drug plan. 

Part D details and an application are at www.ssa.gov/medicare/prescriptionhelp/, or call the SSA national toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778), or your local office.

Medicare Part B premiums for 2015

Medicare Part B premiums will remain the same in 2015 as for 2014.  

As announced on October 9th by the Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS), the agency that administers Medicare, the standard 2015 Medicare Part B (Medical) premium remains unchanged from the 2014 amount of $104.90 per month. Part B covers physicians’ services, outpatient hospital services, certain home health services, durable medical equipment, and other items.  

Not everyone pays the standard Medicare Part B (Medical) premium amount. Based on the amount of their Federal tax return modified adjusted gross income (MAGI), some people pay a higher Part B premium. 

Medicare Part B premium information for 2015 is on the Medicare website, www.medicare.gov. 

The detailed DHHS press release about 2015 Medicare Part B premiums is here.

Does it matter if I retire in December or January?

Q: I am 63, work full time, and plan to retire effective either this December 31 or January 2, 2015. Is there any difference as far as how much I can earn while on Social Security either way? I may work occasionally at my present job after retiring.   

A: At age 63 there is no difference between retiring at the end of December compared to the beginning of January. Either way, you work all through December, and probably start Social Security retirement effective with January. Payment for January arrives in February.  

For the annual retirement test in any given year, how much you can earn without penalty is based on whether you will be younger than your full retirement age (FRA) the entire year, reach FRA during the year, or are older than FRA. For your birth year, FRA is 66.Since you will be younger than FRA all of 2015, the lowest retirement test limit will apply before reducing benefits. In 2014, that amount is $15,480. 

Retirement test earnings amounts for calendar year 2015 are not yet available. When announced they will be posted in the SSA retirement planner at www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2/.    

Although this person will be retired for the full 2015 calendar year, people retire all months of the year with many earning over their earnings test amounts before retiring. So that these people can start their Social Security retirement, a one-time special rule using monthly earnings, rather than calendar year earnings, is usually applied during the year that SSA retirement benefits are started.  

Annual retirement test earnings include only your own calendar year gross wages and net self-employment.

Do you work with payroll? Use SSA Business Services Online.

Are you an employer?

Do you work in a human services department?

Do you handle payroll services, whether for one business or many?  

Has your business registered to use the free Social Security Business Services Online (BSO) yet?   

Register now, then verify employee Social Security numbers online and be ready to transmit your 2014 W-2 information electronically. As long as you register in time to meet your W-2 reporting deadlines, there is not a firm BSO registration deadline. You have an extended deadline when using this electronic W-2 reporting. Register now and be ready.  

Business Services Online includes two methods to electronically file W-2s plus the Social Security number verification service (SSNVS), for online verification of employee Social Security numbers. 

To use Business Services Online, you or the appropriate people from your firm must register. Registration instructions are at www.socialsecurity.gov/employer/ in the Handbooks, Tutorial & Videos section. 

Registration is not difficult. As one of several security measures, those registering are asked for the business EIN number as well as their own name, Social Security number, and other information. A User ID and PIN is created for each person registering, not just one for the business.   

BSO provides two methods to electronically transmit W-2s. Your business can create and transmit a data file from your existing payroll software or use a Social Security provided W-2 template (W-2 Online). You can print copies suitable for distribution to employees with the SSA W-2 template. 

When you hire a new employee, use the Social Security number verification service (SSNVS) as part of your routine payroll process. Doing this avoids having incorrect employee Social Security numbers, saving your business additional work especially if the person is only a temporary hire. With SSNVS, you can immediately verify the SSN of new employees. If there is a verification problem, the new hire should contact Social Security to resolve it.  

SSNVS verifies that the employee name and provided SSN match Social Security records. It does not provide work authorization information. 

Have a question about Business Services Online? Ask.

Paying Medicare premiums without Social Security

Q: I will sign up for Medicare at age 65 soon, but am not getting Social Security yet. How do I pay Medicare premiums if not receiving monthly SSA benefits? 

A: If not receiving Social Security monthly benefits, a quarterly Medicare premium payment schedule is arranged that is payable by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account, by check or money order, or by credit card. Details are on the Medicare website, www.medicare.gov, in the “Your Medicare Costs” section. 

Note that there are different parts to Medicare and you might not have a Medicare premium to pay yet. 

Most people enroll in Medicare Part A (Hospital) at age 65 even if working and having employment based insurance. Part A does not have a monthly premium.  

Medicare Part B (Medical) has a monthly premium and can be refused. If you have suitable medical insurance through the current employment of you or your spouse, you might not need Part B yet. Before deciding, check with your employer health coverage.  

See the booklet “Medicare” for general information about the parts of and enrolling in Medicare.  

Complete your application for just Medicare online. Learn how at www.socialsecurity.gov/medicare/ 

No charge for SSN update

Q:  I looked for instructions to change my name on my Social Security card and found a website that charged money for this. A friend said changing my name with SSA is free. Is it? 

A:  Yes, it is free. Social Security does not charge a fee for Social Security number (SSN) card actions. See the Numbers & Cards section at www.socialsecurity.gov for needed evidence and a downloadable application. 

To protect your personal information and avoid identity theft, you cannot electronically submit the Social Security number (SSN) application. Some areas of the country have centralized sites to process SSN card actions but generally completed applications and evidence can be brought or mailed to your local office. 

It is important to note that any document submitted as evidence must be either the original or a copy certified by the issuing agency. A photocopy that you made yourself or a copy that you had notarized cannot be used. The website links to addresses to use if you need a certified copy of a document showing a birth, marriage or divorce within the United States. All evidence is returned to you. 

SSN cards are mailed from a central location when processing is complete. Allow approximately two weeks to receive your corrected or replacement card.

The name on your card should be the same as reported by your employer so that your wages are correctly shown on your work record. Have your employer correct your payroll record after your SSN card is updated. 

Be careful when searching the Internet for Social Security information. Avoid private for-profit websites that charge for services provided free by Social Security, including name changes to your SSN card.  

Go to www.socialsecurity.gov or www.ssa.gov for accurate information and free services.  





Fast Facts about Social Security

Did you know that 65% of aged beneficiaries received at least half of their income from Social Security in 2012 or that 55% of adult Social Security beneficiaries in 2013 were women?

Fast Facts & Figures About Social Security, 2014 is available online. This annual chartbook highlights data on the most important aspects of the Social Security and Supplemental Security Income programs—the people they serve and the benefits they provide.

From the Preface: 

Fast Facts & Figures answers the most frequently asked questions about the programs administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA). It highlights basic program data for the Social Security (retirement, survivors, and disability) and Supplemental Security Income programs.

The tables and charts illustrate the range of program beneficiaries, from the country’s oldest to its youngest citizens. In all, about 63.2 million people receive some type of benefit or assistance.  

I thought the sections about beneficiary age and sex interesting. Perhaps you will too.

Disability videos on YouTube

When discussing a Social Security retirement topic, I often mention that retirement information and calculators based on your personal work record are in the Retirement Planner section of the Social Security website, www.socialsecurity.gov

The potential for becoming disabled is probably a smaller topic of interest, but just over 1 in 4 of today’s 20 year-olds will become disabled before reaching age 67. I think acknowledging this possibility should be part of routine financial planning, especially if you have a dependent family.   

You cannot estimate the amount of potential Social Security disability benefits online but can obtain an estimate on your Social Security Statement. That estimate assumes you become disabled now, a good starting point for your financial planning. Your Statement is available online once you register for your free, personal my Social Security account.  

What if you became disabled now due to accident or illness? What do you need to know? How do you file for Social Security disability and how is an application processed? 

Use the Disability Planner section of the website to learn basic information about Social Security disability. There you can file a complete disability application online, and if needed, appeal a decision that you disagree with. 

Especially read the section about how you qualify for disability benefits. Linked from the Disability Planner, you can also watch a Social Security Disability Claims Process video series on YouTube. More questions? Contact Social Security directly.