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.

Can I own a home and receive SSA disability?

Q: Can I own a home and receive SSA disability?

A: Yes. Social Security benefits are not based on your income, resources or overall family financial status. If work, medical and other requirements are met, you can receive SSA disability.

For purposes of keeping your benefit record current, some changes need to be reported to Social Security. For example, owning or selling a home need not be reported but moving to a new address should be. More about your SSA disability reporting responsibilities are in “What You Need to Know When You Get Social Security Disability Benefits.”

But, you need to be sure of what kind of disability benefits are received.

Separate from SSA retirement, survivors and disability, the Social Security Administration handles the need-based, and very different, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. For SSI, overall family income and resources matter and can make a big difference in being eligible.

Resources for SSI are things you own, including cash or anything else that could be changed to cash and used for food or shelter. This could include personal or family assets. In 2015, continuing for 2016, a person can have up to $2,000 of countable resources and remain eligible for SSI. If both members of a couple are eligible for SSI, the limit is $3,000 of countable resources. Many items do not count towards the SSI resource limit even though they might be valuable.

Even for SSI, a house you own and live in will not usually count toward resource levels. However, a home owned but not lived in usually counts as a resource and could end or prevent SSI eligibility. More examples are here.

Because SSI is largely based on income and resources, monthly amounts often change and knowing what to report is definitely important. If you receive SSI, be sure to understand the SSI Reporting Responsibilities.

Since Social Security and SSI are different programs, a person can be eligible for both at the same time as long as the different rules of each program continue to be met.

Using 2015 earnings for 2016 retirement benefits

Q: I am working through December and have completed my Social Security online application to start retirement in 2016. Will 2015 earnings be used to determine my retirement amount?

A: Your best 35 earning years, adjusted for inflation, are used to compute your SSA retirement amount. Assuming your 2015 earnings are one of these best 35 years, they will be used.

Employers report employee earnings to Social Security annually with W-2 information. Since the employer deadline for providing W-2’s to Social Security is the last day of February (longer if filing electronically), your 2015 earnings will not be immediately available. This is not a problem.

No matter how many years a person has been receiving Social Security benefits, retirement amounts are automatically recomputed every year when new earnings are posted to his or her work record. If new earnings increase benefits, the new amount is retroactive to the start of a year. Reviews generally occur in the fall, after most W-2’s for the prior year are posted to individual work records. This means your 2015 earnings will be on your work record in the fall of 2016, with any resulting benefit increase received retroactively to January 2016.

Especially for people working part-time after retirement, new earnings do not guarantee an increase in monthly Social Security benefits. For an increase, new earnings would have to be better than one of the 35 years already used and increase your overall average earnings.

While emphasizing that all new work is automatically reviewed for a benefit increase, you can make this occur faster by providing a copy of your W-2 to your local Social Security office and requesting a review. Either way, it all comes out the same.

Did you know? Employers can electronically transmit W-2 data to Social Security through SSA Business Services Online (BSO) In addition to reducing paperwork, the filing deadline is extended to March 31 when filing W-2 data electronically. Firms providing payroll services need only register once to transmit W-2 date for all clients. Learn more or register for this free service at www.socialsecurity.gov/thirdparty/business.html.

Affordable Care Act open enrollment

The October 2015 edition of the Social Security Update includes the following article about the ongoing Affordable Care Act (ACA) open enrollment period, which began on November 1 and continues to the end of January 2016.

If you need health coverage and you want it to start January 1, the deadline to sign up is December 15, 2015. Social Security personnel cannot help you find a plan.

Access Affordable Health Care and Insurance Marketplace

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) provides Americans with better health security by expanding coverage, lowering health care costs, guaranteeing more choice, and enhancing the quality of care for all Americans. No matter who you are, you and your clients are entitled to affordable healthcare. More than 17 and a half million people now have health insurance than before enactment of ACA, creating the lowest number of uninsured Americans in decades. And 40% of the 10.5 million who remain uninsured qualify for financial help to make their premiums more affordable. 

Under the law, the “Patient’s Bill of Rights” gives Americans the stability and flexibility they need to make informed choices about their and their family’s health care. Some of the benefits of this coverage include:  

  • Ending Pre-Existing Condition Exclusions for Children. Health insurance plans can no longer limit or deny benefits to children under 19 due to a pre-existing condition;  
  • Keeping Young Adults Covered. If you are under 26, you may be eligible for coverage under your parent’s health plan;  
  • Ending Arbitrary Withdrawals of Insurance Coverage. Insurers can no longer cancel your coverage just because you made an honest mistake; and  
  • Guaranteeing Your Right to Appeal. You now have the right to ask that your plan reconsider its denial of payment.

Visit the Affordable Care Act website at www.healthcare.gov/  for more information.



Spousal child-in-care benefits

Q: I recently reached age 62 and start early Social Security in January. I will also receive dependent benefits for our 17-year-old son who is in high school and lives at home. Can my wife receive Social Security on my record now because our son will? She is in her 50’s and working.

A: Based on the information provided, the answer here is no but the question helps showcase a type of spousal benefit that many people are not aware of.

When discussing potential Social Security spousal benefits to either husband or wife, most people think only of a spouse also at least early retirement age of 62. Another variation of spousal benefits is possible to your spouse of any age when a child is receiving Social Security through your work record.

Potential spousal benefits because children are receiving benefits are mentioned in the publication Benefits for Children and in the Retirement Benefits booklet (page 10) which states “However, if your spouse is taking care of a child who is under age 16, or disabled, and gets Social Security benefits on your record, your spouse gets full benefits, regardless of age.”

Since this type of spousal benefit is possible because there is an eligible child under the age of 16 or disabled receiving benefits, the age of the spouse is not a factor for eligibility or amount.

When working full time, many parents who might otherwise be entitled to this type of spousal benefit choose not to file for it. This is because the annual earnings test applies to them and expected earnings could negate any SSA potentially payable. Earnings test amounts for 2016 will be the same as in 2015.

Note that the child receiving benefits must be under age 16 or eligible because of disability. Since the child referred to in the above question is already age 17 with no mention of being disabled, benefits to him would not make his mother eligible for benefits.

When payable, amounts for this benefit are based on the retiree’s full retirement age (FRA) amount, not his or her actual monthly Social Security amount. Child and spouse each receive the same monthly amount of up to one-half of the retiree’s FRA amount. If payable, these spousal benefits are not reduced for age. Estimate your FRA amount with the Retirement Estimator tool in the SSA Retirement Planner or by viewing your SSA Statement through your my Social Security account.

Although this question referred to Social Security retirement benefits, the same type of spousal benefit is available if a worker receives Social Security disability benefits, with an eligible child as above.

If the worker is deceased, Social Security survivors benefits could be payable to a widow or widower of any age if an eligible child younger than age 16 or disabled received benefits.

Another important item is related to this original question. If you receive Social Security benefits for someone else, you are that person’s representative payee and responsible for accounting to Social Security about how benefits are used. As payee, the father in this question is responsible for making any necessary reports concerning his son’s eligibility to Social Security. A booklet about being a representative payee is here.



Medicare premiums and deductibles for 2016

The official Medicare website, www.medicare.gov, now has 2016 Medicare premiums and deductibles information.

Medicare is administered by the Department of Health & Human Services, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

The CMS press release announcing 2016 Medicare premiums and deductibles also contains this information. Here is part of that press release:

Part B Premiums/Deductibles

As the Social Security Administration previously announced, there will no Social Security cost of living increase for 2016. As a result, by law, most people with Medicare Part B will be “held harmless” from any increase in premiums in 2016 and will pay the same monthly premium as last year, which is $104.90. 

Beneficiaries not subject to the “hold harmless” provision will pay $121.80, as calculated reflecting the provisions of the Bipartisan Budget Act signed into law by President Obama last week. Medicare Part B beneficiaries not subject to the “hold-harmless” provision are those not collecting Social Security benefits, those who will enroll in Part B for the first time in 2016, dual eligible beneficiaries who have their premiums paid by Medicaid, and beneficiaries who pay an additional income-related premium. These groups account for about 30 percent of the 52 million Americans expected to be enrolled in Medicare Part B in 2016.

As in past years. there are several different Medicare Part B (Medical) monthly premium rates in 2016.

The following is copied from the “Medicare 2015 & 2016 costs at a glance” pages of the Medicare website. Note that this is only a portion of the information there.




Military Service and Social Security

Veteran’s Day is almost here so today’s topic is military service and Social Security. As usual, follow the Social Security website links for more information.

Q: Can I receive both Social Security and military retirement?

A: Yes. Active duty military service has been Social Security covered employment since 1957. Generally, there is no reduction of your Social Security benefits because of your military retirement. More about this is here within the SSA Retirement Planner section.

Q: Do I need Medicare if I have VA medical coverage?

A: The choice is yours. Medicare Hospital Insurance (Part A) does not have a monthly premium and nearly everyone eligible enrolls. Medicare Medical Insurance (Part B) does have a premium so people choose to enroll and pay a monthly premium.

Keep in mind at least two items when making your decision. First, you might not always be near a VA medical facility when services are needed. Second, how does your other medical coverage work with Medicare? For example, according to the TRICARE website, a retiree or family member of a retiree must enroll in Medicare Part B when eligible to remain eligible for TRICARE. Do your research. The Medicare website is www.medicare.gov.

Q: Am I automatically eligible for Social Security disability if receiving VA Compensation?

A: No. These are separate programs with different rules. For Social Security disability, you must meet work and medical requirements as outlined in the SSA Disability Planner section.

Military service members can receive expedited processing of their SSA disability claim.

The Wounded Warriors expedited process is for service members if disabled while on active military service on or after October 1, 2001, regardless of where the disability occurs. You can apply for Social Security disability benefits at any time while in military status or after discharge, whether you are still hospitalized, in a rehabilitation program, or undergoing outpatient treatment in a military or civilian medical facility.

SSA disability applications of veterans with a VA compensation rating of 100 percent Permanent and Total (P&T) impairment also receive expedited review.

Q: Is it true that veterans get a special increase to their Social Security benefit amount?

A: No, but this is a very popular myth. I often get emails referring to this “secret” SSA benefit for veterans.

In summary, for service before 1957, when Social Security coverage began for military service, veterans received a special credit adding to their overall lifetime earnings record. This was not a direct increase to a benefit amount but it could increase that amount. Small sums were involved. Doing this was routine and automatic. Requesting it was not needed.

Now ended, from 1957 – 2001 these additions to overall lifetime earnings continued in different ways with a maximum annual amount of $1,200 added to earnings. Again, this was not a direct benefit increase, just an increase to the persons overall earnings record. Details are in the factsheet Military Service and Social Security.


Help shape the Social Security disability process

Are you interested in helping shape the Social Security disability process?

If so, see the October Social Security Update, the agency monthly online newsletter, for two separate opportunities to do so.

First, an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) is available for comment in the Federal Register until November 13. To review and comment, go to www.regulations.gov and enter SSA-2014-0081-0001 in the search box.

Following are short excerpts from the Proposed Rule. The full information is much more detailed.

 “What is the purpose of this ANPRM?

We are soliciting public comments along with supporting research and data about     how vocational factors such as age, education, and work experience affect an individual’s ability to adjust to other work that exists in the national economy. In addition to seeking public input on the specific questions below, we are also asking for public assistance to help identify research and data to assist us.”

“What should you comment about?

When we determine whether an individual can adjust to other work, we consider an individual’s functional capacities and limitations, the occupational base in the national economy, and the vocational factors of age, education, and work experience. We have ongoing activities related to each of these considerations. …  Accordingly, we are narrowing the scope of this ANPRM to solicit public comments on only the vocational factors. We are not soliciting public comments on how we assess an individual’s functional limitations. …”

Second, through December 1, Social Security is asking for public input to determine if reasonable accommodations should be considered in adult disability determination process. Following from the request:

“Question for consideration

Are there reasonable accommodations that employers provide universally, such that SSA could assume they would be available to any claimant when we determine whether he or she has the capacity to perform “any job in the national economy” (as required by our Statute)? If yes, what are those accommodations? What information or evidence can you offer to support any suggestion that such accommodations are universally available?”


Filing online for retirement after Medicare


Q: Can I use the Social Security online retirement application even if I am already on Medicare?

A: Yes, you can. Complete your retirement application about 3 months before you want benefits to begin.

You can file online for Social Security retirement, just for Medicare or for both retirement and Medicare.

If already receiving Social Security benefits at age 65, you cannot file online for Medicare because Medicare information is automatically sent to you.

More about the Social Security online retirement is at https://www.ssa.gov/retire/apply.html.

Other online SSA applications are available to apply for benefits as a spouse or for disability.

More about Social Security online services is at www.ssa.gov/onlineservices/.



More about SSI, including data for your state and county

Last week I wrote about 1972 Legislation creating the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program with links to some national SSI statistics.

Since then, two online publications with much more information about SSI became available.

The SSI Annual Statistical Report, 2014, is the first and much more detailed of these publications.

This annual report describes the SSI program and who receives benefits. The tables present data on such topics as recipient characteristics, disability and work incentives, applications, awards, and denials.

If you work with need-based programs this report might be useful to you. A casual reader will probably find the second publication, shown below, more interesting.

Here are tidbits from the Highlights section of the SSI Annual Statistical Report, 2014:

Size and Scope of the Supplemental Security Income Program

About 8.3 million people received federally administered payments in December 2014.

The average monthly payment in December 2014 was $532.

Total payments for the year were almost $55 billion, including more than $3 billion in federally administered state supplementation.  

Profile of Recipients

The majority were female (53 percent).

Sixteen percent were under age 18, 59 percent were aged 18 to 64, and 25 percent were aged 65 or older.

Most (86 percent) were eligible on the basis of a disability.

Six out of 10 recipients under age 65 were diagnosed with a mental disorder.

Fifty-eight percent of SSI recipients had no income other than their SSI payment.

Thirty-three percent of SSI recipients also received Social Security benefits.

Of the people receiving SSI benefits, 1.5 percent were residing in a Title XIX institution where Medicaid was paying more than half of the cost.

Despite their disabilities, about 315,000 recipients (4.3 percent) were working in December 2014.

The second report, SSI Recipients by State and County, 2014, brings SSI data to the state and county level in an easy to read format.

For each state and county, information shown includes the number of people receiving SSI as of December 2014, benefit category and age ranges for recipients and overall amount of SSI payments received. County data on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are a measure of the local impact of the program.

How many people in your state and county receive Supplemental Security Income? How much money does that represent each month? Find out in SSI Recipients by State and County, 2014.




Questions about SSA survivors benefits

Q: Now age 63, I have been receiving Social Security disability for several years. My wife is age 60. If I were to die soon, would my wife be able to receive my Social Security? How much would she receive?

A: If widowed at age 60, she is old enough to receive Social Security survivors benefits. It would not matter if you were receiving Social Security benefits before death or not. From the Social Security survivors benefits page, go to the Survivors Planner section for more information about potential benefits.

The amount of survivors benefit payable to her at age 60 through your record is based primarily on your work history and her age when beginning the benefits. When someone receiving Social Security benefits dies, the amount he or she had been receiving could be a factor in the survivors amount.

Survivor estimates are not available online. Since you receive Social Security benefits, obtain an estimate by contacting Social Security. If not yet receiving benefits, create a my Social Security account and go to your Social Security Statement for estimated survivors benefits for your family. This can help with your family financial planning.

Not all survivor benefits to a widow or widower are based on that person’s age. Potential benefits to a parent because minor children receive benefits or to a disabled widow or widower are examples of this. Learn more in the Survivors Planner section.

When age is a factor, 60 is the youngest age possible to start monthly survivors benefits. If widowed when younger, monthly benefits could not begin until age 60 although a one-time benefit towards funeral costs might be payable immediately. At age 60, the amount is permanently reduced to about 71.5 percent of the benefit if waiting to full retirement age.

Starting Social Security survivors benefits when first eligible might not be your best option. This is a personal decision. As when starting retirement, include overall finances and employment plans in your decision. If also eligible for your own retirement, you could start the lower benefit first and switch to the higher one later.

Contact Social Security whenever there is a death in the family. Even if benefits are not immediately payable, future options can be discussed. survivorsplanner