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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.

my Social Security & credit reports

Q: I was unable to create a my Social Security account because I have a security freeze on my credit report. Why should this matter?

A: As a protection for you, part of the process when you create your my Social Security account includes contact by Social Security with the credit report firm Experian to help verify your identity. As a result, you cannot create a my Social Security account online if you have a security freeze, fraud alert, or both on your Experian credit report. You first must ask Experian to remove the freeze or alert.

From its own internal records, Social Security can verify some of the information requested from you to establish your personal my Social Security account. For example, your birthdate and parent’s names are part of your Social Security number record.

Using an additional, external from Social Security, means to further prove your identity when creating the my Social Security record provides another layer of security. Experian provides questions from its records that also serve to verify your identity. These questions would not be about information routinely available, for example from a lost wallet or purse. Your Social Security number is not shared with Experian and information from that firm is not kept by Social Security.

Using Experian credit report information to help verify your identity may result in what is known as a “soft inquiry” on your Experian credit report. That report will show an inquiry by the Social Security Administration with the date of the request. Soft inquiries do not affect your credit score, are not reported to lenders and you do not incur any charges related to them. It will not appear on your credit report from Equifax or TransUnion, and generally will be removed from your Experian credit report after 25 months.

Multiple layers of security protection are available for your use when creating your my Social Security account. Learn about them at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount/.

Once established, your my Social Security account is useful whether or not you receive benefits yet. If receiving benefits or having Medicare now, you can:

Get your benefit verification letter

Check your benefit and payment information and your earnings record

Change your address and phone number and

Start or change direct deposit of your payment

If not receiving benefits yet, you can get your Social Security Statement with estimates of retirement, disability, and survivors benefits to help financial planning. You will also see your earnings record and the estimated Social Security and Medicare taxes you have paid. 

 

Young people get Social Security

Regular readers know that Social Security benefits people of all ages. Highlighting information for children under the age of 18, at the end of 2013 about 3.2 million children under the age of 18 were receiving an average monthly benefit of $534 because one or both of their parents are disabled, retired or deceased.

When a parent becomes disabled or dies, Social Security benefits help to stabilize the family’s financial future. In fact:

About 325,690 minor children of retired workers were receiving an average monthly benefit of $615.

About 1.2 million minor children of deceased workers were receiving an average monthly survivor benefit of $806.

About 1.7 million minor children of disabled workers were receiving an average monthly benefit of $328.

 More about Social Security protection for young people is at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/youngpeople/

 

 

April is Financial Literacy Month

April is Financial Literacy Month, the perfect time to examine your saving habits and ensure that you are on track for a comfortable retirement. Financial planning can put your mind at ease, but getting started can be overwhelming. 

If you have not begun saving for retirement, now is a good time to start, no matter what your age. Whether retirement is near or seems a lifetime away, now is the time to begin savings so that time and compound interest works to your advantage.

Get a good estimate of your future SSA retirement amount with the Social Security online Retirement Estimator, one part of the SSA retirement planner. The estimator connects to your actual work record to provide a personal estimate. You can change the default estimates for those more in tune with your actual plans. 

For those years from retirement, create a my Social Security account and use it to view your Social Security Statement. The Statement contains your earnings from your Social Security record but, more to the point of financial planning, has estimated personal and family benefits should you become disabled or die. This information helps you arrange other parts of your financial planning.

Social Security personnel cannot assist with financial planning. Select your own helpers for this. Two websites to help you get started are www.mymoney.gov,the official U.S. government website dedicated to teaching Americans the basics of finances, and the Ballpark Estimator at www.choosetosave.org/ballpark, part of the American Savings Education Council program, which includes the Social Security Administration.

These sites, and others like them, are not just about savings for retirement. There are reasons to save for every stage of life. 

April is Financial Literacy Month. Now is a good time to review your existing plan, or start one.

 

Annual retirement test background

How much can I earn and still receive Social Security” has always been a popular topic for questions. The retirement earnings test, also called the annual earnings test, describes how your own employment earnings from gross wages or net self-employment income can reduce Social Security payments to you during the year.

Details about the retirement test for 2014 are in the Social Security retirement planner section and are only indirectly today’s topic.

Today, retirement test restrictions end with the month a person reaches full retirement age (FRA). Starting with the month you reach full retirement age, you can get your benefits with no limit on your earnings. This is a relatively recent change, only taking place in 2000. The retirement test still applies to beneficiaries not yet FRA.

The final version of the Social Security Act of 1935 contained retirement test language, stating that “Whenever the Board finds that any qualified individual has received wages with respect to regular employment after he attained the age of sixty-five, the old-age benefit payable to such individual shall be reduced, for each calendar month in any part of which such regular employment occurred, by an amount equal to one month’s benefit.” Recall that at this time, age 65 was the Social Security retirement age since reduced benefits did not yet exist.

Starting with the 1950 Amendments, the retirement earnings test ended at age 75. From that point on, it was established that the retirement test need not always apply. 

Over years, additional changes were made to the retirement test ending age as well as allowing partial payment depending on how much one earned. Until the 1960 Amendments, earnings over exempt amounts stopped benefits completely with the full benefit withheld when limits were exceeded.

When I started with Social Security, the retirement test applied until age 72. Several years later it eventually went to age 70 as part of the 1977 Amendments. You can read the legislative history of the retirement earnings test here.

So, when did the retirement earnings test end for people at full retirement age?

In his 1999 State of the Union Address, President Bill Clinton stated that the Social Security retirement test should be eliminated. Legislation to do this received unanimous support in both houses of Congress and, on April 7, 2000, “The Senior Citizens’ Freedom to Work Act of 2000″ was signed into law, eliminating the retirement earnings test for beneficiaries at or above full retirement age (FRA) (also called normal retirement age). It still applies to beneficiaries not yet FRA. Remarks of President Clinton during the signing statement are here. In those remarks, President Clinton also introduced the Social Security online retirement planner.

Retirees are used to it now, but ending the annual retirement test at FRA was a historic change in the Social Security retirement program. As noted earlier, from the beginning of Social Security in 1935, retirement benefits had been conditional on the requirement that the beneficiary be substantially retired. For those who have reached full retirement age, “The Senior Citizens’ Freedom to Work Act of 2000″ effectively repealed this requirement.

Retirement test information for 2014 is here.

Requesting Social Security publications

Through these posts, I often link to Social Security publications. 

Combining many Social Security topics and formats, online publications are available for you on the agency website, www.socialsecurity.gov. Specific publications vary, but many are available as an online audio download, a PDF file or in different languages.

Paper copies of publications are also available at no charge, including multiple copies of a publication.

Selected publications are available in alternative media of Braille, audio cassette, audio CD or enlarged print.

You can easily request SSA publications without contacting a local office. Here is how:

1. Go to www.socialsecurity.gov  and scroll down to Items of Interest. There you will see a Publications box. Click on it.

 2. Contents at the publications page can be sorted in several ways including publication number or topic. Available electronic formats are shown for each publication. Click and choose as desired.

3. If you want paper copies of selected publications, continue scrolling down the publication page until reaching the How to Order section. Click on the Print copies link and follow instructions. Note that instructions for ordering alternative media are also in the How to Order section.  

 

 

Are SSI amounts the same all across the country?

Q: Are SSI amounts the same all across the country?

A: Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is very different from Social Security even though both programs are administered by the Social Security Administration.

Signed into law by President Nixon in 1972 (Public Law 92-603), SSI is need based and can provide payments to people with limited income or financial resources. SSI payments can be for people age 65 or older, plus disabled or blind children and adults.

As a Federal income supplement program funded by general tax revenues, not Social Security taxes, the basic maximum amounts are the same all across the country. Effective January 2014, the maximum monthly Federal benefit rates are $721 for an individual and $1,082 for a couple. Other income can reduce these amounts.

Individual States can choose to supplement the national amounts by adding to the Federal amount. If done, any additional amounts are based on State rules related the person’s income, living arrangements or other factors. There is wide variance across the country for this. Some States do not pay any supplemental amount, some do with funds included in the Federal payment, and some administer their own supplement arrangement.

Basic Supplemental Security Income information is at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/pgm/ssi.htm.

Not all income or resources count towards the SSI limits. To learn more or apply, contact Social Security by calling the national number, 1-800-772-1213 / TTY 1-800-325-0778, or your local office. 

Who receives benefits for a child? The representative payee.

Q: To receive benefits, must children be living in the same household when a parent receives Social Security disability?

A: No. For Social Security retirement, disability and survivors benefits, the parent-to-child relationship is important in determining if a child is eligible for payment.

This means that otherwise eligible children born in an existing marriage, without marriage, or in an ended marriage can receive Social Security if a parent receives retirement or disability, or survivors benefits if the parent is deceased. Child benefits are payable to eligible adopted or stepchildren. For stepchildren, the parent-to-parent relationship is important because it defines the parent-to-child relationship.

For a minor, or perhaps a disabled child, a separate question is what person receives those Social Security benefits on behalf of the child. Actual custody or other legal responsibility helps determine the person or agency to receive SSA payments on behalf of a child. Usually the custodial parent will be the person selected to receive these if the parents do not live together.

For a commonplace example, assume Parent A is receiving Social Security benefits and has a biological minor child living in another town with Parent B. If all other requirements are met, the child can receive Social Security benefits through the record of Parent A. Since Parent B has custody, those SSA benefits for the child would be paid to Parent B.

Representative payee is the term Social Security uses for a person receiving benefits on behalf of another person. In the above example, Parent B is representative payee for the child. 

Not just for children, representative payees are appointed to provide financial management for the Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments of people who are incapable of managing their own payments.

To become a representative payee, a person or agency must file an application and then provide ongoing accounting of how funds are used. Payees are appointed only for Social Security and SSI purposes and are completely different from guardianship or power of attorney. FAQ’s for representative payees are here.

Note that the Treasury Department does not recognize power of attorney for the purposes of negotiating federal payments, including Social Security or SSI checks.

 

Medicare and pre-existing health conditions

Q: I enrolled in Medicare Part A (Hospital) at age 65, but not Part B (Medical) because I was still working and had good health insurance through my employer. Now age 67, I will soon be retiring, in part due to some health problems. Can those health problems prevent me from getting Medicare Part B coverage?

A: Existing health problems will not prevent your enrollment in Medicare.

Many people think of Medicare as beginning only at age 65, but certain people younger than age 65 can qualify for Medicare, including those who have disabilities, permanent kidney failure or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease). People receiving Social Security benefits based on their own disability become eligible for Medicare after two years. These people all have existing health problems.

Having employer medical coverage from current employment is the usual reason for not enrolling in Part B immediately at age 65. Since you did not enroll in Medicare Part B because of existing employer coverage, upon retirement you can enroll anytime during the year without premium penalty. Enroll at least two to three months before retiring. This allows time for your local Social Security office to work with your existing health insurance to have the Medicare Part B effective upon your retirement.

More information about Medicare enrollment is in the Medicare area of the Social Security website, www.socialsecurity.gov  and in the publication Medicare.

See the Medicare website, www.medicare.gov, for coverage details.

February 2014 statistical snapshot

The monthly statistical snapshot for February 2014 for Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is available. Monthly snapshots provide a quick view about benefits paid during the month.

Here you can learn national totals, by beneficiary count and percentage, of the different benefits paid and average amounts of each type of benefit.

For example, during February 2014, retirement related benefits accounted for 70.6 percent of all Social Security benefits paid, including benefits to retired workers, spouses of retired workers and children of retired workers. Each of these categories is shown separately with its own percentage of the total and other information.

In February 2014, across the nation 58,201 thousand people of all ages received a Social Security payment. Noted above, most of this was retirement related. Survivor benefits accounted for 10.6 percent and disability benefits, including family members, accounted for 18.9 percent.

A detailed February benefit picture for the separate Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program is linked at the bottom of the snapshot page.

 You can subscribe to receive an email alert when these monthly updates are released. To do so, follow the “Subscribe to Updates” link

SSA disability decision expedited for vets with 100% VA compensation

Requirements for Social Security and VA disability programs are very different. Eligibility for one does not mean eligibility for the other.

With that reminder, on March 17, the Social Security Administration began expediting disability claims for veterans who have a disability compensation rating of 100 percent permanent and total (P&T) by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, designated expediting disability claims for these veterans as one of the agency’s priorities. This is an interagency collaboration between the VA and Social Security to help veterans gain timely access to the benefits they may be eligible for and deserve.

This differs from the “Wounded Warrior” expedited claims process, which is designed only for military service members who became disabled while on active duty on or after October 1, 2001 no matter where the disability occurred. The new expedited claims process is designed for all veterans, regardless of when they served as long as they have a VA compensation rating of 100 percent P&T.

In order to receive the expedited service, veterans must tell Social Security they have a VA disability compensation rating of 100% P&T and show proof of their disability rating with their VA Notification Letter.

The VA rating only expedites Social Security disability claims processing and does not guarantee an approval for Social Security disability benefits. These veterans must still meet the strict eligibility requirements for a disability allowance.

More about this new expedited claims process is on the Social Security website, www.socialsecurity.gov, at www.socialsecurity.gov/pgm/disability-pt.htm.

Learn about Social Security disability benefits at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/pgm/disability.htm.