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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.

Correcting your work record

Q: I work part-time as an employee for a business and receive a W-2 for those wages plus I have separate self-employment earnings that I pay taxes on when filing my taxes each year. Only the W-2 wages appear on my most recent Social Security Statement. Since I have been paying self-employment taxes, shouldn’t they be on my Social Security number earnings history as well? How do I fix this?

A: Most people who pay into Social Security work for an employer. Their employer deducts Social Security taxes from their paycheck, matches that contribution, sends taxes to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and reports wages to Social Security. If registered for SSA Business Services, employers can verify employee Social Security numbers online and report W-2 wage information electronically.

Self-employed people must report their earnings and pay their taxes directly to IRS. If self-employed, you report your earnings for Social Security when you file your federal income tax return. If your net earnings are $400 or more in a year, you must report your earnings on Schedule SE, in addition to the other tax forms you must file.

All employment earnings for a year are usually posted to your personal work record near the end of October of the following year so your total 2014 employment earnings should be posted to your record approximately the end of October 2015. This applies whether or not a person receives monthly Social Security benefits. When already receiving benefits, new earnings are automatically reviewed to see if they will increase the amount.

If earlier years are not correctly posted, your local Social Security office can help correct your record. Evidence generally needed includes proof of the earnings, such as a W-2 and 1099. For self-employment, tax return information including tax form Schedule SE and proof of tax payment is also needed.

If you received your Social Security Statement by mail, know that you can get a copy of it anytime at your convenience by creating a personal, pin and password protected, my Social Security account. More about doing this is at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount/.

Annual Trustees Report for 2015

Yesterday the Social Security Board of Trustees released its annual report for 2015 with the following news release.

The full 2015 Trustees Report is at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/OACT/TR/2015/

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Wednesday, July 22, 2015 – For Immediate Release

Social Security Board of Trustees: Trust Fund Reserve Gains One Year for Projected Depletion Date 

The Social Security Board of Trustees today released its annual report on the long-term financial status of the Social Security Trust Funds. The combined asset reserves of the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) Trust Funds are projected to become depleted in 2034, one year later than projected last year, with 79 percent of benefits payable at that time. The DI Trust Fund will become depleted in 2016, unchanged from last year’s estimate, with 81 percent of benefits still payable.

In the 2015 Annual Report to Congress, the Trustees announced:

  • The combined trust fund reserves are still growing and will continue to do so through 2019. Beginning with 2020, the cost of the program is projected to exceed income.
  • The projected point at which the combined trust fund reserves will become depleted, if Congress does not act before then, comes in 2034 – one year later than projected last year. At that time, there will be sufficient income coming in to pay 79 percent of scheduled benefits.
  • The projected actuarial deficit over the 75-year long-range period is 2.68 percent of taxable payroll — 0.20 percentage point smaller than in last year’s report.

While the projected depletion date of the combined OASDI trust funds gained a year, the Disability Insurance Trust Fund’s projected depletion year remains 2016. I agree with President Obama, we have to keep Social Security strong, protecting its future solvency. President Obama’s FY 2016 budget proposes to address this near-term Disability Insurance Trust Fund’s reserve depletion. By reallocating a portion of payroll taxes from Old Age Survivors to the Disability Trust Fund – as has been done many times in the past – would have no adverse effect on the solvency of the overall Social Security program,” said Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security.

We believe that Congress must take action to reallocate a portion of the payroll tax rate between the trust funds to avoid deep and abrupt cuts or delays in benefits for individuals with disabilities who paid into the system while they worked and now need the benefits they earned to support themselves and their families,” Colvin said.

Other highlights of the Trustees Report include:

  • Income including interest to the combined OASDI Trust Funds amounted to $884 billion in 2014. ($756 billion in net contributions, $30 billion from taxation of benefits, $98 billion in interest, and less than $1 billion in reimbursements from the General Fund of the Treasury—almost exclusively resulting from the 2012 payroll tax legislation)
  • Total expenditures from the combined OASDI Trust Funds amounted to $859 billion in 2014.
  • Non-interest income fell below program costs in 2010 for the first time since 1983. Program costs are projected to exceed non-interest income throughout the remainder of the 75-year period.
  • The asset reserves of the combined OASDI Trust Funds increased by $25 billion in 2014 to a total of $2.79 trillion.
  • During 2014, an estimated 166 million people had earnings covered by Social Security and paid payroll taxes.
  • Social Security paid benefits of $848 billion in calendar year 2014. There were about 59 million beneficiaries at the end of the calendar year.
  • The cost of $6.1 billion to administer the program in 2014 was a very low 0.7 percent of total expenditures.
  • The combined Trust Fund asset reserves earned interest at an effective annual rate of 3.6 percent in 2014.

The Board of Trustees comprises six members. Four serve by virtue of their positions with the federal government: Jacob J. Lew, Secretary of the Treasury and Managing Trustee; Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security; Sylvia M. Burwell, Secretary of Health and Human Services; and Thomas E. Perez, Secretary of Labor. The two public trustees are Charles P. Blahous, III and Robert D. Reischauer.

View the 2015 Trustees Report at www.socialsecurity.gov/OACT/TR/2015/.

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National my Social Security Week

mySSAweek2015

Regular readers are aware of my Social Security, a way to create your own personal, pin and password secured, account to access your own Social Security information whether you receive monthly benefits yet or not.

Have you created your account yet? If not, today is a good time to do so.

If you receive Social Security benefits or have Medicare, you can use a my Social Security online account to:

  • Get your benefit verification letter
  • Check your benefit and payment information and your earnings record
  • Change your address and phone number
  • Start or change direct deposit of your benefit payment
  • Get a replacement Medicare card
  • Get a replacement SSA 1099 or SSA-1042S for tax season

If you do not receive benefits, you can use a my Social Security online account to:

Estimates of your future retirement, disability, and survivors benefits

Your earnings to verify the amounts we posted are correct

See the estimated Social Security and Medicare taxes you have paid

  • Get a benefit verification letter stating that you never have received monthly benefits, formerly received benefits, or have an application for benefits pending.

In addition to using your own pin and password to protect your my Social Security account, additional security methods are used when you create your account. Read about them here.

To create your own account, go to the official Social Security Administration website, http://www.socialsecurity.gov/. Several links from the homepage, including the following image, will take you directly to the my Social Security page at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount/.

mySSAweek2015-2

 

Are Social Security numbers issued consecutively?

Q: Are Social Security numbers issued consecutively?

A: No. Social Security numbers (SSN’s) have been issued randomly since June 2011 to help protect number integrity and to extend longevity of the nine-digit SSN nationwide.

A Social Security number has three parts. Before numbers were issued randomly in 2011, the first three digits, called the Area Number, reflected the State where the card was issued and later the zip code of the SSN application address. In general, SSN’s issued on the east coast had the lowest numbers and became higher moving along to the west coast.

Remember that the Social Security number process was designed in 1936, long before computers. SSN applications of that period were stored in files organized by region and alphabetically. Having the Area Number reflect a geographic area was an internal bookkeeping device to organize manual SSN records.

The middle two digits of the SSN are the Group Number. Although not used consecutively, before the change to random issuance, a Group number could be used to determine when the SSN was issued. This ability was a tool to help employers determine if a SSN was real. Today employers can verify a SSN immediately online through Social Security Business Services.

The final four digits are the Serial Number. Before the change to random issuance, they were issued consecutively within each Group series but had no specific meaning.

For SSN’s issued since the random process started in 2011, there is no geographical significance to the first three digits, the Area Number, because they are no longer associated with any specific area of the country. This means more SSN’s are available across the country since any Area Number can be issued anywhere.

The middle two digits, the Group Number, no longer can be used to determine when the Social Security number was issued. Change to both Area and Group Numbers protect individuals by making it harder to figure out a SSN.

More about the random issuance of Social Security numbers is here.

Here is a 1930’s photo of filing cabinets used to store Social Security records:

SSN card files-1930's

Follow Social Security on Twitter

The Social Security Administration has a new Twitter account, as reported in the June 2015 edition of Social Security Update, the monthly agency newsletter.

Following is the SSA Twitter account information. Read the full online newsletter here.

“Social Security is committed to interacting with the public in a meaningful and helpful way, and our use of social media supports that challenging goal. We’re excited to announce a new Twitter account created specifically to reach out to client advocates and partners, @SSAOutreach. 

This new account has the official tweets from our Office of External Affairs (OEA). When you follow @SSAOutreach, you’ll get the latest updates on Social Security programs, policies, services, and events. You can help us succeed in meeting our communication goals by sharing OEA’s messages with your clients and the public. 

Many of your clients prefer the safety and convenience of our online services, so it’s likely for them to look for answers and information on our social media sites. Besides the new OEA Twitter account, the agency also has its own Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Google Plus accounts to raise awareness of our programs and services for a broad audience. Our blog, “Social Security Matters,” goes into detail about Social Security-related topics of interest. 

You can follow OEA’s Twitter account at www.twitter.com/SSAOutreach and view our other social media sites by visiting www.socialsecurity.gov/socialmedia“.

Same-sex marriage update

On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court issued a decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, holding that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry in all states. As a result, more same-sex couples will be recognized as married for purposes of determining entitlement to Social Security benefits or eligibility for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments.

The Social Security Administration is working with the Department of Justice to analyze the decision and provide instructions for processing claims. Local offices are receiving updated instructions for different states on a flow basis.

Information for same-sex couples is on the Social Security website at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/people/same-sexcouples/.

A  direct link to this section is at the bottom of the SSA website homepagesame-sex website

Survivor benefits go to official widow or widower

Q: After the children were grown, my husband and I separated but remained married even though he was living with another woman for the last decade. He died recently. Can I receive Social Security benefits as his widow even though we have been apart for years?

A: If monthly Social Security survivor benefits are payable, they would be paid to you as the legal widow.

Since you were not living together, usually a one-time payment of $255 originally intended to help offset funeral costs would not be paid to you or the other woman.

Survivor benefits based on your age can begin as early as age 60. For younger widow or widowers with a severe disability, survivor benefits can begin as young as age 50. They are also payable at any age if eligible children are involved. More information is here.

Have you worked enough to be eligible for Social Security retirement on your own work record? If so, you have options to consider. For example, you can start the smaller benefit first at a reduced for age amount and switch to the larger one when you are older and past age reductions for the benefit involved. Discuss your options with a SSA representative.

When eligible for two different types of Social Security benefit, such as your own retirement and as a widow or widower, you receive up to the larger amount, not all of one plus all of the other.

Always contact Social Security about possible benefits when there is a death in the family. You cannot report a death or apply for survivors benefits online. Call the Social Security national toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) from 7:00am – 7:00pm local time or contact your local SSA office.

 

 

What is a typical Social Security disability amount?

Q: What is a typical Social Security disability amount?

A: As of May 2015, the average monthly Social Security disability amount to a disabled worker was $1,165. This does not include benefits paid to eligible family members.

Also as of May, the average monthly amount paid to the eligible spouse of a disabled worker was $316 and the average amount to an eligible child was $350.

These and other amounts are in Table 2 shown here.

Rather than using a national average, a more accurate and personal estimate is on your Social Security Statement. In the “Your Estimated Benefits” section is “If you become disabled right now, your payment would be about $XXX a month.”

This estimate is based on your actual work record, which is included on the Statement so that you can check it for accuracy.

Obtain your personal Statement online at any time by creating your personal, pin and password controlled, my Social Security account.

The Statement is also mailed on a limited basis. In September 2014, the Social Security Administration began mailing Statements to workers attaining ages 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, 55, and 60 and over, who are not receiving Social Security benefits and do not yet have a my Social Security account. Statements are mailed three months prior to your birthday.

Are SSA amounts based on where you live?

Q: Do Social Security retirement amounts change based on what state you live in?

A: No. Your retirement amount is based on your personal work history over many years and your age when starting benefits, not on where you live. It will not change if you move to a different state.

Your best 35 years of work are key when your retirement benefit is computed. These best 35 years, often including years immediately before retirement but selected from your full work history, are weighted for inflation and used to compute your Social Security retirement amount as if you were full retirement age (FRA). If you do not have 35 years of work, zeros are added in to reach 35 years.

When your full retirement age amount is known, the specific amount for the month you are starting Social Security is determined by reducing or increasing the FRA amount, depending on if you are younger or older than FRA for the month when benefits start. Go to the SSA Retirement Planner section to estimate your own Social Security retirement amount.

Once receiving Social Security benefits, any cost-of-living increase is computed nationally based on changes in a consumer price index from one year to the next, not where you live.

In a related manner, benefits to you if disabled or survivors benefits to your family if you die are also based on your personal work history and not where you live.

Your Social Security work record is based on employer W-2 reports or your Schedule SE tax return if self-employed. Check it for accuracy by creating a personal my Social Security account at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount/ and viewing your SSA Statement.

Earnings for 2014 will not show on your record until approximately October 2015. It is very important for your future benefits that your work record be accurate. If it has an error, contact your local office to correct it.

When did SSA retirement at age 62 begin?

Are you thinking of starting Social Security retirement at age 62, or at any time when younger than your full retirement age (FRA)? Did you know that this option was not always available?

Early retirement was not part of the original 1935 Social Security Act. At that time, SSA retirement could not start before age 65. No option for reduced retirement benefits existed.

The ability to start Social Security reduced retirement at age 62 came in later years and at different times for women and men. Signed by President Eisenhower in August 1956, the Social Security Amendments of 1956 provided women the option of starting reduced retirement at age 62. The Social Security Amendments of 1961, signed by President Kennedy on June 30, 1961, extended the option of starting early retirement at age 62 to men.

Whether you are considering retirement at age 62 or later, go to the SSA Retirement Planner website to estimate your Social Security retirement amount.

August 14 is the 80th anniversary of the signing of the historic Social Security Act in 1935 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. To help commemorate this date and engage the public in this milestone, the Social Security Administration has launched a commemorative 80th anniversary website at www.socialsecurity.gov/80thanniversary/.