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.

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.



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

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 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?”


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

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

The Medicare Part D (prescription drug coverage) plan open enrollment period started October 15 and ends December 7.

Learn about Part D at the Medicare website,  The Medicare homepage shows the Open Enrollment dates with a link labeled “Review your health and drug coverage options” that takes you to the Medicare Plan Finder. There you can complete a general search of plans in your ZIP code or a more detailed search based on more personal information. The 2016 plans are now available to review and compare.


Review your existing Part D plan each year. Insurance plans and your specific needs change. 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 prescription drug plan. Along with the official Medicare website tools to help you, state agencies might be available to help you. The North Dakota Insurance Department website has a schedule of statewide Part D enrollment events and the Minnesota Board of Aging, Health Insurance Counseling Program, helps too.

The Part D (Drug Coverage) page of the Medicare website contains a “Find someone to talk to” link, usually the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) and others.

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 Medicare 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. More about Extra Help is at

Financial requirements for the Prescription Drug Coverage Extra Help vary in part if you have earnings, support other family members or if you live in Alaska or Hawaii. General  requirements  include that:

Your resources must be limited to $13,640 for an individual or $27,250 for a married couple living together. Resources include such things as bank accounts, stocks and bonds. We do not count your home, car or any life insurance policy as resources; and

Your annual income must be limited to $17,655 for an individual or $23,895 for a married couple living together. Even if your annual income is higher, you still may be able to get some help. Some examples where you may have higher income and still qualify for Extra Help include if you or your spouse: Support other family members who live with you, have earnings from work, or live in Alaska or Hawaii.  

The Extra Help website page has a section to help you decide if you might qualify for Extra Help assistance and has a list of information that you will need.  Follow the See if you qualify for Extra Help and apply link to use this. Keep in mind that using only the “Find out if you qualify” tool” is not an application and does not provide a formal decision. An Extra Help application can be completed regardless of the “see if you qualify” results. Complete an Extra Help application at the same link if desired.

An Extra Help application can be completed at any time, not only during the Part D open enrollment period. 

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. Enrolling in a Part D prescription drug plan is separate and different from applying for the Extra Help program.

You can also call the SSA national toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778), or your local office for Part D Extra Help information and to apply.

Part D Exta Help

No 2016 Social Security or SSI cost-of-living adjustment (COLA)

There will not be a 2016 Social Security or Supplemental Security Income cost-of-living adjustment (COLA). The following is from today’s Social Security press release.

Law Does Not Provide for a Social Security Cost-of-Living Adjustment for 2016 

With consumer prices down over the past year, monthly Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for nearly 65 million Americans will not automatically increase in 2016. 

The Social Security Act provides for an automatic increase in Social Security and SSI benefits if there is an increase in inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). The period of consideration includes the third quarter of the last year a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) was made to the third quarter of the current year. As determined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there was no increase in the CPI-W from the third quarter of 2014 to the third quarter of 2015. Therefore, under existing law, there can be no COLA in 2016. 

Other adjustments that would normally take effect based on changes in the national average wage index also will not take effect in January 2016. Since there is no COLA, the statute also prohibits a change in the maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax, as well as the retirement earnings test exempt amounts. These amounts will remain unchanged in 2016. The attached fact sheet provides more information on 2016 Social Security and SSI changes. 

The Department of Health and Human Services has not yet announced Medicare premium changes for 2016. Should there be an increase in the Medicare Part B premium, the law contains a “hold harmless” provision that protects approximately 70 percent of Social Security beneficiaries from paying a higher Part B premium, in order to avoid reducing their net Social Security benefit. Those not protected include higher income beneficiaries subject to an income-adjusted Part B premium and beneficiaries newly entitled to Part B in 2016. In addition, beneficiaries who have their Medicare Part B premiums paid by state medical assistance programs will see no change in their Social Security benefit. The state will be required to pay any Medicare Part B premium increase. 

Information about Medicare changes for 2016, when available, will be found at 

For additional information, please go to

SSA Disability benefits in your state & more

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month.  While a time to celebrate the contributions of America’s workers with disabilities, this is also a good time to remind you that disability is unpredictable and can happen to anyone at any age. Fifty-six million Americans, or 1-in-5, live with disabilities.

As of December 2014, benefits to disabled workers and their eligible family members accounted for about 18.5 percent of Social Security benefits. At that time, the number of disabled workers and their eligible family members receiving Social Security disability in states near me were: North Dakota, 16,737; Minnesota, 155,061;  South Dakota , 23,214; and in Montana, 32,976.

Social Security disability benefit information for each state is here.  Data is for each Congressional District, as of December 2014, with the number of disabled workers and family members receiving monthly Social Security Disability Insurance plus the amounts of those benefits.


Disability is something many Americans, especially younger people, think can only affect the lives of other people. A fact for 20-year-olds, insured for benefits by working, is that more than 1-in-4 of them becomes disabled before reaching retirement age and may need Social Security disability benefits as a critical source of financial support when they need it most.

At the beginning of 2015, Social Security paid an average monthly disability benefit of $1,165. That is barely enough to keep a beneficiary above the 2014 poverty level ($11,670 annually). For many beneficiaries, their monthly disability payment represents most of their income. Even these modest payments can make a huge difference in the lives of people who can no longer work. They allow people to meet basic needs and the needs of their families. Learn more in the Faces and Facts of Disability section at

Are younger than retirement age? Do you have children dependent on you? If struck by a severe illness or injury, what would be the potential amount of Social Security disability benefits payable to you and eligible family members?

Obtain an estimate by creating your personal, pin and password secured, my Social Security account. Estimated monthly disability amounts are on your Social Security Statement. Use them with your other family financial planning.


Need a letter proving your benefit amount? Easy.

Q: I need a letter proving the amount of my Social Security. How can I get this?

A: When needed, benefit verification letters prove the amount of your Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) income for any purpose whether you are applying for a mortgage loan, heating assistance or something else.

Based on the information you chose to include, a verification letter can also confirm your current Medicare health insurance coverage, age or type of benefits received.

The easiest way, if you created an online my Social Security account, is to request and download a benefit verification letter online at your convenience.

For Social Security, SSI or Medicare, you select information to be included in the verification letter. For example, you can show the type of benefit received with the amount, the amount only, or even that you have an application for benefits pending. For this and other online services, create your personal my Social Security account at

You can also telephone the national SSA telephone number, 800-772-1213, (TTY) 800-325-0778, 7:00am – 7:00pm standard business days, or contact your local office for a benefit verification letter. Allow several days mailing time for either of these.

Fast Facts & Figures About Social Security, 2015

FastFacts2015-2 The new Fast Facts & Figures About Social Security, 2015 booklet is now available.

I like this booklet. Perhaps you will too.

Issued annually, this short booklet answers 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 (OASDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs.

Tables and charts illustrate the range of program beneficiaries, from the country’s oldest to its youngest citizens. In all, about 64.2 million people received some type of Social Security benefit or SSI assistance in 2014.

Different topics are easily tabbed for your interest. All are worth your time. In particular, see the “Relative Importance of Social Security” chart in the “Income of the Aged Population” section.