Changing a child’s representative payee

Q: My ex-wife receives Social Security disability benefits for herself plus benefits for our daughter, for whom she has custody. Within the next few months, I will have custody and our daughter will live with me full-time.

Will Social Security start sending benefits for her to me or will they continue going to my ex-wife? Will the amount change when she is living with me?

A: A person receiving benefits on behalf of someone else is their representative payee. As a general guideline, the parent with legal custody is the preferred payee compared to a parent without custody but exceptions exist based on individual situations.

Changing the representative payee for your daughter, or anyone, is not automatic. You will need to request a change by completing an application to be the new payee for your daughter. This is not an online application so contact your Social Security office to do this. Expect to prove that you have custody and that your daughter is living with you.

A worker’s, in this case your ex-wife, own Social Security amount is based on his or her earnings history over many years. Benefits to a child or other family member do not change how much the worker receives for himself or herself.

Assuming you become your daughter’s representative payee, with her benefits sent in your care, the individual Social Security benefit of your ex-wife will not change although she would no longer receive the amount for your daughter.

The Social Security benefit amount for a child is based on the earnings record of the worker and will be the same wherever the child is living.

Representative payees are responsible for using Social Security benefits on behalf of the eligible person. As representative payee, you will have to report how funds for your daughter are used. Other responsibilities include reporting if your daughter is no longer living with you. Details are in the Guide for Representative Payees.

Social Security testimony before Congress

As reported in the February edition of the Social Security newsletter, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Carolyn W. Colvin testified twice before Congress during February.

On February 11, she testified about the financial status of the Social Security Disability Insurance Trust Fund before the Senate Budget Committee.

Ms. Colvin asked for the Senate’s support for the President’s Budget request, which will reallocate .9 percent of payroll tax revenue from the Old-Age and Survivors trust fund to the Disability Insurance (DI) trust fund for 5 years. This action will keep the DI trust fund adequately financed and able to pay full benefits until 2033.

On February 26, she testified before the U.S. House Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Sub-Committee.

The topic of the hearing was “The Vital Responsibility of Serving the Nation’s Aging and Disabled Communities.” Ms. Colvin stressed that SSA continues to meet the many challenges facing the agency, such as our hearings backlog and hiring administrative law judges. We also continue to strengthen our disability program through activities such as our continuing disability reviews and Supplemental Security Income redeterminations. These activities save billions of program dollars and protect the integrity of our programs.

Direct links to her testimony are here, within the Social Security Office of Legislative and Congressional Affairs website section. In addition to links to testimony by Social Security officials, the section has more about legislation of the 114th Congress with provisions affecting Social Security.

Earnings test not just for retirement benefits

Q: Do the Social Security earnings limits apply just to retirement? Do they apply if receiving widow’s benefits?

A: Yes, earnings limits apply for survivor benefits. The annual earnings test applies individually to everyone younger than their full retirement age (FRA) unless that person receives benefits due to their own disability. People of all ages receive Social Security and the earnings test applies to many of them.

For examples, if both members of a couple receive Social Security retirement, the earnings test applies separately to each until full retirement age. The earnings test also applies to a child, not disabled, receiving benefits through a parents record whether the parent is retired, disabled or deceased.

The earnings test does not apply to people receiving benefits because of their own disability but it does apply to non-disabled family members, including spouse and children, receiving benefits through the disabled person’s record.

Many young people receive Social Security benefits. Earnings test amounts are the same whether SSA retirement, survivors or disability is involved. Different amounts can be earned during the calendar year before benefits are reduced based on if the person is under full retirement age (FRA) the entire year, reaches FRA during the year, or is already FRA. The earnings test ends when you reach FRA.

Based on year of birth, full retirement age ranges from 65 to 67. Retirement FRA is 66 for people born in 1943 – 1954. Note that FRA’s for survivors benefits are different from retirement FRA’s.

Earnings test details are here.

Separate earning rules and work incentives apply if you receive Social Security due to your own disability. Contact Social Security before returning to work. General information is here.

America Saves Week 2015

America Saves Week, February 23 – 28, 2015, reminds us all to focus on the importance of saving and investing for the future. The Social Security Administration is one of many public and private organizations participating in America Saves Week.

Steps toward achieving financial goals include saving, investing and planning throughout an entire career.

What is the status of your savings? According to the America Saves Week website, www.americasavesweek.org/, you should assess your savings annually to make sure you are saving for all the right things and it provides several questions to help you do this.

Someday you will want to retire. Prepare for it. Now is the perfect time to examine your saving habits. Are you on track for a comfortable retirement?

Estimate 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.

Create a my Social Security account and view your Social Security Statement. Along with your Social Security earnings record, the Statement provides estimated retirement amounts plus 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.

To help your planning, here is a Test Your Savings Knowledge question from the American Saves Week website:

Q: About how much more do families with a savings plan save than those without such a plan?

A: According to one study, if family incomes are the same, those families with a plan save about twice as much as those who do not have one.

Why is school information asked on a disability application?

Q: The online Social Security disability asked for my school background. Why does this matter if my doctor says I am disabled? 

A: There are two basic areas considered when someone applies for Social Security disability. First, they must have worked long enough and recently enough to be insured. Second, they must meet the Social Security definition of disability. Asking about school and work experience helps determine if a person meets the disability definition. 

The definition of disability for Social Security is different than other programs. No benefits are payable for partial or short-term disability. 

The disability definition emphasizes ability to work. In addition to the work requirement, to be found disabled under Social Security rules you cannot do the work that you did before, you cannot adjust to other work because of your medical conditions, and your disability has lasted or is expected to last for at least one year or expected to result in death. Age, work experience and education are considered in the decision.  

You are asked about your work experience and education to help determine your ability to work. Making this decision follows a national step-by-step process. Opinions of your doctor and other medical providers are important but generally only one part of making a decision.  

Broadly speaking, two people with the same medical condition might receive different decisions based on their age, work experience or educational backgrounds. For example, compare someone age 50 having a high school diploma and work experience involving heavy lifting to someone age 30 with a college degree and a desk job. The ability of each to do work previously done, or to adjust to new work, could be very different and result in different decisions for the same medical condition.

This is a broad example. There are injuries and illnesses that are routinely approved based on medical diagnosis alone. 

Learn more or file an application at the Disability section of the Social Security website, www.socialsecurity.gov.  From there, go to the Disability Planner section. 

In the Disability Planner, learn how you qualify for Social Security disability benefits including work requirements, disability definitions and the steps followed in making the decision.   

Completely different from Social Security retirement, survivors and disability programs, Social Security administers the need-based Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, also having disability benefits.  

Social Security launches new fraud facts webpage

The Social Security Administration has launched a new web page to highlight the agency’s many efforts in fighting fraud and protecting every worker’s investment in the Social Security program. See it at www.socialsecurity.gov/antifraudfacts. 

Visitors to this site get a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the hard work done every day to fight fraud, waste, and abuse in Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs.  

The website includes information on the tools used to fight fraud, spotlights some of highly successful anti-fraud efforts, and provides materials you can use to help spread the word that Social Security has zero tolerance for fraud. 

One of several links from this new fraud facts webpage is to the Social Security Office of Inspector General (OIG) webpage. The direct OIG link is http://oig.ssa.gov/ and it can also be easily reached through the “contact us” links on the Social Security homepage, www.socialsecurity.gov. From the “contact us” page, click on “Report Fraud, Waste or Abuse.” 

The OIG website has lots of information including some situations, with examples, that may be considered as fraud, waste or abuse against the Social Security administration. You can report possible fraud situations there and read about some recent investigations.

Update – replacement 1099 for 2014

Replacement 1099’s for 2014 are now available online. The way to get one is different from past years. 

When a 1099 replacement was previously requested online, it was mailed to the person’s address as shown on Social Security records. Receipt would take about 10 business days. 

Now, replacement 1099’s are available as a new service for people with a my Social Security account. Through your my Social Security account, the 1099 is available for downloading as a pdf for immediate printing or saving as a file. There is also be an option to have it mailed as in past years. 

Create your personal my Social Security account at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount/.

When will 1099’s for 2014 be mailed?

The new year always brings questions about taxation of Social Security benefits and receipt of 1099’s.

Earlier this week, I wrote about when people might have to pay federal income taxes on their Social Security benefits. No one pays federal income tax on more than 85 percent of his or her Social Security benefits based on Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rules. 

The SSA-1099 for Tax Year 2014 will be mailed by January 31, 2015.  

Referring to my post of January 5, these are sent to your mailing address as shown on Social Security records so I hope yours is correct. 

You can request a replacement SSA-1099 for Tax Year 2014 on or after February 1, 2015. 

If you need a replacement SSA-1099 for Tax Year 2013 or earlier, see instructions here.

Do I pay income tax on my Social Security benefits?

Q: Do I pay income tax on my Social Security benefits? 

A: Perhaps. Here is information from the Social Security website, www.socialsecurity.gov. Including links to IRS information, more details are at www.socialsecurity.gov/planners/taxes.htm 

Some people have to pay federal income taxes on their Social Security benefits. This usually happens only if you have other substantial income (such as wages, self-employment, interest, dividends and other taxable income that must be reported on your tax return) in addition to your benefits. 

No one pays federal income tax on more than 85 percent of his or her Social Security benefits based on Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rules. 

If you file a federal tax return as an “individual” and your combined income is

·  between $25,000 and $34,000, you may have to pay income tax on up to 50 percent of your benefits.

·  more than $34,000, up to 85 percent of your benefits may be taxable. 

If you file a joint return, and you and your spouse have a combined income that is

·  between $32,000 and $44,000, you may have to pay income tax on up to 50 percent of your benefits

·  more than $44,000, up to 85 percent of your benefits may be taxable. 

If you are married and file a separate tax return, you probably will pay taxes on your benefits.

 

Receiving Social Security? Have you moved?

When benefit amounts change for a person receiving either Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a letter is sent by regular Post Office mail telling the new amount and reasons for the change. 

As routinely done, recently the Social Security Administration has been mailing letters to beneficiaries explaining the 2015 cost-of-living increase benefit changes. Many of those letters cannot be delivered because Social Security records had an old address and Post Office mail forwarding requests were either not done or had expired.

One result is that the people involved do not receive important benefit information sent to them unless they contact Social Security to ask about it. These recontacts create more work for both the person and Social Security representatives. 

Have you moved this year while receiving either Social Security or SSI benefits? Did you report your new mailing address so that your records stay accurate? If not, do this now. 

Update your address in several ways.  

Online: Social Security beneficiaries can update their address online at any convenient time if they have a personal my Social Security account. SSI recipients cannot update their address this way but other my Social Security services such as getting an online letter to prove your benefit amount remain available. For your convenience, this is the suggested method. Create your my Social Security account at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount/.

By phone: you can telephone the Social Security national toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213 / TTY 1-800-325-0778, from 7:00am – 7:00pm local time. National numbers are answered at different sites across the country. Representatives there can help you with other Social Security business as well.  

In person: You can phone or visit your local Social Security office. Local office hours vary but most have public hours of 9:00am – 3:00pm on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday and 9:00am – noon on Wednesday. Learn local office hours and locations here, in the “Find an Office” section. 

Even when your benefit payment continues going to the same bank, credit union or other financial institution, be sure to notify Social Security of mailing address changes. This helps you. It helps Social Security. 

By whatever method you choose, keep your mailing address current when you receive Social Security or SSI benefits. Important information is mailed to you during the year. Make sure you receive the news.