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.



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

Retirement earnings test amounts for 2016

Q: Is the amount I can earn in 2016 before my Social Security retirement is reduced known yet?

A: Yes. The 2016 amounts will be the same as for 2015. They are not changing.

The annual retirement earnings test concerns how your own employment earnings in a year affect your Social Security in that year. The earnings test includes only your personal gross wages or net self-employment for the full calendar year. Your other income or income of a spouse is not applicable.

As of today, the “Getting Benefits While Working” page of the Social Security Retirement Planner shows only 2015, but the same information will apply for 2016.

Changes to annual earnings test amounts are related to cost-of-living adjustments (COLA). Since there will not be a 2016 COLA change (press release here),  amounts earnable in 2016 before Social Security retirement or survivors benefits are reduced will not change either. Read this in COLA information here, which states:

 “Will the retirement earnings test exempt amounts change in 2016?

No. The earnings limit for workers who are younger than “full” retirement age (age 66 for people born in 1943 through 1954) will remain $15,720. (We deduct $1 from benefits for each $2 earned over $15,720.)  

The earnings limit for people turning 66 in 2016 will stay at $41,880. (We deduct $1 from benefits for each $3 earned over $41,880 until the month the worker turns age 66.) There is no limit on earnings for workers who are “full” retirement age or older for the entire year.”

The earnings test does not apply to people receiving Social Security benefits due to their own disability. If receiving due to disability, contact Social Security before working.


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, www.medicare.gov.  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 http://www.socialsecurity.gov/medicare/prescriptionhelp/.

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 www.medicare.gov 

For additional information, please go to www.socialsecurity.gov/cola.

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 www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount/.

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.




Social Security & SSI payment dates for 2016

Payment dates for Social Security benefits and the separate Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program have been a very popular topic ever since I started these posts.

The 2016 schedule of payment dates is now available for viewing or downloading as a pdf file at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/EN-05-10031-2016.pdf.

Most people starting Social Security since 1997 receive routine benefits on one of four days throughout the month: on the third of the month and on the second, third and fourth Wednesdays of the month. What day will yours arrive?

With several exceptions, Social Security payment dates now depend on the number holder’s (NH) date of birth. You are the NH if receiving Social Security on your own work record. If receiving based on the work of someone else, that person is the NH.

Therefore, if you receive Social Security retirement or disability through your own work, the payment date is based on your birth date. A child or spouse receiving benefits on your record will also have a payment date based on your birth date.

A couple can receive Social Security payment on different days if each person is receiving his or her own retirement benefit.

Social Security benefits are generally paid on the second Wednesday if the number holder was born within the first 10 days of a month, the third Wednesday if born within the 11-20th days and on the fourth Wednesday if born within the 21-31st days.  

Not all Social Security payment dates are birth date based. If you received Social Security before May 1997, your payment date is usually the third of the month. People eligible for both Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) generally receive SSI on the first and their Social Security on the third of the month.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) funds are usually paid on the first of a month.

As noted on the 2016 schedule, regular payment dates for both Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are advanced if the usual date falls on a day when financial institutions such as banks or credit unions are closed.

One more item about payments: routine Social Security retirement, disability and survivors benefits are paid in the following month, meaning the benefit for October arrives in November. Routine Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments are for the month paid so SSI arriving in October is for October.

 A link to the 2016 calendar has been added to my Areavoices homepage blogroll.


Social Security by State and ZIP Code

On August 17, I wrote that the annual publication “OASDI Beneficiaries by State and County” had been released with information as of December 2014. OASDI is Social Security retirement (old-age), survivors and disability insurance benefits. With other information, that publication presents Social Security program data on the number and type of beneficiaries and the amount of benefits paid in each state and county.

Now this data is available at the postal ZIP Code level in another publication, OASDI Beneficiaries by State and ZIP Code, 2014, released this week.

It contains program data on the number and type of beneficiaries and the amount of benefits paid in each state, Social Security Administration field office, and ZIP Code. It also shows the number of men and women aged 65 or older receiving benefits. See the publication “Notes” section for more about this information.

Now you can see the importance of Social Security to your state, county and ZIP code.2014-SSA-zipcode

Widow benefit amounts

Q: If you start widow’s benefits at age 60, you get a lesser amount. Does it go up as you get older?

A: Before getting to the question, I want to clarify that Social Security survivors benefits can be received by a widow or widower much younger than age 60. People die at all ages and different Social Security survivors benefits can apply in different situations.

For example, survivors benefits can be payable to much younger widows or widowers if children are involved. Benefits can be paid at age 50 to a disabled widow or widower. Based on age, 60 is the youngest age to start Social Security survivors benefits as a widower or widow. The booklet “Survivors Benefits” provides an overview of benefits.

Always contact Social Security when there is a death in the family to discuss possible benefits for now or in the future.

A Social Security survivors benefit amount is based on the earnings of the person who died. The more he or she paid into Social Security, the higher survivors benefits would be. The monthly amount you would get is a percentage of the deceased’s basic Social Security benefit. It depends on your age and the type of survivors benefit received.

When you start Social Security survivors benefits based on age at 60, the amount is permanently reduced, other than any cost of living increases, because you are starting benefits when younger than your survivors full retirement age (FRA).

Survivors full retirement ages are different from retirement FRA but the process is similar. The percentage of benefit received depends on how many months you are away from FRA when starting benefits. Each month of delay provides a higher benefit. As with retirement, the choice is to take a smaller benefit for potentially a longer time or a higher benefit for a shorter number of years.

Using the chart for survivors full retirement age of 66, for birth years 1945 – 1956, some approximate percentages of the maximum survivors benefit for different starting ages are:

  • Age 60: 71.5% because you get benefits for 72 months before FRA.
  • Age 62: 81.0% because you get benefits for 48 months before FRA.
  • Age 65: 95.3% because you get benefits for 12 months before FRA.

The Social Security survivors homepage has more information and links to the Survivors Planner section.

Consider your options before starting benefits, especially if you will also be eligible to receive your own Social Security retirement. For example, you could start the smaller of these benefits at a reduced rate and then, when older, such as at full retirement age, switch to the other benefit type at an unreduced rate.

Survivors estimates are not available online. If you do not receive Social Security benefits now, you can estimate potential survivors benefits for your family through your work record by creating a my Social Security account and viewing your Statement.