Voluntary tax withholding from Social Security benefits

People filing application to start Social Security benefits often ask if taxes are withheld from their monthly payments. They are not. Taxes are not routinely withheld from Social Security benefits.

Especially during this time of year as people pay their Federal income tax, another popular question is whether taxes can voluntarily be withheld from Social Security payments. Yes, you can arrange this.

If desired, you can request voluntary Federal tax withholding from your monthly Social Security benefits. You may find doing this easier than paying quarterly estimated tax payments. See http://www.socialsecurity.gov/planners/taxwithold.htm.

To start voluntary Federal tax withholding you need to complete Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Form W-4V, Voluntary Withholding Request, and return it to your local Social Security office. To change or end an ongoing voluntary withholding, complete another form W-4V.

Withholding is by your selected percentage of monthly benefits, not a flat dollar amount. When completing the W-4V you select the percentage of benefits for tax withholding. Available options are to have 7 percent, 10 percent, 15 percent or 25 percent of your monthly benefit withheld.

The Social Security Administration has no authority to withhold state or local taxes from your benefit. Voluntary withholding is only for Federal taxes.

Social Security employees cannot provide tax advice. If voluntary withholding interests you, discuss it with your tax preparer or call IRS at 1-800-829-3676 (TTY 1-800-829-4059). To start voluntary tax withholding, complete and provide IRS Form W-4V to your local Social Security office.

Average Social Security and SSI amounts in February 2015

For February 2015, following are three easily understood tables providing Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) information. These tables are online here.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a separate, low-income program for the aged over 65, disabled or blind children, and disabled or blind adults that is administered by the Social Security Administration. Since SSI is completely different from Social Security, a person meeting the individual rules for each could become eligible for both programs. Income from Social Security reduces SSI amounts.

Learn more about Social Security and SSI at www.socialsecurity.gov.

Table 1 shows the number of people, in thousands, receiving Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) divided by Social Security only, SSI only, and people receiving both.

The “notes” in table 1 explain the difference in total Social Security beneficiaries shown between table 1 and table 2.

2015-02 table 1

Table 2 shows Social Security benefit information for February 2015, separated by number of beneficiaries receiving specific types of benefits and the average dollar amount of those benefits. The number of beneficiaries is again shown in the thousands, with total benefits shown in the millions and average amounts in dollars.

Social Security was never intended to provide full retirement income and this table emphasizes that fact. In February 2015, the average SSA retirement benefit, for the retiree only and excluding any family benefits, was $1,331.44.

2015-02 table 2

Table 3 shows Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefit information for February 2015, separated by number of recipients receiving specific types of benefits and the average dollar amount of those benefits.  As above, the number of recipients are shown in the thousands, total benefits shown in the millions and average amounts in dollars.

In February 2015, the average SSI amount was $539.61. The 2015 maximum payable to an eligible individual is $733 per month. This maximum is reduced by other income, including Social Security benefits.

2015-02 table 3

These tables are online here.

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.

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/.

Benefits from first spouse if no longer married to second

Q: I am married for the second time and receive my own Social Security retirement. My first husband and I were married for 18 years and he earned lots more money than I did. If I was single again, could I draw Social Security from my first husband? 

A: The answer to this question could go in several directions depending on the amount of the person’s own retirement, other benefits received, if the marriages ended by death or divorce, and other items. Without more information, this question cannot be answered.  

The Social Security website, www.socialsecurity.gov, is great for general information, retirement planning and online services, including online applications, but when you have a detailed question such as this one, speak to a SSA representative to discuss your options. Having the Social Security number of all parties involved would be useful. Call the SSA national toll-free number at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) (7:00am – 7:00pm) or your local office 

Based on age, a widow or widower can start receiving Social Security survivors benefits as early as age 60. Remarriage before age 60 prevents payment. Remarriage after age 60 (for age based benefits) will not affect eligibility to survivors benefits. If twice widowed, benefits might be payable through the work record of either deceased spouse or the person’s own retirement work record. 

Survivor benefits might also be payable to the divorced spouse of a deceased worker if the marriage had lasted 10 years or more. 

More about Social Security survivors benefits is here. 

The original question did not specify that the first husband had died. If the couple had divorced, benefits to her through his work record might be payable since they were married at least 10 years, if she was not married. Information about benefits for divorced spouses is here. 

If the second marriage continues, there is the potential for spousal benefits.

Is there still a Social Security funeral benefit?

Q: Does Social Security still pay a funeral benefit? A friend said that none was payable when his grandmother recently died.

A: You are referring to the Lump Sum Death Benefit (LSDP) and, yes, it still exists when specific requirements are met.  

The Lump Sum Death Benefit (LSDP) is a one-time payment of $255 to help offset funeral costs. While this is a small amount towards a funeral today, the payment dates back many years to when that amount covered a more significant portion of costs. 

The benefit is payable only on the record of someone with insured status, meaning she or he had enough work for benefits to be payable on their record. Even then, the LSDP is payable to a limited group. 

When the deceased had enough work, the LSDP can first be paid to the surviving spouse if they were living in the same household at time of death, although exceptions exist.

If no spouse survives, the LSDP can be paid to a child if he or she was eligible for benefits based on the work record of the deceased for the month of death. 

Lump Sum Death Benefit (LSDP) examples:

  1. The deceased was receiving her or his own SSA retirement and lived with their husband or wife. The surviving spouse can receive the Lump Sum Death Benefit (LSDP).
  2. The deceased was eligible for Social Security as a spouse or widow / widower but not eligible based on their own work record.  A LSDP is not payable.
  3. The deceased received their own SSA retirement, has no surviving spouse but did have an adult disabled child receiving through her or his record. The surviving child can receive the LSDP because they were already receiving benefits from the parent’s record.
  4. The deceased received their own SSA retirement, has no surviving spouse but has grown children, none of whom receives Social Security child benefits. A LSDP is not payable.  

The LSDP is separate from ongoing Social Security survivor benefits 

Always contact Social Security when there is a death in the family. The SSA representative can discuss potential benefits, whether for now or the future, be sure that ongoing benefits are properly ended and answer questions.