What is the disability waiting period?

Q: What is the disability waiting period? 

A: Social Security disability requirements include a waiting period of five full calendar months before entitlement to benefits can begin. Benefits are paid starting for the sixth full month after the date a disability is determined to begin. 

This date, called the onset, is when the person became disabled and not when the application was submitted or the decision made. 

For example, say someone’s Social Security disability due to illness or injury was established as beginning on September 22, 2014, the onset date. The waiting period would be the five full months of October 2014 – February 2015 with payment effective starting with March. Since Social Security payments are made in the following month, payment for March arrives in April. 

When a person files a disability application and approved near the onset date, he or she has to wait until the waiting period is completed before benefits start. If approved after the waiting period, benefits begin right away. Using the above example, if the person is approved for disability in January 2015, he or she is still in the waiting period and must finish it before benefits start. If the decision is made in May 2015, the waiting period is already completed and benefits can begin immediately. Either way, the waiting period applies. 

In addition to the Social Security disability program, the Social Security Administration is responsible for the very different, low income, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. SSI also has disability benefits but does not have a disability waiting period. If eligible for both programs, a person might receive SSI during the Social Security waiting period. Then, when Social Security disability begins after the waiting period, the amount of those benefits will reduce or end the SSI.

 

Living apart and Social Security spousal benefits

Q: My husband and I are not divorced but have lived apart for many years. Can I still receive Social Security through his record?  

A: Living together is not required for Social Security spousal benefits as a wife or husband. Your individual SSA retirement amounts might prevent spousal benefits but living apart while married will not.   

In addition, having lived apart will not prevent either of you from potentially receiving future survivor benefits as widow or widower.  

Should you divorce, SSA benefits might be payable as a divorced spouse or surviving divorced spouse if the marriage lasted at least ten years and other requirements are met.  

More about Social Security benefits for a current or former spouse is in the SSA website Retirement Planner section. See “how members of your family may qualify for benefits.”  

You can file an online application for benefits as a spouse. Details are here 

Go here to learn more about Social Security survivors benefits.

 

Receiving Social Security? Keep your earnings estimate current.

Q: I work part-time while receiving Social Security retirement and will earn less this year than originally estimated. Should I change my estimate with Social Security?

A: Yes, if you expect to earn over annual earnings test amounts, update your 2014 earnings estimate with Social Security now if your original estimate has changed. You can update your estimated earnings anytime during the year.

Your annual gross wage or net self-employment earnings can reduce Social Security benefits for the year until you reach full retirement age (FRA). Earnings test amounts for 2014 are at www.ssa.gov/retire2/whileworking.htm and in How Work Affects Your Benefits (SSA publication 05-10069). Pensions, investment and other non-employment income are not included for earnings test purposes. Earnings test amounts for 2015 are not yet available.

If you have not yet reached full retirement age, keeping your estimated calendar year earnings current with Social Security is important, especially if your original estimate was below the earnings test amount and you will actually earn over it.

If you expect to earn more than originally planned, with earnings to be over the 2014 earnings test amount for your age, updating your estimate now can prevent or reduce the chance of your being incorrectly paid and needing to refund money to Social Security.

If your current estimate is lower than originally expected, updating it now can release any withheld benefits to you faster. Revise your earnings estimate up or down as needed during the year. Report your actual earnings at the end of the year if you earn over the annual limit for your age.

People receiving Social Security because they have a disability do not have an earnings test and should contact Social Security to learn about available incentives if returning to work. 

Immediately is the best time to report changes to Social Security, including changes to your address, earnings or marital status.  Read “What You Need To Know When You Get Retirement or Survivors Benefits” (SSA publication 05-10077).

Change your estimate or report other changes by calling Social Security nationally at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY-1-800-325-0778) from 7:00am – 7:00pm, or contact your local office.

 

 

 

Social Security in other countries

Q: How does the Social Security program of the United States compare with similar programs in other countries?

A: Many countries have Social Security type programs but there is not one basic international program. Program purposes and policies vary from country to country.

The Social Security website contains the principal features of social security programs in more than 170 countries.  

To learn program basics for a given country, go to the Research, Statistics, & Policy Analysis section of the SSA website and then to the publication Social Security Programs Throughout the World. Portions of this publication are updated every six months. 

For example, follow these links for information about the social security programs of Canada and Mexico 

Learn about our Social Security retirement, survivors and disability programs at www.socialsecurity.gov. Create your personal my Social Security account at the same time.

DDS makes disability decisions

Q: Do Social Security employees have medical training so they can evaluate medical information for disability application decisions? 

A: Local Social Security employees do not make medical decisions for disability applications and do not evaluate medical evidence for Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) applications. 

Whether a person files online or by personal interview, when a disability application is received, Social Security representatives review it to verify that the non-medical eligibility requirements are met. For example, the SSA employee will verify that an applicant for Social Security disability meets the work requirement or that a person filing for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) meets the income and resource requirements of that need-based program. If these non-medical requirements are not met, they will complete the application to a denial since a medical decision would not be required. 

When non-medical requirements are met, the local office reviews application materials for completeness, including applicant details to describe the disabling impairments, medical treatment, medical releases and related employment and vocational information. 

For the actual medical decision, the disability claim goes to a State agency, usually called a Disability Determination Service (DDS). These state agencies, fully funded by the Federal Government, are responsible for developing medical evidence and making the initial determination on whether or not a claimant is disabled or blind under the law. Samples of DDS decisions from all the States are reviewed within Social Security to maintain national requirements. 

Following a national, step-by-step disability evaluation process, DDS employees make the disability decision and return the application to the local Social Security office for additional work as needed. Depending on the decision, this could be to complete any remaining development before payment begins or, if a denial, holding a file for the appeal period.

Mid-year retirement and the annual earnings test

Q: I have been working all year and will retire soon. Does Social Security start counting my wages with the day I start retirement or from the beginning of the year? Can I start Social Security retirement now or must I wait until 2015 due to my earnings? 

A: If you are at least age 62 and meet all requirements, start Social Security retirement when you want, whether this year after you retire, in 2015, or some other time.  

Your question refers to the annual retirement earnings test. Earnings for the retirement test include your calendar year gross wages and net income from self-employment. Other income is not included for the earnings test. 

People retire all during the year. Since those retiring mid-year might have already earned over earnings test levels for the year, there is a special one-time rule, usually used during the first year of retirement, that lets people receive Social Security retirement benefits based on monthly earnings. Using this one-time exception, you should be able to start SSA retirement when you retire despite your total earnings for this year.

Based on this one-time rule, a person retiring in 2014, at least age 62 but younger than full retirement age the entire year, can receive Social Security retirement for months that gross wages do not exceed $1,290 even though overall calendar year earnings are far above retirement test amounts. Slightly different rules apply for self-employment.   

Earnings test amounts for 2015 are not yet known, but 2014 information is here 

Social Security disability, retirement or both?

Q: My brother is 64 years old but in poor health even though he still works full-time. His doctors are telling him to retire. The doctors say he should qualify for disability. What would be the best for him? Social Security or disability? 

A: Just to be clear, retirement, survivors and disability benefits are all Social Security, just different parts. 

Social Security disability information is here. Your brother should especially look at the Disability Planner section. 

Since the disability definition for Social Security purposes is based on ability to work, not just health, it is unlikely that a disability application by your brother would be approved as long as he continues working full-time, assuming no employer subsidy or special considerations that allow him to work. 

In general, if working in 2014 and having earnings that average more than $1,070 a month, a person cannot be considered disabled. Usually disability clients file for benefits after they stop working or have greatly reduced work activity. With that, the decision to file or not is his.  

Only your brother can decide what is best for him. He can file an application for Social Security disability or retirement. Disability benefits are not reduced for age. Retirement benefits are reduced for age if started when the person is younger than full retirement age (FRA).

Since your brother is at least the minimum SSA retirement age of 62, another available option is for him to file for both disability and retirement (reduced for age) benefits at the same time. 

If he does this, retirement benefits could be received while the disability application is pending. If disability is not approved, his retirement benefits continue at the reduced rate. If the disability application is approved, the benefit amount is reviewed and increased although not to 100 percent. Final amounts would be based on the number of months that he received a reduced retirement.

Survivor benefits if twice widowed

This interesting question came from a woman so, for convenience, the answer refers to Social Security survivors benefits for a widow. The information also applies to a widower.

Q: I did not work outside the home, but have been widowed twice. I started Social Security widows benefit at age 60 after my first husband died. Eventually I remarried, continuing those benefits, until now at age 65 was widowed for a second time. The SSA representative said I could receive a larger benefit amount from my second husband now or wait for an even higher amount at age 66. Please explain this.

A: It was excellent that this person contacted Social Security to learn about possible benefits. Social Security representatives can provide options to consider based on personal information you provide, but the decision is yours. Ask questions until you understand your options.

A person can be eligible for benefits on more than one Social Security work record. For this question, survivors benefits are possible through the work records of two deceased husbands. More routine examples are people who are eligible for retirement through their own work record and that of a spouse or through their own retirement and a suvivors record as widow or widower. When eligible on more than one record, combined benefit amounts will equal the highest individual benefit amount.

Age 60 is the earliest a widow or widower can start Social Security survivors benefits based on age. The younger you start, the larger the reduction. As with SSA retirement benefits, each month of delay in starting provides a larger monthly amount, but only up to when you reach your survivors full retirement age (FRA). Survivors FRA’s are different from retirement FRA’s.

For example, when started at age 60 the monthly reduction in survivors benefits is about 28.5 percent so this woman receives about 71.5 percent of the maximum survivors benefit amount on her first husband’s record.

Since she remarried after age 60, SSA survivors benefits through her first husband continued. These benefits cannot be paid if a person remarries before age 60, unless that marriage ends. Although possible, for simplicity it is being assumed that she did not receive SSA benefits as a spouse through her second husband’s work record.

Based on the question, she is younger than her full retirement age (FRA) for survivors benefits and SSA benefits from her second husband’s work record will be higher than those already being received.

Effective with the month of the second husband’s death, one option she has is to begin widow’s benefits through his work record immediately. These would be reduced for age. If exactly age 65, she would receive about 95.3 percent of the full amount.

Another option is that she could continue receiving only the widows benefit through her first husbands record and delay starting benefits through the second husband until she was older. That benefit amount would increase with each month of delay up to FRA when she would receive 100 percent of the amount payable through his record.

People of all ages receive monthly Social Security survivors benefits. Learn more at www.socialsecurity.gov/survivorplan/survivors.htm

When do I get credit for my 2013 earnings?

Q: I retired effective January 2014, so my current Social Security payment only reflects earnings through 2012. When will my retirement amount include 2013 wages? What do I need to do to make that happen?  

A: Earnings for 2013 are automatically reviewed for possible increase to your retirement benefits when posted to your work record, approximately by October 2014. You do not need to do anything for this to happen. The automatic review includes employment from wages and self-employment.  

Employers pay estimated taxes to IRS based on wages paid during the year but specific information of how much individual employees earned during a year are only sent to the Social Security Administration with annual W-2’s. Your employer reports earnings to Social Security at about the same time you receive your W-2 form. The employer report is a copy of the W-2.  

Employers of all sizes can register to report W-2 information electronically with Social Security Business Services Online. Incentives exist to encourage electronic W-2 reporting but many still are received by paper, requiring additional handling and processing time.  

W-2 processing for a year is usually completed during the fall of the following year, approximately October. Social Security receives more that 250 million wage reports annually. These are processed by employer report, not by individual employee. If you worked for more than one employer during the year, your total earnings will not be posted to your personal earnings record all at one time. Earnings from each employer will be added to your record when that employer’s report is processed.  

Your 2013 earnings will be automatically reviewed for possible increase to your retirement benefits when posted to your work record. While this review is automatic, it does not mean that benefit amounts will increase a significant amount or even at all. Retirement benefits are based on your best 35 years of employment, with the actual earnings amounts adjusted (indexed) to account for changes in average wages over the years. New earnings would have to replace earnings already used to increase your retirement amount. If 2013 earnings increase benefits, the increase is retroactive to the start of 2014.   

Since Social Security posts W-2 information all during the year, this automatic review might be sooner, especially if the employer reports W-2 data electronically with Social Security Business Services Online, but final reviews are completed when all W-2’s for the preceding year are processed in the fall. 

This review is done automatically every year that new earnings are posted to your work record. You do not need to take any action for this to happen.  See page 9 of “How Work Affects Your Benefits” at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/EN-05-10069.pdf.

Whether or not receiving monthly benefits, you can check your personal Social Security earnings record by creating your my Social Securityaccount and looking at your SSA Statement. Earnings on the Statement are updated as described above, with earnings for a year posted during the fall of the next.

Can I replace my Social Security card by mail?

Q: Can I replace my Social Security card by mail or do I have go to a SSA office?

A: At no charge, replacement Social Security number (SSN) cards can be requested by mail or at a SSA office. Either way, you need to complete the same application and present the same original documents.

Download the application and learn what documents are needed at www.socialsecurity.gov/ssnumber/.  

Documents submitted must be either original or a copy certified by the issuing agency, not a photocopy or notarized copy. All documents are returned to you.

Warning: There is no charge for any Social Security number action. Be aware of private for- profit websites that charge fees for providing the SSN card application. Go to the official Social Security Administration website, www.socialsecurity.gov.