Will marriage change my Social Security?

Q: Will marriage change my Social Security benefits?

A: Remember that these articles provide general information and the answer to such a broad question varies with the type of Social Security benefits received. To learn about your actual benefits, contact Social Security and have a representative check your record.

Marriage will not change Social Security retirement or disability benefits from your own work record because they are based largely on your personal work history over many years and age when starting retirement or becoming disabled. Amounts received by husband or wife through their personal work records do not affect what the other receives.

Do you receive Social Security benefits as a divorced spouse? If a divorced spouse remarries, he or she generally cannot collect benefits on the record of the former spouse unless the later marriage ends.

If you receive Social Security survivors benefits as a widow or widower, your age at remarriage makes a difference in the answer. Widow or widowers of many ages receive Social Security survivor benefits. In general, if you remarry after you reach age 60 (age 50 if disabled), remarriage will not affect your eligibility for survivors benefits. For example, remarriage could end Social Security survivors benefits to a widow at age 40 but not to the same person at age 61. Social Security benefits to a surviving divorced spouse follow this age difference too.

Children can receive Social Security benefits through the work record of a parent. With rare exception, these Social Security benefits end if the child marries.

In addition to Social Security retirement, survivors and disability benefits, the Social Security Administration is also responsible for the very different, need based, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. Since household income is used to compute SSI amounts, marriage could change monthly amounts.

One-time monthly earnings test rule

RetirePlanner-working

Q: I plan to retire in September at age 63. If I have earned over $17,000 so far this year, can I still start Social Security when I retire?

A: Yes, a person can receive Social Security when they retire even if having high earnings up to retirement.

This question is about the annual earnings test, also known as the retirement test.

Gross wages or net self-employment above earnings limits in a year can reduce Social Security payable during the year. The amounts vary based on your age compared to full retirement age (FRA), which is age 66 for birth years 1943 – 1954. Earnings limits end with the month you reach FRA. For a person younger than FRA all year, the 2015 earnings limit before benefit reduction is $15,720.

People retire all during the year and many have earned over annual earnings limits before then. For them, a one-time special earnings limit rule lets Social Security be paid for months of actual retirement even if calendar year earnings are high.

Earnings test information for 2016 should be available during October.

Including earnings test amounts, lots of SSA retirement planning information is on the Social Security website, www.socialsecurity.gov, in the Retirement Benefits section and especially in the Retirement Planner area at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2/.

Different calculators are in the Retirement Planner section for your use. One of these is an “earnings test calculator” to help you see how your earnings may affect your benefit payments if you are currently working and are eligible for retirement or survivors benefits this year.

RetirePlanner-work_calculator

Receiving Social Security? Is your earnings estimate accurate?

Q: I am 64, work part-time and receive Social Security retirement. In 2015, I will earn more than expected. Should I update my earnings estimate with Social Security?

A: You probably should but it depends on what your original estimate was and what your current estimate is.

Gross wages or net self-employment earnings in a year can reduce benefits for the year until full retirement age (FRA). If expecting earnings over the 2015 limits for your age, update your earnings estimate now.

At age 64, which is younger than your FRA, the 2015 earnings limit is $15,720. Earnings over this will reduce benefits. Lower earnings will not.

If your current 2015 earnings estimate is over $15,720, you should definitely contact Social Security and update your estimate. On the other hand, if you originally expected to earn $10,000, but will actually earn $14,000, an updated estimate is not needed because both amounts are less than the $15,720 limit for 2015 and neither would reduce benefits payable this year.

Earnings test amounts vary based on your age compared to your full retirement age. Details about 2015 earnings limits for different ages are in the SSA retirement planner section, www.socialsecurity.gov/planners/retire/, and in publication 05-10069, How Work Affects Your Benefits, also in that section. Pensions and other non-employment income do not count for the earnings test.

If younger than full retirement age for all or part of the year, keeping your estimated calendar year earnings current with Social Security is important if you expect to earn over the earnings limit. This is especially so if your original estimate was below the limit and you will actually earn over it. You can update your estimate anytime during the year.

If you will earn more than originally estimated, and the amount is above your earnings test limit, updating your estimate now can prevent or reduce the chance of your being incorrectly paid and needing to refund money to Social Security.

If you originally expected to earn above your 2015 earnings test amount limit, but will really earn less, updating your estimate now can release any withheld benefits to you faster.

If your final earnings this year are over the annual limit for your age, report actual 2015 amounts directly to Social Security when you get your W-2 form, or if self-employed when you complete your taxes. This is different from tax filings.

The earnings test can apply to anyone younger than full retirement age if receiving Social Security benefits that are not based on their own disability. Separate rules apply to people receiving benefits because of their own disability. If working, they should contact Social Security for information.

Earnings test information for 2016 should be available during October.

See “What You Need To Know When You Get Retirement or Survivors Benefits” for other things to report. Call Social Security nationally at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY-1-800-325-0778) or contact your local office to report changes including your earnings estimate.

When eligible as widow and retiree

Q: Does starting Social Security as a widow prevent me from receiving my own retirement?

A: No. If eligible for SSA survivors benefits as widow or widower and also eligible for your own retirement, you can start the smaller one first and switch to the higher later on. Based on age, survivors benefits can start as early as age 60 and retirement at age 62.

You can estimate Social Security retirement amounts online but estimated survivors benefits are not available online.

Get survivors estimates from your local SSA office and of your own retirement online at the SSA retirement planner, www.socialsecurity.gov/planners/retire/. To consider your options, my suggestion is to get estimates for each type of benefit at different ages.

Some options to consider are in the Social Security survivors planner section. The following is from the “if you are the worker’s widow or widower / how much would your benefit be?” pages.  

“If you receive benefits as a widow or widower or as a surviving divorced spouse, you can switch to your own retirement benefit as early as age 62. This assumes you are eligible for retirement benefits and your retirement rate is higher than your rate as a widow, widower or surviving divorced spouse.  

In many cases, a widow or widower can begin receiving one benefit at a reduced rate and then, at full retirement age, switch to the other benefit at an unreduced rate.” 

Having the option to start with the lower benefit and then switching to a higher one later is useful but what you decide is based on your personal situation. Many people choose the largest amount immediately available, even if a reduced amount, and do not switch benefit types.

More about Social Security survivors benefits is at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/survivors/.

survivorsplanner

 

Correcting your work record

Q: I work part-time as an employee for a business and receive a W-2 for those wages plus I have separate self-employment earnings that I pay taxes on when filing my taxes each year. Only the W-2 wages appear on my most recent Social Security Statement. Since I have been paying self-employment taxes, shouldn’t they be on my Social Security number earnings history as well? How do I fix this?

A: Most people who pay into Social Security work for an employer. Their employer deducts Social Security taxes from their paycheck, matches that contribution, sends taxes to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and reports wages to Social Security. If registered for SSA Business Services, employers can verify employee Social Security numbers online and report W-2 wage information electronically.

Self-employed people must report their earnings and pay their taxes directly to IRS. If self-employed, you report your earnings for Social Security when you file your federal income tax return. If your net earnings are $400 or more in a year, you must report your earnings on Schedule SE, in addition to the other tax forms you must file.

All employment earnings for a year are usually posted to your personal work record near the end of October of the following year so your total 2014 employment earnings should be posted to your record approximately the end of October 2015. This applies whether or not a person receives monthly Social Security benefits. When already receiving benefits, new earnings are automatically reviewed to see if they will increase the amount.

If earlier years are not correctly posted, your local Social Security office can help correct your record. Evidence generally needed includes proof of the earnings, such as a W-2 and 1099. For self-employment, tax return information including tax form Schedule SE and proof of tax payment is also needed.

If you received your Social Security Statement by mail, know that you can get a copy of it anytime at your convenience by creating a personal, pin and password protected, my Social Security account. More about doing this is at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount/.

Are Social Security numbers issued consecutively?

Q: Are Social Security numbers issued consecutively?

A: No. Social Security numbers (SSN’s) have been issued randomly since June 2011 to help protect number integrity and to extend longevity of the nine-digit SSN nationwide.

A Social Security number has three parts. Before numbers were issued randomly in 2011, the first three digits, called the Area Number, reflected the State where the card was issued and later the zip code of the SSN application address. In general, SSN’s issued on the east coast had the lowest numbers and became higher moving along to the west coast.

Remember that the Social Security number process was designed in 1936, long before computers. SSN applications of that period were stored in files organized by region and alphabetically. Having the Area Number reflect a geographic area was an internal bookkeeping device to organize manual SSN records.

The middle two digits of the SSN are the Group Number. Although not used consecutively, before the change to random issuance, a Group number could be used to determine when the SSN was issued. This ability was a tool to help employers determine if a SSN was real. Today employers can verify a SSN immediately online through Social Security Business Services.

The final four digits are the Serial Number. Before the change to random issuance, they were issued consecutively within each Group series but had no specific meaning.

For SSN’s issued since the random process started in 2011, there is no geographical significance to the first three digits, the Area Number, because they are no longer associated with any specific area of the country. This means more SSN’s are available across the country since any Area Number can be issued anywhere.

The middle two digits, the Group Number, no longer can be used to determine when the Social Security number was issued. Change to both Area and Group Numbers protect individuals by making it harder to figure out a SSN.

More about the random issuance of Social Security numbers is here.

Here is a 1930’s photo of filing cabinets used to store Social Security records:

SSN card files-1930's

Survivor benefits go to official widow or widower

Q: After the children were grown, my husband and I separated but remained married even though he was living with another woman for the last decade. He died recently. Can I receive Social Security benefits as his widow even though we have been apart for years?

A: If monthly Social Security survivor benefits are payable, they would be paid to you as the legal widow.

Since you were not living together, usually a one-time payment of $255 originally intended to help offset funeral costs would not be paid to you or the other woman.

Survivor benefits based on your age can begin as early as age 60. For younger widow or widowers with a severe disability, survivor benefits can begin as young as age 50. They are also payable at any age if eligible children are involved. More information is here.

Have you worked enough to be eligible for Social Security retirement on your own work record? If so, you have options to consider. For example, you can start the smaller benefit first at a reduced for age amount and switch to the larger one when you are older and past age reductions for the benefit involved. Discuss your options with a SSA representative.

When eligible for two different types of Social Security benefit, such as your own retirement and as a widow or widower, you receive up to the larger amount, not all of one plus all of the other.

Always contact Social Security about possible benefits when there is a death in the family. You cannot report a death or apply for survivors benefits online. Call the Social Security national toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) from 7:00am – 7:00pm local time or contact your local SSA office.

 

 

What is a typical Social Security disability amount?

Q: What is a typical Social Security disability amount?

A: As of May 2015, the average monthly Social Security disability amount to a disabled worker was $1,165. This does not include benefits paid to eligible family members.

Also as of May, the average monthly amount paid to the eligible spouse of a disabled worker was $316 and the average amount to an eligible child was $350.

These and other amounts are in Table 2 shown here.

Rather than using a national average, a more accurate and personal estimate is on your Social Security Statement. In the “Your Estimated Benefits” section is “If you become disabled right now, your payment would be about $XXX a month.”

This estimate is based on your actual work record, which is included on the Statement so that you can check it for accuracy.

Obtain your personal Statement online at any time by creating your personal, pin and password controlled, my Social Security account.

The Statement is also mailed on a limited basis. In September 2014, the Social Security Administration began mailing Statements to workers attaining ages 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, 55, and 60 and over, who are not receiving Social Security benefits and do not yet have a my Social Security account. Statements are mailed three months prior to your birthday.

Are SSA amounts based on where you live?

Q: Do Social Security retirement amounts change based on what state you live in?

A: No. Your retirement amount is based on your personal work history over many years and your age when starting benefits, not on where you live. It will not change if you move to a different state.

Your best 35 years of work are key when your retirement benefit is computed. These best 35 years, often including years immediately before retirement but selected from your full work history, are weighted for inflation and used to compute your Social Security retirement amount as if you were full retirement age (FRA). If you do not have 35 years of work, zeros are added in to reach 35 years.

When your full retirement age amount is known, the specific amount for the month you are starting Social Security is determined by reducing or increasing the FRA amount, depending on if you are younger or older than FRA for the month when benefits start. Go to the SSA Retirement Planner section to estimate your own Social Security retirement amount.

Once receiving Social Security benefits, any cost-of-living increase is computed nationally based on changes in a consumer price index from one year to the next, not where you live.

In a related manner, benefits to you if disabled or survivors benefits to your family if you die are also based on your personal work history and not where you live.

Your Social Security work record is based on employer W-2 reports or your Schedule SE tax return if self-employed. Check it for accuracy by creating a personal my Social Security account at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount/ and viewing your SSA Statement.

Earnings for 2014 will not show on your record until approximately October 2015. It is very important for your future benefits that your work record be accurate. If it has an error, contact your local office to correct it.

Social Security and your other pensions – WEP

His question was “Will his military retirement will reduce his Social Security retirement?” It will not as explained below but the question brings up a topic that I have not mentioned for a while, the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP).

As a general rule, pensions are not considered in the amount of your Social Security benefit. Pensions are not counted towards annual earnings test amounts and they do not reduce your SSA retirement amount.

The Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) is an exception to this general rule. In very limited cases, mainly involving people who have had government employment, their pension can result in a lowered Social Security retirement amount based on your own work record.

In summary, the WEP could be important to you if you work for a federal, state or local government agency, a nonprofit organization or in another country and do not pay into Social Security. A pension based on earnings not covered by Social Security can affect the amount of your own Social Security retirement.

Key here is that the employment was not covered by Social Security. Most pensions are based on employment that is covered by Social Security. If you pay Social Security tax on your wages or self-employment, then you are in covered employment.

Military service has been covered employment for Social Security for many years so a military retirement pension does not reduce Social Security retirement.

The WEP is not a direct reduction of your own Social Security retirement. It is a change in the formula used to compute a retirement amount that results in a lower retirement benefit. As a result, estimates of your SSA retirement amount on your Statement or from the online Retirement Estimator will not be accurate. Instead, use the WEP Calculator for your retirement estimate. The WEP Calculator is in the Retirement Planner portion of the Social Security website, www.socialsecurity.gov.

The Windfall Elimination Provision is not new. It dates back to the Social Security Amendments of 1983, signed into law by President Reagan on April 20, 1983. Designed to resolve short-term funding problems faced at the time, that legislation made significant changes to the Social Security and Medicare programs.

I will write more about the Windfall Elimination Provision later this week. Additional WEP information is here.

WEP