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.

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.

 

Is payroll tax withheld if I work and receive Social Security?

Q: I stopped working full-time at the end of 2014 and started Social Security retirement. For the next few months I will work part-time and then retire completely.

Will Social Security payroll tax be held from my paycheck? If yes, will this increase my retirement amount? 

A: Yes, you continue to pay Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes. Your employer will continue doing so too. Everyone working in employment or self-employment covered by Social Security must pay payroll taxes regardless of age or eligibility to Social Security benefits. Current and historical Social Security and Medicare tax rates are shown here. 

If you are younger than full retirement age, remember annual earnings test limits.

Your new earnings would have to be better than the ones already used to compute your retirement amount to increase your monthly retirement amount. While possible, it is doubtful that a few months of part-time work will change your monthly retirement amount since the best 35 years of your working career are used.  

Benefit amounts of everyone receiving Social Security benefits are automatically reviewed when new earnings are posted to their work record even when low earnings are involved. Due to this, your retirement amount will be automatically reviewed once these 2015 earnings appear on your work record. 

Since you worked full-time all of 2014, it is much more likely that your 2014 earnings will increase your retirement amount when automatically reviewed. 

Employers report your earnings to the Social Security Administration as part of the W-2 process. Different employer deadlines apply based on how reporting is completed. Employers have a March 31 deadline if electronically reporting 2014 W-2 information using Social Security Business Services Online (BSO). If reporting by paper, the deadline is the last day of February.

However reported, national posting of all wage information is usually complete in approximately October, with automatic reviews of benefit amounts starting once wage posting is complete. If 2014 earnings increase retirement benefits, you will receive the increase in approximately December 2015, with payment retroactive to January 2015. 

 

Does Social Security contact you at 62?

Q: Does Social Security automatically contact you about starting retirement benefits when you are near age 62? 

A: Social Security does not do this but the agency does provide estimates and planning information for people thinking about starting retirement benefits, whether at age 62 or other ages.  

Concerning when to start Social Security retirement, lots of planning information is on the Social Security website, www.socialsecurity.gov, in the Retirement Benefits section and especially in the Retirement Planner at www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2/ 

Different calculators are there. In combination with the Retirement Estimator, the compute the effect of early or delayed retirement calculator is excellent for comparing different start month amounts, both before and after full retirement age.  

You can also create a personal my Social Security account at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount/ to check your earnings record as recorded on Social Security records and for retirement and family benefit estimates.

In addition to online services, you can contact Social Security representatives by calling the national toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778), from 7:00am – 7:00pm, or your local office.

 

Savings will not prevent Social Security disability benefits

Sometimes a topic suddenly starts to generate questions. The following question came up three separate times while I was teaching recently. Perhaps it will interest you too.  

Q: How much money can I have in savings before my Social Security disability stops?  

A: Your savings will not stop Social Security disability benefits. Whether rich or poor, your financial value does not matter for Social Security retirement, survivors or disability benefits.  

Work is at the base of all Social Security benefits, not financial need. Requirements vary with type of benefit but the person whose Social Security number record is involved needs enough work to be insured or benefits are not payable. Learn more about Social Security benefits at www.socialsecurity.gov 

If you receive Social Security through your own record, then your work record was used. If you receive benefits through another person’s record, such as a child eligible through a parent, then that person had to have enough work. 

What can confuse people on this topic is that the Social Security Administration is responsible for more than Social Security retirement, survivors and disability benefits.  

Eligibility for the low-income Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program does include income and resource requirements. SSI can provide benefits to those over age 65 as well as blind or disabled children or adults. SSI is very different from Social Security, but both programs are administered by the Social Security Administration. 

People receiving SSI must stay below certain income and resource levels to remain eligible. Resources include savings and other items of financial value that you own and can turn into cash but not everything you own is counted toward the resource limit. For an eligible individual the total level of counted resources is $2,000. For an eligible couple, this amount is $3,000. These resource levels will continue for 2015. If exceeded, the person is no longer eligible.

Some types of resources that do not count toward these totals are the house you live in and household goods, usually one vehicle, some insurance policies and some burial funds. This is not a complete list. An overview of Supplemental Security Income resources is here 

Since Social Security and SSI are completely different programs, one person can receive both of them if the separate requirements are met.

In summary, if a person receives both Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), his or her savings or other resources will not stop Social Security benefits but they can end SSI benefits.

 

 

 

 

2015 SSA taxes and taxable earnings base

Q: How much does a person have to earn in 2015 before withholding for Social Security taxes end? 

A: In 2015, the maximum amount of earnings subject to Social Security tax is $118,500. In 2014, this amount was $117,000. People earning above the annual maximum taxable level stop paying SSA payroll tax once that amount is reached.   

Of the estimated 168 million workers who will pay Social Security taxes in 2015, about 10 million will pay higher taxes because of the increase in the taxable maximum. Medicare payroll tax continues on all earnings.  

The taxable earnings level can change annually based on changes in the national average wage index. To reflect the general rise in the standard of living over a working lifetime, changes to this average wage index are used when future SSA benefits are computed.   

From 1937 to 2015, changes to the amount of earnings subject to Social Security earnings tax are here. 

The 2015 Social Security tax is set by statute at 6.2 percent for employees and employers, each. An individual with wages equal to or larger than $118,500 will pay $7,347.00 towards the SSA retirement, survivors and disability programs in 2015, and his or her employer would contribute the same amount. The tax rate for self-employment income in 2015 is 12.4 percent. 

People earning less than the 2014 maximum tax base will not pay more in 2015 because SSA and Medicare tax rates are not changing. They have not changed since 1990. 

The Medicare tax rate is an additional 1.45 percent on all earnings so the total employee and employer tax rate is 7.65 percent. For the self-employed, it is 15.30 percent. 

Historical Social Security and Medicare tax rates are here.

Social Security benefits and citizenship

Q: I am a legal resident alien, working full-time and paying Social Security taxes on my earnings. Will I be able to receive Social Security benefits at retirement? 

A: Yes, assuming you work long enough and meet all usual requirements. United States citizenship is not required to receive Social Security benefits. Your future retirement, or payment of any Social Security benefits through your work record, will be based largely on your work history, not citizenship. You will need to prove legal admittance into the country when applying for benefits. 

Visitors to the United States can usually obtain a Social Security number (SSN) only if authorized to work by the Department of Homeland Security. Work authorization is routinely verified when a person applies for an original, name change correction or replacement card.  

If you become a citizen in the future, contact Social Security to update your citizenship on your Social Security number record. This will make a future application for retirement benefits easier, especially if you use the online application because, since your record would show United States citizenship, legal admittance would not have to be established.  

Learn the documents needed and print the Social Security number application at www.socialsecurity.gov/ssnumber/. Documents submitted must be originals certified by the issuing agency, such as Homeland Security, and are immediately returned. Self-made photocopies or notarized copies are not accepted.

To protect your personal information, SSN applications cannot be submitted electronically. No fees are involved for any SSN action. Protect yourself by going to the official Social Security website, www.socialsecurity.gov for SSN information.

 

Spousal benefits – file and suspend

Q: My wife’s Social Security retirement will be much more than mine. If I start my own Social Security retirement before she starts hers, can I apply later as a husband on her record once she retires and applies for benefits?  

A: Yes, a husband or wife can start their own SSA retirement first and then look into spousal benefits when their wife or husband retires.  

Social Security benefits to a husband or wife are based on a comparison of the couples individual full retirement age (FRA) amounts, not their monthly retirement amounts. To learn about benefits to a husband or wife, including to a divorced spouse, go to the Retirement Planner section of the SSA website at www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2/, and then to “how members of your family may qualify for benefits.”  

Age when starting Social Security is important. If younger than full retirement age (FRA) when filing for retirement, a person is considered to also be applying as wife or husband at the same time, assuming both members of the couple will then be receiving benefits. Her or his own retirement amount, reduced for age, is received first. If spousal benefits are payable they, also reduced for age, are added to equal the higher total amount.  

A different opportunity for spousal benefits exists if either husband or wife has reached full retirement age (FRA), especially if that person plans to continue working full-time past FRA. Generally, members of a person’s family can receive benefits on his or her record only when that person does. For an exception, see “If you or your spouse are full retirement age” in the spousal benefit section. If a person is at least FRA, and does not want to start Social Security retirement yet, an exception called “file and suspend” allows payment of spousal benefits on their record while the person delays the start his or her own Social Security retirement. Past FRA, delaying the start of your own retirement benefit lets the amount increase up to age 70 due to delayed retirement credits 

If this “file and suspend” idea is of interest, remember that the annual earnings test ends with the month you reach FRA so another option could be to file for your Social Security retirement while continuing to work. You would not gain delayed retirement credits but you would receive all your retirement and, if eligible as a spouse, your husband or wife would also receive through your record. Each of these ideas has advantages or disadvantages based on your personal situation.

 

Annual retirement earnings test amounts for 2015

Q: In 2015, how much can I earn before my Social Security retirement is reduced? 

A: 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.

Three annual earnings levels exist, all based on your full retirement age (FRA). FRA depends on your year of birth. Learn yours here. 

Earnings test amounts for 2015 have changed from 2014. They are: 

  • If under full retirement age (FRA) for the entire calendar year, $1 in benefits will be deducted for each $2 earned above the 2015 limit of $15,720.
  • If you reach FRA in 2015, $1 in benefits will be deducted from each $3 earned above the 2015 limit of $41,880, but only for earnings before the month you reach FRA.
  • No earnings limit exists starting with the month you reach full retirement age.  

Are you starting Social Security retirement in 2015? People retiring mid-year may have already earned over the annual limit for their age. To allow the start of SSA retirement regardless of expected calendar year earnings, there is a special one-time rule based on monthly earnings. This applies for one year, usually the first year of retirement, and lets people receive Social Security for months that they are retired.  

For example, a person retiring in 2015, at least age 62 but younger than full retirement age the entire year, can receive retirement for months that gross wages do not exceed $1,310 even though calendar year earnings will be above retirement test amounts. Similar rules apply for self-employment.   

Consider the retirement earnings test before beginning Social Security. If your plans include working part-time, will those earnings reduce benefits for the year? Can you limit your earnings to stay below earnings test levels? Is retiring with part-time work your best option or should you continue working full time, without SSA benefits, for the immediate future? Keep in mind that Social Security retirement is permanently reduced if started when younger than FRA. 

Learn about the earnings test, including the special, one-time, monthly test, at www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2/whileworking.htm. Examples of how the earnings test is applied are there. 

Reminder: Do you receive Social Security now? Do you expect to earn over your applicable earnings test amount in 2015? If so, provide your estimated earnings amount to SSA early in the year so that benefits can be adjusted in advance to avoid incorrect payment. You can change estimates as needed.

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