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.

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Medicare claim number

Q: I have Medicare through my own Social Security retirement and my Medicare number is based on my Social Security number (SSN). If I eventually receive benefits through my husband’s Social Security record, will my Medicare claim number change to show his SSN?

A: No. Even if you start to receive Social Security through his record, your Medicare claim number will remain based on your own SSN.

If your Medicare coverage was only through his record, then your Medicare claim number would be based on his Social Security number.

On April 16, 2015, President Obama signed into law H.R. 2, the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015, which became Public Law 114-10. Pertinent to this question, a section of this legislation directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services, the agency responsible for Medicare, to establish procedures to ensure that a Social Security number is not displayed on the Medicare card. I have no other information about this topic.

General Medicare information is on the Social Security website at www.socialsecurity.gov/medicare/.

Details about Medicare coverage is on the Medicare website, www.medicare.gov.

 

From wife to widow

Q: My dad died this month at age 89 and is survived by his wife, my stepmother. She is in her 80’s and her Social Security amount is less than his. What does she need to do to get his Social Security benefits?

A: Before getting to this question, two points must be emphasized.

First, always contact Social Security when there is a death in the family. Call the national SSA toll-free number at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) or your local office. If additional benefits are payable, action can begin to start them and, if not, other information can be given.

Second, when eligible for SSA benefits on two records, such as your own retirement and as a widow or widower, you receive the higher benefit amount and not all of one plus all the other.

Since her Social Security amount is less than his, it is probable that her amount will increase to about what his had been.

If she now receives Social Security benefits as a spouse on her husband’s record, changing to a widow’s benefit will take place automatically once his death is reported to Social Security. This is because information about her is already part of his record, including evidence of marriage.

If not yet receiving benefits as a spouse, and therefore not yet connected to his record, she will need to complete an application for survivors benefits as his widow. This is easy to do and can be completed during a telephone or personal interview however she prefers. Evidence of their marriage and his death will be requested. All documents are returned to her.

In addition to increased ongoing benefits, she will probably be eligible for a one-time Social Security benefit of $255 to help towards funeral costs. This is arranged with the monthly survivors benefits.

Your dad would not be eligible to Social Security for the month of his death. Benefits for a month are paid in the following month. If received, these are usually returned to Treasury by the bank. However, she will be eligible for the widow’s benefit for the month of death.

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

 

Will retirement at age 58 lower future Social Security amounts?

Q: If I retire at age 58, will the loss of earnings hurt my Social Security retirement at age 62?

A: An early retirement will probably reduce the amount of your future Social Security because a person’s highest earning years are usually near retirement.

Your Social Security retirement monthly amount is based on your best 35 years of employment, weighted for inflation, and your age, in months, compared to your full retirement age (FRA).

If your earnings record is blank for several years, those years will not be available to replace years of lower earnings when your retirement amount is computed. You can estimate the effect of lower or higher future earnings, or retirement at different ages, with the Retirement Estimator at www.socialsecurity.gov/estimator/.

One of the Social Security retirement planning tools in the Retirement Planner section at www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2/, the Estimator connects to your actual Social Security earnings record to provide personal retirement estimates at age 62, at your full retirement age (FRA), and at age 70. As a security measure, you are asked for personal information before being able to use the Estimator.

Just as on your Statement estimate, the initial Retirement Estimator reply assumes your most recent wages or self-employment earnings will continue into the future. Unlike the Statement, with the Estimator you can change the default reply to obtain estimates at different ages or with different future earnings amounts.

Comparing multiple estimates for any given age based on the initial earnings level and then with lower or higher earnings provides an approximate result of different earnings on your future SSA retirement amount. With separate requests, you can estimate benefits based on either lower or higher earnings. Future earnings of more than one amount cannot be used in one estimate.

The Retirement Estimator provides good estimates at different ages, such as 62, but not for specific months. For estimates in specific months, other online tools are available in the Retirement Planner section. If your interest is only for months before your full retirement age (FRA), use the chart for your FRA. To consider months either before or after your FRA, use the “Compute the effect of early or delayed retirement” calculator. FRA ranges between age 65 and 67 based on year of birth but is 66 for birth years 1943-1954.

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When to report work for the annual earnings test

Q: I retired last year, started Social Security, and expect to work part-time this year on a fill-in basis. If I reach the retirement earning limit amount for the year, is it my responsibility to notify Social Security? Are benefits reduced for work immediately or resolved at years’ end. I am 63.

A: Yes, it is your responsibility to contact Social Security. Report your estimated earnings for the calendar year as soon as you think your earnings will exceed the annual limit for your age. You can provide updated estimates during the year as needed for changes up or down.

Providing an estimated earnings amount to Social Security is needed when you expect to earn more than your earnings limit amount during the calendar year. For example, at age 63 in 2015, you are under full retirement age (FRA) for the entire year and must provide an estimate if expected gross wage earnings will exceed $15,720. An estimate is not needed when annual earnings are expected to below the earnings limit.

Adjustments based on your estimated earnings will take place as soon as possible in order to avoid having you incorrectly paid. The usual suggestion to people expecting to earn over the annual limit for their age is to provide an estimate as accurate as possible, but to the high side.

Later, when you receive your W-2 form at the end of the year, report your actual earnings for the year directly to Social Security. Based on your actual earnings, final adjustments are made to either send you benefits due or to withhold those incorrectly paid.

A list of your various Social Security reporting responsibilities is in the booklet, What You Need to Know When You Get Retirement Or Survivors Benefits, available online. Work activity is a topic discussed over several pages of the booklet and an excerpt from page 17 includes:

“Your earnings estimate and your benefits

We adjusted your benefits this year based on the earnings you told us you expected to receive this year.

If other family members get benefits on your record, your earnings may affect the total family benefits. But, if you get benefits as a family member, your earnings affect only your benefits.”   

“Revising your earnings estimate

When you work, you should save your pay stubs. If during the year, you see your earnings will be different from what you estimated, you should call us to revise the estimate. This will help us pay you the correct amount of Social Security benefits.”  

More about working while receiving Social Security retirement or survivors benefits is here.

Divorced spouse benefits

Q: My ex-husband always earned much more than I did and I anticipated receiving Social Security through his record when he retired.

His retirement plans changed after our divorce and now he expects to continue working for several more years, or at least until he is much older than 62.

Can I receive Social Security as a divorced spouse from his Social Security record before he retires?

A: Yes, this is possible assuming all requirements are met. General requirements to receive Social Security benefits as a divorced spouse are here and include that:

  • the marriage lasted 10 years or longer
  • you are unmarried
  • you are age 62 or older and
  • you are not eligible for a higher Social Security through your own work than you would through the record of your ex-spouse.

When receiving benefits through an ex-spouses record, that person is usually receiving benefits too but an exception exists which could let you receive benefits  before your former husband starts Social Security.

If your ex-spouse has not applied for retirement benefits, but can qualify for them, you potentially could receive benefits through his record if you have been divorced for at least two years. To qualify for benefits means that your ex-spouse has enough work and has reached age 62.

You would be known as an “independently entitled divorced spouse” for SSA benefit purposes if you receive benefits this way.

 

Medicare for spouse, without monthly benefits

Q: I receive Social Security and will be eligible for Medicare in 2017. My wife will be 65 at that time. She has not been employed long enough to receive her own Social Security retirement and does not want to start receiving as a spouse through my record until she is age 66.

Will my wife be able to get Medicare in 2017 on my work record at age 65 even if she has not applied for monthly Social Security benefits?

A: If a person is receiving Social Security benefits, his or her spouse can file for Medicare through their record at age 65 without filing for monthly cash benefits. Medicare Part A (Hospital) does not have a monthly premium. Medicare Part B (Medical) has a monthly premium.

At the Social Security website, www.socialsecurity.gov, is the following:

“If you are within three months of age 65 or older and not ready to start your monthly cash benefits yet, you can use our online retirement application to sign up just for Medicare and apply for your retirement or spouses benefits later.” 

Information about benefits to a spouse is here. Age based benefits to a spouse can be started as early as age 62, at a reduced amount, so she does not need to wait until age 66 to begin monthly Social Security benefits. The choice is hers.

Note that future legislation can change existing rules.

 

Does Social Security contact people at age 65 to enroll them in Medicare?

Q: Does Social Security contact people at age 65 to enroll them in Medicare?

A: Some people are automatically contacted at age 65 but not everyone is.

If you are already receiving monthly Social Security benefits, you are sent Medicare enrollment information several months before reaching age 65.

It is important to note that enrollment material is not sent by the Social Security Administration. This material is mailed by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), part of the Department of Health and Human Services, the agency that is responsible for Medicare. Do not throw it away as junk mail.

In summary, the CMS Medicare mailing includes your Medicare card and tells you that enrollment in both Part A (Hospital) and Part B (Medical) of Medicare will take place at age 65 without any further action needed. If you do not want both Part A and Part B, you must contact Social Security.

Automatic enrollment in Medicare does not occur when you are not already receiving monthly Social Security benefits at age 65. Then you must take action yourself to enroll in Medicare, either by completing the online application or by contacting Social Security. Do this about three months before reaching age 65. You can sign up for Medicare without starting Social Security benefits.

Most people want Medicare Part A coverage at age 65, which does not have a monthly premium. If you have medical insurance through your own current employment, or the current employment of your spouse, then you might not want Part B at age 65. Medicare Part B does have a monthly premium.

Medicare Part A and Part B coverage is the same for everyone across the nation. General Medicare information and the online application are on the SSA website at www.socialsecurity.gov/medicare/. Detailed Medicare information is at www.medicare.gov.

Enrollment in Medicare Part D (Prescription Drug Coverage) is through private insurance companies, not through CMS or Social Security. Different policies are available and you shop for the one that best suits you.

 

Social Security disability work incentives

Q: I receive Social Security disability and want to return to work. What will this do to my benefits?

A: For specific information about your own benefits, contact Social Security and speak with a representative.

In general, special rules called work incentives make it possible for people with disabilities receiving Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) to work and still receive monthly payments and Medicare or Medicaid.

Remember that Social Security, including disability (SSDI), and SSI are different programs, with different work incentives for returning to work.

Always report a return to work. This is very important. Also report related changes including stopping the work.

For Social Security disability, a main work incentive is the trial work period (TWP).

The trial work period allows you to test your ability to work for at least 9 months. During a trial work period, you receive full disability benefit regardless of how much you earn as long as your work activity has been reported and you continue to have a disabling impairment. The 9 months does not need to be consecutive and your trial work period will last until you accumulate 9 months within a rolling 60-month period. Certain other rules apply. In 2015, gross monthly earnings of $780 or more will usually count as a month toward the TWP.

After a trail work period is completed, your work activity will be reviewed to see if you earnings are considered substantial gainful activity (SGA) . Exceptions apply but, in general, in 2015 monthly gross earnings of at least $1,090 are considered SGA for a person who is not blind and $1,820 for a person who is blind. Ongoing ability to work at a substantial gainful activity level can result in benefits being stopped.

If this occurs, you have an extended period of disability (EPE).

This means that if your disability benefits stop after successfully completing the trial work period and ongoing work at the substantial gainful activity (SGA) level, your Social Security disability benefits can be automatically reinstated without a new application for any months in which your earnings drop below the SGA level.

This reinstatement period lasts for 36 consecutive months following the end of the trial work period. You must continue to have a disabling medical impairment in addition to having earnings below the SGA level for that month.

Continuation of Medicare.

Of major importance, even if cash benefits end, for most beneficiaries existing Medicare coverage continues through the EPE and beyond.

Most persons with disabilities who work will continue to receive at least 93 consecutive months of Hospital Insurance (Part A); Supplemental Medical Insurance (Part B), if enrolled; and Prescription Drug coverage (Part D), if enrolled, after the 9-month Trial Work Period (TWP).

You do not pay a premium for Part A. Although cash benefits may cease due to work, you have the assurance of continued health insurance. (93 months is 7 years and 9 months.)

This is not a complete list of work incentives for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI). There are different work incentives for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). More general information is here.

Again, for details about your own benefits, speak to a Social Security representative.

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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.