Like Cats? Baseball?

Like cats?  Yes, this is really related to Social Security.

Official Social Security information is available on several social media platforms in addition to the agency website,

Four recent uploads to the Social Security YouTube channel feature cats promoting online retirement applications. Cats not interesting to you? Watch one of the baseball stadium videos instead. 

Interested in filing your SSA retirement application? Go to the Benefits tab of to learn about retirement benefits, estimate your own amount, consider your options and then file your application online when convenient for you. Some application questions have drop down boxes to provide more information. 

File online to apply for Social Security retirement or spouses benefits. To do so, you must be at least 61 years and 9 months old and want to start your benefits in the next four months. When completed your application is reviewed by SSA representatives, usually but not always from your local office. If needed, a SSA representative will contact you.

Filing online is gaining in popularity and you are invited to go online. However, if online filing is not for you or if you have unanswered questions mid-way through the application, call the SSA national number (1-800-772-1213, TTY 1-800-325-0778) for an appointment. Appointments can be made for either a telephone or in-office interview.

Either way, you can still watch the cat and baseball SSA videos.

More than retirement

Posts of last week emphasized the need for retirement planning, the value of Social Security benefits in retirement and the importance of having other income in addition to your Social Security. 

Social Security is far more than just retirement. With disability and survivors benefits, it should be an important part of your financial planning, no matter what your age, but especially for people early in their working years with young families. Based on your employment, Social Security helps provide a financial floor of protection at all ages for now, not only for some distant retirement point. 

Disability and death are not popular discussion topics. They happen anyway. In fact, if a younger worker, your chances of becoming disabled are probably greater than you realize. Social Security information shows that a 20-year-old worker has a 3-in-10 chance of becoming disabled before reaching retirement age.  

Social Security disability benefits can provide valuable help to you and your family. SSA disability has both work and medical requirements, with benefits only for a total disability expected to last at least a year. If you are eligible, payments to you and eligible family members can continue as long as you remain disabled. After two years, Medicare coverage based on receiving disability begins for you, no matter what your age. In addition, Social Security disability has many work incentives to help you retain benefits as you reenter the workforce.  

Including benefits to the disabled worker and eligible family members, disability payments accounted for 19 percent of Social Security benefits paid nationally, as of December 2012. 

Death is not just for the old. If you have enough work, Social Security survivors benefits are payable to eligible family members. The amount of work needed for survivors benefits, measured in Social Security credits, depends on your age when you die. The younger a person is, the fewer credits he or she needs for family members to receive survivors benefit.

Survivors benefits, to people of all ages, accounted for 11 percent of Social Security benefits paid nationally, as of December 2012.

How do you estimate Social Security amounts for disability and survivors benefits? Easy. Establish your personal my Social Security account and use it to see your Social Security Statement. The second page of the Statement shows if you have enough work for benefits and provides current estimates based on your actual earnings record. Your earnings record is also on the Statement, so check it for accuracy.

Social Security is far more than just retirement. With disability and survivors benefits, it should be an important part of your financial planning, no matter what your age.

Plan your retirement financial independence

Are you hoping for a secure financial retirement or are you planning for one?

Whether on your own or with professional guidance, planning for retirement is important. Your financial independence depends on you.

Years ago I was one of several speakers at a retirement planning seminar and heard another speaker mention that he was often asked when a person should start financially planning for retirement. He said his answer was always “five years ago, but at least today.”

Independence Day is tomorrow. Plan today to review your personal plans for retirement financial independence before the picnic, parade or family gathering. Then do it.

Include Social Security retirement benefits as part of your planning, but realize that Social Security was never intended to provide full retirement income. Under current law, if you have average earnings, your Social Security retirement benefits will replace about 40 percent of your pre-retirement earnings. The percentage is lower for people in the upper income brackets and higher for people with low incomes. Financial planners suggest you have in the area of 70-80 percent of pre-retirement earnings for a comfortable retirement.

As of May 2013, the average Social Security retirement amount was $1,267 per month to the individual worker, excluding any related family benefits. If starting SSA retirement in 2013, exactly at full retirement age and with maximum taxable earnings over your entire career, the highest Social Security retirement amount is $2,533 per month. There is a wide range to amounts.

How much will your Social Security retirement amount be?  Estimate it and learn more using the SSA retirement planner at  In particular, use the Retirement Estimator for an estimate based on your actual work record.  Combined with this, many other calculators are available, including one to compute the effect of early or delayed retirement compared to your full retirement age (FRA). 

Social Security should be just one part of your retirement planning. Reach non-SSA financial planning websites through the retirement planner section. 

One of these is the Employee Benefit Research Institute / American Savings Education Council “Choose to Save” website, Use the “Ballpark E$timate” there, an easy to use interactive tool to help you identify about how much you need to fund a comfortable retirement. The “Ballpark E$timate” takes issues like projected Social Security benefits and earnings assumptions on savings, and turns them into easy to understand results. 

Are you hoping for a secure financial retirement or are you planning for one? Your financial independence depends on you. I hope you are planning, if not five years ago, then today.

Happy Independence Day.

Starting SSA retirement – consider family benefits

One consideration mentioned this week for starting Social Security when younger than full retirement age was if Social Security benefits through your record are payable to family members. Using benefits to children, today I will provide an example of this. Benefits to children are not the only potential family benefits payable. This is just a general example.

When you qualify for Social Security retirement, your children may also qualify to receive benefits on your record. An eligible child can be your biological child, adopted child or stepchild with other categories possible. To receive benefits, the child must be unmarried and under age 18, be 18-19 years old and a full-time student (no higher than grade 12) or be 18 or older and disabled from a disability that started before age 22. Normally, benefits stop when children reach age 18 unless they are disabled. However, if the child is still a full-time student at a secondary (or elementary) school at age 18, benefits continue until the child graduates or until two months after the child becomes age 19, whichever is first. 

Starting your Social Security retirement when younger than full retirement age (FRA) permanently reduces the monthly amount paid to you. Amounts paid to others on your record will not reduce your own amount. Your personal amount is the same whether benefits on your record are paid just to you or to you and family members.

If you receive SSA retirement, an eligible child can receive up to a maximum 50 percent of your full retirement age (FRA) amount per month, not 50 percent of your reduced monthly benefit.

Based on career earnings and full retirement age amount, there is a maximum amount of family benefits payable through a person’s work record. Obtain an estimate of this amount on your Social Security Statement after creating a my Social Security account. If your earnings have been very low, it is possible that no family benefits are payable. More usual is that this maximum is reached once you and approximately two children are receiving benefits. Maximums vary based on individual work records but, once reached, additional eligible family members proportionally reduce the amount that other family members receive. All eligible children receive the same monthly amount.

For this example, say that your full retirement age (FRA) is 66 (birth years 1943-1954), your amount at FRA is $1,000 per month, and you have an eligible child. If starting Social Security at FRA, your monthly amount would be $1,000. This would be less or more if starting benefits when younger or older.  However, child’s benefits are based on the FRA amount, not the amount you are actually receiving. In this example, a child could receive up to $500 per month on your record.

Starting SSA retirement at FRA, your amount would be $1,000 and the child would receive $500 for a total of $1,500 per month. If you start reduced retirement at age 62, your amount is reduced to $750 per month but the child’s amount remains at $500 for a total of $1,250 per month.

Estimate your FRA amount with the online Retirement Estimator.

Depending on your plans and other income, perhaps child or other family benefits make early retirement worthwhile for you. Perhaps not.

Eligibility rules for your children are the same for Social Security retirement, survivors or disability benefits but amounts differ. If you receive SSA retirement or disability benefits, an eligible child can receive up to 50 percent of your full retirement age (FRA) amount per month. If you are deceased, an eligible child can receive up to 75 percent of your FRA amount per month. Other family members receiving benefits through your record can reduce these amounts.

Deciding when to start SSA retirement

Last week I wrote that there is no one best time for you to start Social Security retirement related benefits. It is a very individual decision, based on your own personal family and financial circumstances. You can retire without starting Social Security retirement. You can start Social Security without fully retiring.

In no particular order, here are a few of many questions for you to consider before deciding when to start your Social Security, or before retiring at all.  Use the SSA retirement planner tools at  

1. What are your retirement plans? Stay home or travel extensively? Can you afford to retire earlier or should you wait and continue building your savings? Social Security retirement benefits are permanently reduced if started when you are younger than full retirement age (FRA). If delayed they continue growing each month until age 70. Do you want a smaller, reduced, amount or do you want to wait for a larger amount?

2. What is your other income? Social Security was never intended to be your primary retirement income. You will need other income. If you have average earnings, under current law your Social Security retirement benefits will replace about 40 percent of your pre-retirement earnings. The percentage is lower for people in the upper income brackets and higher for people with low incomes. Social Security benefits are the foundation for a secure retirement but you will need other income such as savings, pensions or investments. Financial advisors have told me that people need about 70-80 percent of pre-retirement earnings to comfortably maintain a pre-retirement standard of living. Depending on overall income, part of your Social Security might be subject to income tax

 3. Are Social Security benefits through your record payable to family members?  If so, perhaps starting sooner, with a permanent age reduced amount, is a good idea for you so that family members can receive also. Starting retirement at a younger age will reduce your benefits, but amounts paid to others on your record will not reduce your own amount.

4. How long are you going to live? Retirement could last many years. On average, a man reaching age 65 today can expect to live until age 84 and a woman until age 86. About one out of every four 65-year-olds today will live past age 90 and one out of ten will live past age 95. Are members of your family generally long-lived and healthy or not?  How is your own health? Your answers might lead you to start retirement either sooner or later.

5. Do you expect die before your spouse? Will she or he be eligible for a survivors (widow/widower) benefit on your work record? Delaying your retirement benefits could provide a higher survivors benefit to your surviving spouse, if one is payable. Survivors benefits might be payable even if spousal benefits are not. 

6. Are you eligible for both Social Security retirement and survivors benefits? How much is each? The timing of which benefit to start first can matter. Survivor benefits based on age can begin as early as age 60; your own retirement not before age 62. Starting the survivor benefit first could let your retirement amount grow, up to age 70. Starting retirement first could let the survivors amount grow, up to your survivor full retirement age. Learn your options. Full retirement age (FRA) is different for retirement and survivor benefits.

 7. Will you continue working? Consider the effect of continued employment on your Social Security benefits. You might be able to work and receive all your SSA retirement or expected earnings might prevent payment of at least a portion of your benefits. Once reaching full retirement age (FRA), Social Security benefits are not limited by earnings. Ongoing employment might increase future benefits. 

8. Remember Medicare. Are you approaching age 65? You can enroll in Medicare without receiving Social Security monthly benefits. If not yet receiving Social Security, you must take action to enroll in Medicare.  Enroll in Medicare Hospital Insurance (Part A) about three months before reaching age 65. You can apply online. You may not need Medicare Medical Insurance (Part B) at age 65 if your medical insurance is under a group plan based on your, or your spouse’s, current employment.  Research your needs in advance. General Medicare general information is in “Medicare” SSA publication 05-10043. Coverage details are at .  

9. What does your spouse or partner want?  Perhaps the most important question here. Discuss it together.

When to start receiving Social Security retirement benefits (see SSA publication 05-10147) is an individual decision. You decide what is right for you. Use the SSA retirement planner tools at   

Starting SSA retirement – now or later?

Q: I had expected to retire and start my Social Security next year at age 64 but I’ve been reading articles urging people to wait until reaching at least their SSA full retirement age, for me age 66, before starting benefits. What is best?

 A: One aspect of this question shows how Social Security has influenced retirement thinking. Prior to the Social Security Act legislation of 1935, few people were able to retire. According to the history section of the SSA website, only about five percent of the elderly received a retirement pension in 1932. People generally worked as long as they physically could do so. The concept of retirement, whether at 62 or a different age, is thanks in part to Social Security.

There is no one answer for when you should start Social Security retirement related benefits. This is a very individual decision, based on your own personal family and financial circumstances. 

If you live to the average life expectancy for your age, you will receive about the same amount in lifetime Social Security retirement benefits no matter whether you start receiving benefits at age 62, full retirement age, age 70 or any age in between. However, monthly benefit amounts can differ substantially based on when you start. Basically, you can get lower monthly payments for a longer period of time or higher monthly payments over a shorter period of time. Consider more than just the amount in your planning.

I have also seen articles suggesting that people delay starting SSA retirement benefits in order to receive a higher monthly amount. Benefit amounts change monthly in relation to your full retirement age (FRA).  Using your FRA of 66, which includes birth years of 1943-1954, if you start receiving retirement Social Security retirement at age 62, you receive 75 percent of your full retirement age amount because you will be getting benefits for an additional 48 months before FRA. Waiting until age 65, you get 93.3 percent of your FRA amount because you will be getting benefits for an additional 12 months. For an age 66 FRA, monthly percentages for age 62 – 66 are here. If delaying benefits past FRA, up to age 70 monthly increases equal 8 percent annually. Some articles encouraging waiting that I’ve seen mention that this is a larger rate of return than many investments currently offer.

There is no one answer for when you should start Social Security retirement related benefits. Next time I will discuss some topics for your consideration.

Estimate change in current earnings on future SSA retirement

Q: I have an offer to help build a new company and, if I accept it, for at least several years my earnings will be much lower than now. Can I estimate how lower earnings will reduce my future Social Security retirement?

A: Yes. Estimate the effect of lower and higher future earnings with the Retirement Estimator at The Retirement Estimator, one of the Social Security online retirement planning tools at, connects to your actual Social Security earnings record to provide personal retirement estimates at age 62, at your full retirement age, and at age 70.

The initial Retirement Estimator reply assumes that your most recent wages or self-employment earnings continue at the same amount into the future, but you can change this to obtain estimates at different ages and different future earnings amounts. Comparing your estimates for the same age based on the initial earnings level and then with lower or higher earnings provides an approximate result of different earnings on your future Social Security retirement amount. Using separate estimates, you can estimate future benefits based on either lower or higher earnings. Future earnings of more than one amount cannot be used in one estimate.

You can use the Retirement Estimator if you are enrolled in Medicare, but not if you are now applying for or receiving SSA benefits.   

Social Security retirement is based on your best 35 years of employment and your age, in months, compared to your full retirement age. You can get estimates at different ages with the Retirement Estimator. For specific months, other online tools are available in the retirement planner section,  

The Retirement Estimator reply does not show personal information or your earnings record. To see your earnings record, establish a my Social Security account at and view your Social Security Statement.



Replace a Medicare card online & other webcasts

National Social Security webinars are at the SSA homepage, . From there, go to the Social Media Hub in the lower right corner. Clicking on the persons image at right or on “more social media” brings you to webinars, including one recorded in April about retirement planning.

Adding to the national webinars, you can watch webcasts through the SSA Denver Region site. The Social Security Administration includes ten regions. Denver Region, where I am, directly serves residents of Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah, western Minnesota and three Canadian provinces.

Brand new on the Denver Region site is How to Replace Your Medicare Card Online. Just short of six minutes in length, it contains a brief Medicare introduction, shows how to replace your Medicare card online, and mentions my Social Security.

Replacing your Medicare card is just one of the many online Social Security services available at no charge, whether or not you receive monthly benefits.

 Recorded last November, the Social Security Denver Region webcast Social Security Frequently Asked Questions is still available.

In approximately 20 minutes, the webinar discusses Social Security retirement, survivors and disability program topics, how benefit amounts are determined for individuals and spouses, how to replace a Social Security card, and more. 

So that you can easily find information for yourself, the webinar also highlights the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) area of the Social Security website,



Benefits to a wife or husband (spousal benefits)

An overheard office conversation reminded me that I have not written about spousal benefits in a while. A man wanted to know why his wife could not receive Social Security benefits through his record. Key to his thinking was that her own Social Security retirement amount was less than one-half of his, a very popular misconception.  

Like many misconceptions, there is a historical basis for this. In the early days of Social Security often only the husband was employed, with the wife busy but unemployed at home. In addition, no one could begin monthly retirements before full retirement age because early retirement (age reduced) benefits did not exist yet. Now, both wife and husband are often employed and reduced retirement benefits can begin as young as age 62, with full retirement ages ranging from 65 to 67 under existing law.

Social Security benefits are gender neutral. Both men and women can receive spousal (wife/husband) benefits and each must be alive for spousal benefits to apply. Survivors benefits to a widow or widower are computed differently and might be payable even if a spousal benefit was not. 

Returning to spousal benefits, the one-half idea has some validity but it refers to a comparison of the wife and husband’s individual full retirement age (FRA) amounts, not the monthly amount that either is actually receiving.   

The most that a spouse with lower career earnings could receive through the record of her or his higher earning spouse is one-half of the higher earners full retirement age amount. This is a maximum and reduced by their own Social Security retirement and by age, if younger than FRA. 

To learn if spousal benefits are possible, compare one-half the higher full retirement age (FRA) amount to the lower FRA amount.    

For example, leaving aside the actual monthly benefit amount, say we have a couple where one person has a FRA amount of $2,000 and the other has a FRA amount of $900. 

Half of the higher $2,000 FRA amount is $1,000. Since the other person’s smaller $900 FRA amount is less than this $1,000 (one-half of the higher) amount, a spousal benefit is possible. If the smaller FRA amount were $1,000 or more, and therefore not less than half of the higher, spousal benefits would not be paid.

Note that this only shows IF a spousal benefit is possible, not how much. How much a spousal benefit is depends on the person’s own Social Security retirement amount and their age. In this example, the MOST a spousal benefit could be is $100 per month, derived by subtracting the lower FRA amount of $900 from one-half the higher ($1,000) FRA amount. Potentially reduced for age, the net spousal amount is added to his or her own monthly retirement amount. 

Using the same full retirement age amounts, but with age reduced benefits involved, you can see how the one-half of benefit misconception, rather than the FRA comparison, can lead you astray.

Using the same couple, one person has a full retirement age (FRA) amount of $2,000 and the other has a FRA amount of $900.

However, now the person with the $2,000 FRA amount started retirement at age 62 (with age 66 FRA), giving him or her a benefit reduction of about 25 percent, resulting in a monthly amount of about $1,500.

The person with the FRA amount of $900 waited until full retirement age before starting Social Security. Since he or she waited until FRA, there is no age reduction and the full FRA monthly amount of $900 is received.  

Comparing the actual benefit amounts of $1,500 and $900, one-half of the higher is $1,500 divided by 2 = $750. Given that the overall smaller benefit amount of $900 is more than one-half the higher $1,500, you would wrongly conclude that spousal benefits are not payable. 

The Social Security website,, has information to help plan your retirement planning.

Use the Retirement Estimator to estimates your personal full retirement age amount. Learn your full retirement age and obtain approximate monthly reduction percentages at

ID questions when creating your “my Social Security” account

Q: Some of the security questions when I created a my Social Security account took me by surprise. While I expected the often seen birthdate type of question, my Social Security questions involved more details than I expected Social Security to have about me. Where do the questions come from?

A: This question was asked during one of my retirement seminars. Before answering it, I think it is important to mention that the Social Security Administration has less personal information then many people think. If not receiving monthly benefits, the bulk of personal information held by Social Security about you is from your Social Security number (SSN) application as updated, and your work history. If receiving benefits, the agency has information that you provided and needed to pay those benefits, including your address and direct deposit bank account information. 

Maintaining the security of your personal information on Social Security records is very important to the agency, which brings us back to the  question.  

Anyone at least age 18 and having an email address can create their own online my Social Security account. To create an account, you must provide some personal information about yourself and give us answers to some questions that only you are likely to know. Next, you create a username and password that you will use to access your online account. This process protects you and keeps your personal Social Security information private.

Some of the personal information requested is your name, Social Security number and birthdate. For other questions, an external authentication service provider, Experian, helps Social Security verify your identity by using information from your Experian credit report. This can result in what is known as a “soft inquiry” on your Experian credit report but does not affect credit scores and is not reported to lenders. It does provide the ability to protect your personal information by asking questions that only you should be able to answer.   

Please note that you cannot create a my Social Security account online if you have a security freeze, fraud alert, or both on your Experian credit report. You first must ask Experian to remove the freeze or alert. 

A link to my Social Security is on the homepage of or you can go directly to  Linked from that page are details explaining how your identity is verified and protected