Delayed retirement credits not for survivors benefits

Q: Will my Social Security survivor benefits increase if I delay starting them past full retirement age?

A: No. Unlike your own Social Security retirement amount, survivors benefits do not continue increasing if delayed past your full retirement age (FRA).

Up to age 70, your personal retirement amount increases each month you delay starting past full retirement age. Learn about these increases, called delayed retirement credits, at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2/delayret.htm

Delayed retirement credit increases do not apply to Social Security survivors benefits. Survivors benefits are reduced when started before full retirement age and generally reach their maximum amount if not started until you reach survivors full retirement age. Maximum survivor amounts to you can also be limited depending on the age of the deceased when he or she started Social Security benefits on their record.

Note that full retirement age (FRA) is different for survivors benefits compared to your retirement FRA. See http://www.socialsecurity.gov/survivorplan/ifyou5.htm for general information about amounts of survivors benefits at different ages.

 

 

my Social Security – create your secure account now

The Social Security Administration announced a major expansion of the my Social Security services on January 7. Up to then, my Social Security services were limited to those over age 18 who were not yet receiving monthly benefits. In particular, people could establish their secure personal account, obtain their individual Social Security Statement, and use it to verify the accuracy of their Social Security earnings record while obtaining estimates of retirement, survivor and disability benefits based on those earnings.  

Since January 7, my Social Security expanded to provide services for people already receiving Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.  

Once you create an account, if receiving Social Security you can:

  • obtain a letter proving that you receive benefits including specific information needed
  • check your benefit amount and other payment information
  • view and update information including your address
  • start, view, and change your direct deposit information for electronic transfer of benefits

Those receiving Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or only SSI, can use these services except for actually making changes to their record.

The expanded my Social Security has been well received. From January through early February, more than 1,221,000 individuals have logged-in. Of this number, over 509,000 were beneficiaries.

Since initially launched in May 2012 with limited services, to the expanded services available now, over 3,947,000 individuals have successfully created personal my Social Security accounts. Over 30% of my Social Security users are now beneficiaries. These individuals have viewed their online Social Security Statement over 6,642,000 times. 

Several people have told me how easy it was to create their account. You can create an account if you are at least 18 years old and have a valid E-mail address, a Social Security number, and a U.S. mailing address (includes military addresses, APO/FPO/DPO AE, AP or AA).

You may create an account only for yourself. You may not set up an account for another person, even if you have his or her written consent. This also applies to an appointed representative or someone who has business with that person.

Safeguards and optional security methods have been established to verify and protect your identity on your my Social Securityaccount. In my opinion, it is useful to read and understand these before creating your own account. Reminder: The Social Security Administration does not send email to advertise any of our services.

Create your account by going directly to the Social Security website, www.socialsecurity.gov. On the homepage there is a link labeled “my Social Security – sign in or create an account” or you can go directly to http://www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount/. Either way, note that the web address has .gov, standing for government. If not .gov, it is not Social Security

Establish your personal my Social Security account and use the available services, but be sure you are at the official SSA website.

Do you have more than one full retirement age?

Q: What is full retirement age? 

A: As usually discussed. full retirement age (FRA) is the age at which a person may first become entitled to an unreduced Social Security retirement benefit. 

Consider full retirement age as a point in time. If you start retirement benefits before full retirement age, they are reduced by the number of months that you are early. Benefits started after your FRA increase based on the number of months that you are past. If you start Social Security exactly at full retirement age, benefits are full, neither reduced nor increased. For Social Security retirement, you may start receiving benefits as early as age 62 or as late as age 70 no matter what your FRA is.

Originally age 65 when SSA retirement began, full retirement age, also called normal retirement age, has gradually been increasing based on year of birth since the 1983 Amendments. Resulting from that 1983 legislation, FRA for Social Security retirement purposes is scheduled to increase to age 67 for those born in 1960 and later. For people born in 1943-1954, FRA is age 66. Learn your retirement FRA at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2/agereduction.htm.

Often overlooked but important, is that full retirement ages are different for Social Security retirement compared to survivors benefits. The earliest a widow or widower can start receiving SSA survivors benefits based on age is age 60, younger than SSA retirement benefits. Surviviors benefits do not increase if delayed past full retirement age. FRA for Social Security survivors benefits is scheduled to increase to age 67 for those born in 1962 and later. For people born in 1945-1956, survivors benefits FRA is age 66. Learn your survivors FRA at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/survivorplan/survivorchartred.htm.                    

Discussions of Social Security full retirement age, including in these posts, usually refer to retirement only and rarely point out the difference for survivors benefits. However, this is important if you might be eligible for both types of benefit.

Advantages and disadvantages exist to starting Social Security either before or after FRA. The decision is yours based on your plans, family situation, finances and other items not discussed today. See http://www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2/otherthings.htm for some things to consider.

 

New my Social Security Account Online Services Available

Today the Social Security Administration announced a big expansion to services available with a my Social Security account. The full press release follows.

Social Security Announces New Online Services Available

with a my Social Security Account

Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, today announced the agency is expanding the services available with a my Social Security account, a personalized online account that people can use beginning in their working years and continuing throughout the time they receive Social Security benefits. More than 60 million Social Security beneficiaries and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients can now access their benefit verification letter, payment history, and earnings record instantly using their online account. Social Security beneficiaries also can change their address and start or change direct deposit information online.

“We are making it even easier for people to do their business with us from the comfort of their home, office, or library,” Commissioner Astrue said. “I encourage people of all ages to take advantage of our award-winning online services and check out the new features available through an online my Social Security account.”

Social Security beneficiaries and SSI recipients with a my Social Security account can go online and get an official benefit verification letter instantly. The benefit verification letter serves as proof of income to secure loans, mortgages and other housing, and state or local benefits. Additionally, people use the letter to prove current Medicare health insurance coverage, retirement or disability status, and age. People can print or save a customized letter. 

Social Security processed nearly nine million requests for benefit verification letters in the past year. This new online service allows people to conduct business with Social Security without having to visit an office or make a phone call, and very often wait for a letter to arrive in the mail. It also will reduce the time spent by employees completing these requests and free them to focus on other workloads.

People age 18 and older can sign up for an account at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount. Once there, they must be able to provide information about themselves and answers to questions that only they are likely to know. After completing the secure verification process, people can create a my Social Security account with a unique user name and password to access their information.

People age 18 and older who are not receiving benefits can sign up for a my Social Security account to get a personalized online Social Security Statement. The online Statement provides eligible workers with secure and convenient access to their Social Security earnings and benefit information, and estimates of future benefits they can use to plan for their retirement. In addition, the portal also includes links to information about other online services, such as applications for retirement, disability and Medicare.

“Given our significantly reduced funding, we have to find innovative ways to continue to meet the needs of the American people without compromising service,” said Commissioner Astrue. “These new enhancements will allow us to provide faster service to more people in more places.”

For more information, please go to www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount.

 

What is the maximum Social Security retirement amount for 2013?

Average Social Security benefit amounts as of October 2012 were provided earlier this week.  

Early in 2012, I posted that the maximum Social Security retirement amount payable to a person retiring in 2012 at full retirement age  (FRA) was $2,513 per month. The interest it received surprised me. 

Today I am providing the maximum Social Security retirement monthly amount to a person retiring at FRA in 2013. Full retirement age is 66 for people born in 1943 – 1954. Learn your FRA here

The maximum monthly Social Security retirement amount changes each year. The 2013 maximum is more than the 2012 maximum, but will be less than the 2014 amount. Several reasons are responsible for this with a major one being that different years of earnings become available to include in the retirement calculation.  

A person’s best 35 years of earnings are used to compute their full retirement age (FRA) amount. With each new calendar year, a year of potentially higher earnings becomes available for use in computing the FRA amount. Not only might actual earnings be higher, but, depending on the maximum taxable base for that year, more of the earnings could be credited for use in the Social Security computation.

So, if starting SSA retirement in 2013, exactly at full retirement age, without any decrease or increase for earlier or later starting of benefits, and if you earned at least the maximum SSA taxable earnings (the taxable base), in each of the 35 years used in your benefit calculation, then the highest 2013 Social Security retirement amount is $2,533 per month. 

Knowing the highest 2013 Social Security retirement amount is interesting. Estimating your own retirement amount is more useful. Do so with the SSA Retirement Planner tools, especially the Retirement Estimator.  

The Retirement Estimator provides an estimate based on your actual Social Security earnings record at different ages. In addition, use the Estimator to obtain other estimates for different retirement ages and various annual employment earnings amounts. Other SSA online calculators are available for you too. 

Want to see your SSA earnings record? Your online Social Security Statement provides a list of your lifetime earnings, plus family estimates for SSA retirement, survivors and disability benefits.

 

Average Social Security benefit amounts

Q: How much is the average Social Security benefit amount? 

A: The answer varies widely depending on the type of benefit. Benefits are payable through the three Social Security component programs of Old-Age (Retirement), Survivors and Disability. Within each, a variety of benefits is possible. Retirement and disability benefits could be payable to the worker based on his or her own Social Security number record as well as to eligible family members such as spouses or children. Survivor benefits are to eligible family members.  

In October 2012, the average monthly Social Security amount paid to all beneficiaries, for all types of Social Security benefits, was $1,131. 

For retirement benefits, the average worker, based on his or her individual work record, received $1,237 that month. More October 2012 data is here.  

Are you average? Estimate your own retirement amount with the SSA Retirement Planner tools, especially the Retirement Estimator. Get your online Social Security Statement for individual and family estimates for SSA retirement, survivors and disability benefits.

 

 
Type of beneficiary

Beneficiaries

Total monthly benefits (millions of dollars)

Average monthly benefit (dollars)

 

Number (thousands)

Percent

 
All beneficiaries

56,577

100.0

64,007

1,131.32

 
Old-Age Insurance    
Retired workers

36,593

64.7

45,275

1,237.28

 
Spouses

2,285

4.0

1,402

613.33

 
Children

605

1.1

366

605.30

 
Survivors Insurance    
Widow(er)s and parents a

4,212

7.4

4,900

1,163.36

 
Widowed mothers and fathers b

154

0.3

137

887.45

 
Children

1,886

3.3

1,479

784.40

 
Disability Insurance    
Disabled workers

8,802

15.6

9,780

1,111.09

 
Spouses

164

0.3

49

298.95

 
Children

1,876

3.3

619

329.96

 

 

When should you complete your retirement application?

Q: I am thinking about starting Social Security retirement in early 2013. If I do, when should I apply? 

A: Apply now if you plan to start your Social Security in early 2013. You can apply for Social Security retirement benefits when you are at least 61 years and 9 months of age and want your benefits to start in the next three months. Social Security cannot process your application if you file for benefits more than four months in advance. See the Are you ready to apply for benefits? portion of the SSA Retirement Planner.

When to file your application depends on your plans. As long as you meet all requirements and are at least age 62 throughout the entire month, you can start Social Security retirement effective with any month of the year. You do not have to start Social Security in your birthday month. There is no rule saying you must start Social Security retirement immediately upon stopping work. You might decide to delay starting benefits in favor of waiting for a higher amount. Information and calculators at the Social Security Retirement Planner will help your planning. You have choices. What is best for you?

Accessed through the retirement section of the Social Security website, www.socialsecurity.gov, the online retirement application is a popular option. Online applications represented just over 45 percent of all Social Security retirement applications received nationally from January through early November 2012. Applications completed online are reviewed, usually by your local office, and you are contacted if needed.

Unsure about using the online retirement application? The Retirement Planner section contains a video demonstration of the online application. Some of the website screens have changed since the video was created, but the process remains the same. Social Security publication 05-10523, How To Apply Online for Retirement Benefits, provides a quick overview of the online application. Both tell you information you will need, and questions to expect, even if you choose not to use the online application.

If not using the online application, make an appointment by calling the national Social Security toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213 or TTY 1-800-325-0778, between 7:00am – 7:00pm, local time. Appointments can be made for either a telephone or in-office interview. They are usually sent to local SSA offices based on zip code.

More about SSA child benefits

Several questions related to Social Security benefits for children were received this week. Here they are:

Q: If I received Social Security, would benefits paid to my minor children reduce my own amount?

A: No. You receive the same amount whether or not anyone else, child or adult, receives benefits through your work record.

Q: How much would my minor child receive if I started Social Security benefits? 

A: Amounts paid to eligible children through your record are based on your earnings record. When you are alive, such as with Social Security retirement and disability, a child can receive up to 50 percent of your full retirement age (FRA) amount. This might not mean 50 percent of what you receive. For example, your own retirement amount could be less or more than your FRA amount depending on your age when starting benefits.

For survivor benefits, an eligible child can receive up to 75 percent of the deceased workers full retirement amount.

These percentages are only a guide. Based on each person’s individual work history, there is a maximum monthly amount payable to other family members receiving benefits through that work record. If this family maximum is reached, amounts payable to eligible family members are reduced. This maximum does not apply to benefits paid to the worker. As noted above, the worker receives the same amount whether or not anyone else receives benefits through their Social Security work record.

Relatively uncommon, it is also possible that no benefits are payable to family members if the workers earnings have been very low.

Use the calculators at the Social Security Retirement Planner to estimate your SSA retirement FRA amount. For disability and survivors family estimates, request your Social Security online statement.

Q: Are Social Security child benefits paid into college?

A: No. SSA child benefits stop when the child reaches age 18 unless the child is a full-time student at a secondary (or elementary) school or disabled, assuming all requirements are met. Student benefits usually continue until graduation, or until two months after reaching age 19, whichever comes first. They are not paid into college.

More information is in SSA publication 05-10085, Benefits for Children.

Q: Can children receive a survivors benefit if a parent died and had never paid into Social Security?

A: Survivors benefits are not be payable unless the deceased had worked long enough to earn Social Security coverage. Having enough work means that the person is insured. You earn insured status, measured by credits (also known as quarters of coverage), only by having enough employment. Insured status work requirements are different for retirement, disability and survivors benefits.

People die at all ages. The amount of work needed to provide Social Security benefits for your survivors depends on your age when you die. The younger a person, the fewer credits needed. See http://www.socialsecurity.gov/survivorplan/onyourown.htm.

 

Looking for Social Security information? The Social Security Administration website is at www.socialsecurity.gov. Link to FAQ’s from the homepage or go directly to http://ssa-custhelp.ssa.gov/

Look for the “.gov” at the end of the web address. If it isn’t .gov, it isn’t the real Social Security website.

 

Average Social Security benefit amounts

A participant asked how much the average Social Security survivor benefit amount was while I was teaching a Social Security retirement session this month. At the time I did not know, but have since found the information in the newest edition of the annual Social Security publication, Fast Facts & Figures About Social Security, 2012

The average amount of any type of Social Security benefit is a moving target. The amount changes each month as new beneficiaries start receiving benefits and others leave the rolls. Wide variability also exists between different types of benefits. Just within the broad topic of Social Security survivors benefits, benefit types include those payable to children, young widows or widowers eligible because of children receiving benefits, widow or widowers at least age 60 as well as those eligible because of disability. This is not a complete list. 

For Social Security retirement, survivors and disability average amounts as of December 2011, see Fast Facts & Figures About Social Security, 2012. The link brings you to the Fast Facts booklet. From there, go the section titled OASDI Program (OASDI is old age (retirement), survivors and disability insurance = Social Security) and then to the Average Benefit Amounts section in the left-hand column. 

All Social Security amounts are largely based on lifetime earnings of the worker involved. For personal planning, Social Security offers free online tools to help you estimate benefits. For retirement related estimates, go to the Retirement Planner section. Different calculators are there including the Retirement Estimator, which connects to your actual work record. 

You can calculate survivor and disability estimates at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/planners/benefitcalculators.htm. Another method, one that provides estimates based on your actual work record, is to register and get your Social Security Statement online. In your Statement are estimates for retirement, disability and survivors benefits plus a list of your lifetime earnings amounts according to Social Security records. View a sample Statement at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/mystatement/SSA-7005-OL.pdf.   

To protect your personal information, before getting your Statement online you register by creating a My Social Security Account. Instructions and a short video explaining the registration process are at the Social Security Statement online page. 

Average amounts can be useful. For personal family financial planning, estimates based on your own work record are better.

Is there a maximum Social Security family amount?

Q: A friend said there is a maximum Social Security amount payable to a family. Both my husband and I are employed. We will receive our own SSA retirement. Will our retirement amounts be limited because we are married? 

A: Individual Social Security retirement benefits are not reduced because you are married. Your friend told a common SSA myth based on misunderstanding of a different topic. I will try to explain both today.

A popular variation of this question is to ask if there is a SSA marriage penalty. However phrased, the answer is no, Social Security does not have a marriage penalty. Individual Social Security retirement benefits to you and your husband are not reduced because you are married. 

When receiving Social Security retirement from your own work, the amount for each of you is separately calculated based on your individual lifetime earnings records and age when starting benefits, not whether or not you are married.   

You are two different people with separate Social Security records. Marital status is not considered when determining the amount of your own Social Security retirement amount. Individual SSA retirement benefits to one have no role in computing the individual retirement amount due the other. (Note: if one member of a couple earned low wages or was not insured for retirement benefits, he or she might receive benefits as a spouse. That is not the topic here.)

In SSA jargon, each of you is a number holder (NH) because you have a Social Security number (SSN). Benefits are computed based on the record of a number holder. You are the NH for SSA benefits on your work record and your husband is the NH for benefits on his. Your records are separate.

So, where does this myth come from? It is probably based on benefits payable to a family through the work record of one person (one number holder).   

When you are the number holder (NH), your SSA amount is not affected by any family members, such as a spouse or child, paid through your work record. The NH receives the same amount whether or not any family members are paid on the record. However, the Social Security Act limits the amount of monthly benefits payable on any one record. This limit is the family maximum. The family maximum can proportionally affect Social Security amounts paid to family members on the NH’s work record.  It does not affect NH benefits. 

For example, a person, the NH, receives Social Security retirement or disability benefits. If enough family members are eligible on the NH’s record to reach the family maximum, it will affect amounts payable to them but not to the NH.

How much is the family maximum? Amounts vary with the type of Social Security benefit involved and work record of each number holder. For any given NH, the family maximum is approximately equal to 150 to 180 percent of his or her full retirement age amount. It usually is reached by the time three family members, not including the NH, are on the record. If reached, the amount payable to each family member is proportionately reduced. Benefits paid to a divorced or surviving divorced spouse based on disability or age does not count towards the family maximum amount.

The estimated benefits section of your online Social Security Statement has estimated amounts for you and your family. 

Social Security does not have a marriage penalty. Being married does not reduce individual Social Security retirement benefits to you or your husband. For accurate Social Security information, go to www.socialsecurity.gov