America Saves Week 2015

America Saves Week, February 23 – 28, 2015, reminds us all to focus on the importance of saving and investing for the future. The Social Security Administration is one of many public and private organizations participating in America Saves Week.

Steps toward achieving financial goals include saving, investing and planning throughout an entire career.

What is the status of your savings? According to the America Saves Week website, www.americasavesweek.org/, you should assess your savings annually to make sure you are saving for all the right things and it provides several questions to help you do this.

Someday you will want to retire. Prepare for it. Now is the perfect time to examine your saving habits. Are you on track for a comfortable retirement?

Estimate your future SSA retirement amount with the Social Security online Retirement Estimator, one part of the SSA Retirement Planner. The Estimator connects to your actual work record to provide a personal estimate. You can change the default estimates for those more in tune with your actual plans.

Create a my Social Security account and view your Social Security Statement. Along with your Social Security earnings record, the Statement provides estimated retirement amounts plus family benefits should you become disabled or die. This information helps you arrange other parts of your financial planning.

Social Security personnel cannot assist with financial planning. Select your own helpers for this. Two websites to help you get started are www.mymoney.gov, the official U.S. government website dedicated to teaching Americans the basics of finances, and the Ballpark Estimator at www.choosetosave.org/ballpark, part of the American Savings Education Council program, which includes the Social Security Administration.

These sites, and others like them, are not just about savings for retirement. There are reasons to save for every stage of life.

To help your planning, here is a Test Your Savings Knowledge question from the American Saves Week website:

Q: About how much more do families with a savings plan save than those without such a plan?

A: According to one study, if family incomes are the same, those families with a plan save about twice as much as those who do not have one.

Should I file for early retirement to get benefits for my child?

Q: I am near age 62 and have a daughter, age 16. If I start Social Security retirement, can she receive benefits? Is doing this a good idea?

A: If you start Social Security retirement, at age 16 your daughter should be eligible to receive benefits through your record. Information about benefits to children is at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/EN-05-10085.pdf.

Deciding whether starting your retirement benefits at age 62 in order for her to be eligible is completely up to you. Are you ready to retire? Does this fit your overall retirement planning?

On the plus side, payment to a child or any other family member does not reduce your own amount. Your amount, based on earnings history and age when starting benefits, is the same whether or not other family members receive through your record. In this situation, your retirement plus a separate benefit for her would be payable. On the negative, starting your Social Security retirement at age 62 or anytime younger than full retirement age (FRA), for you age 66, gives you a permanently reduced benefit amount.

Estimate your own retirement amounts at the Retirement Planner section (www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2/) of the Social Security website. For the following example, assume that your full retirement age amount is $2,000 per month. Starting your benefits when first eligible at 62 reduces this to 75 percent giving you a monthly amount of $1,500. Future cost-of-living increases will increase this but the 25 percent reduction is permanent.

As the only eligible child, your daughter’s benefit amount is one-half of your full retirement amount, not one-half of your actual benefit amount, so she is eligible for $1,000 per month until age 18, perhaps longer if she is still in high school at age 18.

Ideally, you will be enjoying your retirement for many years. Based on your long-term financial plans, is it wise to choose a permanent twenty-five percent reduction in your SSA retirement in order to have your daughter receive benefits for a year or so? If considered as part of your individual retirement financial planning, either starting now or waiting could be good. The choice is yours.

 

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.

SSA Statements – in the mail or online

Last September the Social Security Administration announced the resumption of mailed Social Security Statements. The first ones went to people of specified ages having a December birthday.

Most people will not receive a mailed Statement every year. You will receive yours when reaching ages 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, 55, and 60 if not receiving Social Security benefits and if not registered for a my Social Security account.

The Statement will arrive in the mail about 3 months before your birthday. After age 60, people will receive a Statement every year. The agency expects to send nearly 48 million Statements each year. 

The Statement is a great family financial planning tool at all ages up to retirement, especially for people with young families and years away from retirement. Social Security is more than retirement. The Statement includes estimates for disability and survivors benefits also. My post of October 20, 2014, discussed using the Statement to estimate family benefits and to check your work record for accuracy.

Information on the Statement is so important that it is far better to see yours more often than every five years. And you can. Online. Whenever you want.

Do so by creating your personal my Social Security account at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount/. View your own Statement online at least once a year or as often as you want. Doing this will help you plan for your Someday retirement and for your Today.

 

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.

Reminder about 2015 Social Security & SSI payment dates

I posted the 2015 schedule of payment dates for Social Security and Supplemental Security income in September. As 2015 gets closer, I am getting many requests for the schedule so here it is again. The link is http://www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/EN-05-10031-2015.pdf.

A link to the 2015 payment calendar is on my Areavoices homepage blogroll. 

With several exceptions, since 1997 Social Security payment dates are based on the number holder’s (NH) date of birth. You are the NH if receiving Social Security on your own work record. If receiving based on the work of someone else, that person is the NH.    

Therefore, if you receive Social Security retirement or disability through your own work, the payment date is based on your birth date. A child or spouse receiving benefits on your record will also have a payment date based on your birth date. 

 A couple can receive Social Security payment on different days if each person is receiving his or her own retirement benefit.   

Social Security benefits are generally paid on the second Wednesday if the number holder was born within the first 10 days of a month, the third Wednesday if born within the 11-20th days and on the fourth Wednesday if born within the 21-31st days.  

Not all Social Security payment dates are birth date based. If you received Social Security before May 1997, your payment date remained the third of the month. People eligible for both Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) generally receive SSI on the first and their Social Security on the third of the month.  

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) funds are usually paid on the first of a month. 

Regular payment dates for both Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are advanced if the usual date falls on a day when financial institutions such as banks or credit unions are closed so, for example, SSI payments for January 2015 will arrive on December 31, rather than on January 1. 

One more item about payments: routine Social Security retirement, disability and survivors benefits are paid in the following month, meaning benefits for January arrive in February. Routine Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments are for the month paid so SSI arriving in February is for February.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Should Mom give me the money?

Q: I am 15 and receive Social Security, which goes to my Mom. Should she should give me the money? 

A: When a person younger than age 18 receives Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), the payment is almost always sent to an adult on their behalf rather than directly to the child. This adult is called the representative payee and it is his or her responsibility to direct the management of the funds. 

Representative payees are also appointed for adults who are incapable of managing their benefits. Payees are often family members but can be different people or even an organization. 

In the booklet A Guide for Representative Payees, a new payee is instructed in how funds should be used and how funds not immediately needed should be held for the future. Payees are told about required reports to Social Security about the funds. Representative payee instructions go into detail about how funds are to be used.  

Should your Mom give you the money? Not directly but the funds must be used for you. Just handing the benefit money to you could mean that she was not exercising proper control of the funds in your best interest. 

A key representative payee responsibility is to know beneficiary needs so that the Social Security or SSI funds can be best used for the person’s care and well-being, in particular making sure that day-to-day food and shelter needs are met. Having basic needs of food, shelter and clothing met indicate benefits are used for you even if you do not directly handle the money.  

Social Security benefits for children might continue or end at age 18. If they continue past age 18, the child often starts to receive them directly, without having a representative payee. Consider asking your Mom to share or create a budget with you. This would show you how the funds are used while giving you practice in handling money.

Average Social Security and SSI amounts in Sept. 2014

For September 2014, last month, following are three easily understood tables providing Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) information. These tables are online here

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a separate, low income program for the aged over 65, disabled or blind children, and disabled or blind adults that is administered by the Social Security Administration. Since SSI is completely different from Social Security, a person meeting the individual rules for each could become eligible for both programs. Income from Social Security reduces SSI amounts.

Learn more about Social Security and SSI at www.socialsecurity.gov. 

Table 1 shows the number of people, in thousands, receiving Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) divided by Social Security only, SSI only, and people receiving both. 

Table 2 shows Social Security benefit information for September 2014, separated by number of beneficiaries receiving specific types of benefits and the average dollar amount of those benefits. The number of beneficiaries is again shown in the thousands, with total benefits shown in the millions and average amounts in dollars.

The “notes” in table 1 explain differences in total Social Security beneficiaries shown between table 1 and table 2.

Social Security was never intended to provide full retirement income and this table emphasizes that fact. In September 2014, the average SSA retirement benefit, for the retiree only and excluding any family benefits, was $1,302.56.

Table 3 shows Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefit information for September 2014, separated by number of recipients receiving specific types of benefits and the average dollar amount of those benefits. As above, the number of recipients are shown in the thousands, total benefits shown in the millions and average amounts in dollars.

In September 2014, the average SSI amount was $535.21.

These tables are online here in case you cannot read them clearly.

Using your SSA Statement

In previous posts, I have encouraged readers to create a personal my Social Security account at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount/. Whether or not you now receive Social Security monthly benefits, online services are there for use. To create a my Social Security account, you must be at least 18 years old, have an email address and a United States mailing address. There are no fees to do this. As of September 30, nearly 14.5 million people had opened their free my Social Security account. 

If not yet receiving ongoing benefits, the major tool available is your Social Security Statement.

Many people think only of retirement when Social Security is discussed, but, in fact, the program includes disability and survivors benefits too. Including family member benefits, retirement represents about 70 percent of national Social Security benefits, survivors about 11 percent, and disability about 19 percent.Nationally, about 18.3 percent of the entire United States population, including adults and children of all ages, receive monthly Social Security benefits. 

Of course, retirement is the desired Social Security benefit, but studies show that just over 1 in 4 of today’s 20 year-olds will become disabled before reaching age 67 and people die at all ages.   

For all of these possibilities, your Social Security Statement is a great family financial planning tool. After creating your my Social Security account, look at your Statement (sample here), especially your earnings record and estimated benefits sections, at least annually. 

Directly from your actual Social Security work record as reported by employers, your earnings record for many years is shown. This is the only place where you can see your personal earnings history. Future Social Security benefits on your record are based on your lifetime earnings. Review your record for accuracy. If there is an error, follow the correction instructions. 

Now look at the estimated benefits section. The Social Security website retirement planning section, contains tools to estimate retirement amounts but disability and survivors estimates, potentially to your children and other family members, are only on your Statement. Useful at all ages and especially for young families with dependent children, these current estimates can be a foundation for your other family financial planning. 

Creating your personal my Social Security account lets you access your Statement whenever desired. Starting for December birthdays, this past September the Social Security Administration resumed periodic mailings of paper Statements. Workers attaining ages 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, 55, and 60 who are not receiving Social Security benefits and who are not registered for a my Social Security account will receive the Statement in the mail about 3 months before their birthday. After age 60, people will receive a Statement every year. The agency expects to send nearly 48 million Statements each year.