Living apart and Social Security spousal benefits

Q: My husband and I are not divorced but have lived apart for many years. Can I still receive Social Security through his record?  

A: Living together is not required for Social Security spousal benefits as a wife or husband. Your individual SSA retirement amounts might prevent spousal benefits but living apart while married will not.   

In addition, having lived apart will not prevent either of you from potentially receiving future survivor benefits as widow or widower.  

Should you divorce, SSA benefits might be payable as a divorced spouse or surviving divorced spouse if the marriage lasted at least ten years and other requirements are met.  

More about Social Security benefits for a current or former spouse is in the SSA website Retirement Planner section. See “how members of your family may qualify for benefits.”  

You can file an online application for benefits as a spouse. Details are here 

Go here to learn more about Social Security survivors benefits.

 

Agency Resumes Mailing Social Security Statements

Tuesday, September 16, 2014 

News Release

SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION

Agency Resumes Mailing Social Security Statements

Encourages People to Create a Secure my Social Security Account to Obtain Their Statement Online, Anytime

Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, today announced the agency will resume the periodic mailing of Social Security Statements–once every five years for most workers–while encouraging everyone to create a secure my Social Security account to immediately access their Statement online, anytime. The Statement is a valuable financial planning tool providing workers age 18 and older with important individualized information regarding their earnings, tax contributions, and estimates for future retirement, disability, and survivors benefits.

“We have listened to our customers, advocates, and Congress; and renewing the mailing of the Statement reinforces our commitment to provide the public with an easy, efficient way to obtain an estimate of their future Social Security benefits,” Acting Commissioner Colvin said. “I encourage everyone to create their own secure my Social Security  account to obtain immediate access to their Statement online, anytime.” 

Beginning this month, 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.

The Social Security Statement helps people plan for their financial future.  In addition to providing future benefit estimates, the Statement highlights a person’s complete earnings history, allowing workers to verify the accuracy of their earnings. This is important because an individual’s future benefit amount is determined by the amount of their earnings over their lifetime.  To date, more than 14 million people have established a personalized my Social Security account at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount.

With a my Social Securityaccount, people may access the Statement from the comfort of their home, office or library whenever they choose. Individuals who currently receive benefits should sign up for a my Social Security account to manage their benefit payments and, when the need arises, get an instant benefit verification letter, change their address and phone number, and start or change direct deposit of their benefit payment.

Acting Commissioner Colvin reinforced that “whether conducting business with Social Security via the Internet, mail, telephone or face-to-face, we will continue to provide convenient, cost-effective, secure and quality customer service to meet the needs of the public we serve.” 

*****

You can see a sample Social Security Statement here.

 

 

OASDI by zip code for 2013

During July, I posted information detailing Social Security benefits paid by State and County in 2013 (annual publication OASDI Beneficiaries by State and County (2013)). OASDI is Social Security Old-Age (Retirement), Survivors, and Disability Insurance benefits.

Social Security payment information for 2013 is now available by zip code in the publication OASDI Beneficiaries by State and ZIP Code, 2013.

For individual zip codes, information provided includes the number of beneficiaries by type of Social Security benefit, amount of benefits paid, and the number of beneficiaries age 65 or older.

National my Social Security Week

If you receive Social Security benefits or have Medicare, you can use a mySocial Security online account to:

1. Get your benefit verification letter;

2. Check your benefit and payment information and your earnings record;

3. Change your address and phone number; and

4.Start or change direct deposit of your benefit payment.

 If you do not receive benefits, you can use a mySocial Security online account to:

A) Get yourSocial Security Statement to review:

          1) Estimates of your future retirement, disability, and survivors benefits;

          2) Your earnings once a year to verify the amounts we posted are correct and see the estimated Social Security and Medicare taxes you’ve paid.

B) Get a benefit verification letter stating that:

          1) You never received Social Security benefits, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Medicare; or

          2) You received benefits in the past, but do not currently receive them or

          3) You applied for benefits but haven’t received an answer yet.

Get your free personal online my Social Security account today! http://www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount/

 

OASDI Beneficiaries by State and County (2013)

The annual Social Security Administration publication OASDI Beneficiaries by State and County (2013) is available.  

Quoting from the preface: 

This annual publication focuses on the Social Security beneficiary population—people receiving Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) benefits—at the local level. It presents basic program data on the number and type of beneficiaries and the amount of benefits paid in each state and county. It also shows the numbers of men and women aged 65 or older receiving benefits.”

In your state or county, how many people receive Social Security monthly benefits?

How is that divided between Social Security retirement, survivors or disability benefits?

How much money does that bring in to your local economy?

Find out here. 

As of December 2013, 18.3 percent of the entire United States population received a Social Security retirement, survivors or disability benefit. Including family members, this was approximately 70 percent retirement benefits, 11 percent survivors, and 19 percent disability.

In North Dakota, 17.1 percent of the population received Social Security benefits, 17.5 percent in Minnesota, 19.3 percent in South Dakota and 20.5 percent in Montana. What about where you live?  

When looking up your state or county information, keep in mind that benefit amounts are shown in thousands of dollars.

What SSA widow / widower benefits are not age based?

My preceding post was about Social Security survivors benefits to a widow or widower based on age, payable once the eligible person is at least age 60.

This leads to the question of what widow or widower Social Security survivors benefits are not based on age. There are two, each with its own requirements.

At any age, Social Security survivor benefits might be payable to a widow or widower if a child of the deceased also receives suvivors benefits on that record. The surviving parent must be taking care of the child and the child must be younger than age 16 or disabled.

Since taking care of the eligible child is the reason for payment of benefits, age of the surviving parent does not change the amount payable to the widow or widower. However, their individual benefits for a year can be reduced by employment earnings due to the annual earnings test, just as for a person receiving Social Security retirement. Amounts paid to the widow(er) can potentially lower amounts payable to eligible children. For these reasons, people otherwise eligible for this type of benefit sometimes choose not to receive it, especially if working full-time.

The other is based on disability, with an age requirement. Called disabled widow(er) benefits, these can be paid if the person is at least age 50, but not age 60, and determined to be disabled within a certain period of time. Exceptions exist but usually the disability must have started within seven years of the spouses death.

Not being discussed today, divorced spouses of a worker who dies can receive the same types of survivors benefits as a widow or widower, provided that the marriage lasted 10 years or more and other requirements are met.

Read the booklet “Survivors Benefits” (SSA publication 05-10084) for general information about Social Security survivors benefits.

 

Survivor benefits if twice widowed

This interesting question came from a woman so, for convenience, the answer refers to Social Security survivors benefits for a widow. The information also applies to a widower.

Q: I did not work outside the home, but have been widowed twice. I started Social Security widows benefit at age 60 after my first husband died. Eventually I remarried, continuing those benefits, until now at age 65 was widowed for a second time. The SSA representative said I could receive a larger benefit amount from my second husband now or wait for an even higher amount at age 66. Please explain this.

A: It was excellent that this person contacted Social Security to learn about possible benefits. Social Security representatives can provide options to consider based on personal information you provide, but the decision is yours. Ask questions until you understand your options.

A person can be eligible for benefits on more than one Social Security work record. For this question, survivors benefits are possible through the work records of two deceased husbands. More routine examples are people who are eligible for retirement through their own work record and that of a spouse or through their own retirement and a suvivors record as widow or widower. When eligible on more than one record, combined benefit amounts will equal the highest individual benefit amount.

Age 60 is the earliest a widow or widower can start Social Security survivors benefits based on age. The younger you start, the larger the reduction. As with SSA retirement benefits, each month of delay in starting provides a larger monthly amount, but only up to when you reach your survivors full retirement age (FRA). Survivors FRA’s are different from retirement FRA’s.

For example, when started at age 60 the monthly reduction in survivors benefits is about 28.5 percent so this woman receives about 71.5 percent of the maximum survivors benefit amount on her first husband’s record.

Since she remarried after age 60, SSA survivors benefits through her first husband continued. These benefits cannot be paid if a person remarries before age 60, unless that marriage ends. Although possible, for simplicity it is being assumed that she did not receive SSA benefits as a spouse through her second husband’s work record.

Based on the question, she is younger than her full retirement age (FRA) for survivors benefits and SSA benefits from her second husband’s work record will be higher than those already being received.

Effective with the month of the second husband’s death, one option she has is to begin widow’s benefits through his work record immediately. These would be reduced for age. If exactly age 65, she would receive about 95.3 percent of the full amount.

Another option is that she could continue receiving only the widows benefit through her first husbands record and delay starting benefits through the second husband until she was older. That benefit amount would increase with each month of delay up to FRA when she would receive 100 percent of the amount payable through his record.

People of all ages receive monthly Social Security survivors benefits. Learn more at www.socialsecurity.gov/survivorplan/survivors.htm

For Congressional staff and now You: learn about SSA disability

On May 27, 2014, Congressional staff learned about the Social Security disability program when Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, keynoted a Capitol Hill presentation by SSA executives.  

Now you can watch this presentation.

This was a teaching session, not a committee hearing.

Included were details about the growth, solvency and sustainability of the disability program by Stephen C. Goss, Chief Actuary, Social Security Administration.

Other sections were about who receives disability, basic eligibility requirements and the disability process including the initial claim and different levels of appeal.

You can watch the video of this teaching session or just see the slides used.

I urge you to take advantage of this opportunity. Information is easily understandable, without technical jargon. 

After introductions, Stephen Goss’s presentation begins at about 6:45 in the video. Other Social Security executives discussed program information after his portion until about 1:00:00 when audience questions began. The full video is about 1:17:34 in length with several guest introductions and comments included during the session.

Update: Social Security and same-sex marriages

Following is a Social Security press release dated June 20, 2014.

 Social Security Defines Policy for Same-Sex Married Couples

Agency Extends Benefits Broadly, Subject to Legal Constraints

Social Security has published new instructions that allow the agency to process more claims in which entitlement or eligibility is affected by a same-sex relationship. These instructions come in response to last year’s Supreme Court decision in U.S. vs. Windsor, which found Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. 

This latest policy development lets the agency recognize some non-marital legal relationships as marriages for determining entitlement to benefits. These instructions also allow Social Security to begin processing many claims in states that do not recognize same-sex marriages or non-marital legal relationships.  We have consulted with the Department of Justice and determined that the Social Security Act requires the agency to follow state law in Social Security cases. The new policy also addresses Supplemental Security Income claims based on same-sex relationships.

As with previous same-sex marriage policies, we worked closely with the Department of Justice,” said Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security. “We are bound by the law within the Social Security Act, and we have to respect state laws.  We remain committed to treating all Americans fairly, with dignity, and respect.”

If a person believes he or she may be entitled to or eligible for benefits, they are encouraged to apply now.

To learn more, please visit www.socialsecurity.gov/same-sexcouples.

 

Family benefits and SSA disability

Q: If a mother is receiving Social Security disability benefits, should her twelve year old son receive benefits too?

A: If a parent with eligible family members, including children, receives Social Security disability, then family benefits are usually payable but this is not always the case.

The total dollar amount payable to family members is based on the earnings record of the person receiving the Social Security benefits. If the person’s earnings history is very low, there is a possibility that family benefits cannot be paid even if there are otherwise eligible family members. This is not the usual situation but it does exist.

Assuming benefits can be paid on behalf of a child, the Social Security Administration would select a person or organization, called a representative payee, to receive the funds. Generally a family member, preferably a parent with custody, is selected as payee.

Note that disability benefits from the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program do not have family benefits. SSI is only for the person having the disability. SSI is an income based program for people over age 65 and disabled adults or children. SSI is administered by the Social Security Administration but very different from SSA benefits.