Fast Facts & Figures About Social Security, 2015

FastFacts2015-2 The new Fast Facts & Figures About Social Security, 2015 booklet is now available.

I like this booklet. Perhaps you will too.

Issued annually, this short booklet answers frequently asked questions about the programs administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA). It highlights basic program data for the Social Security retirement, survivors, and disability (OASDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs.

Tables and charts illustrate the range of program beneficiaries, from the country’s oldest to its youngest citizens. In all, about 64.2 million people received some type of Social Security benefit or SSI assistance in 2014.

Different topics are easily tabbed for your interest. All are worth your time. In particular, see the “Relative Importance of Social Security” chart in the “Income of the Aged Population” section.




Social Security & SSI payment dates for 2016

Payment dates for Social Security benefits and the separate Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program have been a very popular topic ever since I started these posts.

The 2016 schedule of payment dates is now available for viewing or downloading as a pdf file at

Most people starting Social Security since 1997 receive routine benefits on one of four days throughout the month: on the third of the month and on the second, third and fourth Wednesdays of the month. What day will yours arrive?

With several exceptions, Social Security payment dates now depend 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 is usually 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.

As noted on the 2016 schedule, 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.

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

 A link to the 2016 calendar has been added to my Areavoices homepage blogroll.


Social Security by State and ZIP Code

On August 17, I wrote that the annual publication “OASDI Beneficiaries by State and County” had been released with information as of December 2014. OASDI is Social Security retirement (old-age), survivors and disability insurance benefits. With other information, that publication presents Social Security program data on the number and type of beneficiaries and the amount of benefits paid in each state and county.

Now this data is available at the postal ZIP Code level in another publication, OASDI Beneficiaries by State and ZIP Code, 2014, released this week.

It contains program data on the number and type of beneficiaries and the amount of benefits paid in each state, Social Security Administration field office, and ZIP Code. It also shows the number of men and women aged 65 or older receiving benefits. See the publication “Notes” section for more about this information.

Now you can see the importance of Social Security to your state, county and ZIP code.2014-SSA-zipcode

Widow benefit amounts

Q: If you start widow’s benefits at age 60, you get a lesser amount. Does it go up as you get older?

A: Before getting to the question, I want to clarify that Social Security survivors benefits can be received by a widow or widower much younger than age 60. People die at all ages and different Social Security survivors benefits can apply in different situations.

For example, survivors benefits can be payable to much younger widows or widowers if children are involved. Benefits can be paid at age 50 to a disabled widow or widower. Based on age, 60 is the youngest age to start Social Security survivors benefits as a widower or widow. The booklet “Survivors Benefits” provides an overview of benefits.

Always contact Social Security when there is a death in the family to discuss possible benefits for now or in the future.

A Social Security survivors benefit amount is based on the earnings of the person who died. The more he or she paid into Social Security, the higher survivors benefits would be. The monthly amount you would get is a percentage of the deceased’s basic Social Security benefit. It depends on your age and the type of survivors benefit received.

When you start Social Security survivors benefits based on age at 60, the amount is permanently reduced, other than any cost of living increases, because you are starting benefits when younger than your survivors full retirement age (FRA).

Survivors full retirement ages are different from retirement FRA but the process is similar. The percentage of benefit received depends on how many months you are away from FRA when starting benefits. Each month of delay provides a higher benefit. As with retirement, the choice is to take a smaller benefit for potentially a longer time or a higher benefit for a shorter number of years.

Using the chart for survivors full retirement age of 66, for birth years 1945 – 1956, some approximate percentages of the maximum survivors benefit for different starting ages are:

  • Age 60: 71.5% because you get benefits for 72 months before FRA.
  • Age 62: 81.0% because you get benefits for 48 months before FRA.
  • Age 65: 95.3% because you get benefits for 12 months before FRA.

The Social Security survivors homepage has more information and links to the Survivors Planner section.

Consider your options before starting benefits, especially if you will also be eligible to receive your own Social Security retirement. For example, you could start the smaller of these benefits at a reduced rate and then, when older, such as at full retirement age, switch to the other benefit type at an unreduced rate.

Survivors estimates are not available online. If you do not receive Social Security benefits now, you can estimate potential survivors benefits for your family through your work record by creating a my Social Security account and viewing your Statement.


Will marriage change my Social Security?

Q: Will marriage change my Social Security benefits?

A: Remember that these articles provide general information and the answer to such a broad question varies with the type of Social Security benefits received. To learn about your actual benefits, contact Social Security and have a representative check your record.

Marriage will not change Social Security retirement or disability benefits from your own work record because they are based largely on your personal work history over many years and age when starting retirement or becoming disabled. Amounts received by husband or wife through their personal work records do not affect what the other receives.

Do you receive Social Security benefits as a divorced spouse? If a divorced spouse remarries, he or she generally cannot collect benefits on the record of the former spouse unless the later marriage ends.

If you receive Social Security survivors benefits as a widow or widower, your age at remarriage makes a difference in the answer. Widow or widowers of many ages receive Social Security survivor benefits. In general, if you remarry after you reach age 60 (age 50 if disabled), remarriage will not affect your eligibility for survivors benefits. For example, remarriage could end Social Security survivors benefits to a widow at age 40 but not to the same person at age 61. Social Security benefits to a surviving divorced spouse follow this age difference too.

Children can receive Social Security benefits through the work record of a parent. With rare exception, these Social Security benefits end if the child marries.

In addition to Social Security retirement, survivors and disability benefits, the Social Security Administration is also responsible for the very different, need based, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. Since household income is used to compute SSI amounts, marriage could change monthly amounts.

One-time monthly earnings test rule


Q: I plan to retire in September at age 63. If I have earned over $17,000 so far this year, can I still start Social Security when I retire?

A: Yes, a person can receive Social Security when they retire even if having high earnings up to retirement.

This question is about the annual earnings test, also known as the retirement test.

Gross wages or net self-employment above earnings limits in a year can reduce Social Security payable during the year. The amounts vary based on your age compared to full retirement age (FRA), which is age 66 for birth years 1943 – 1954. Earnings limits end with the month you reach FRA. For a person younger than FRA all year, the 2015 earnings limit before benefit reduction is $15,720.

People retire all during the year and many have earned over annual earnings limits before then. For them, a one-time special earnings limit rule lets Social Security be paid for months of actual retirement even if calendar year earnings are high.

Earnings test information for 2016 should be available during October.

Including earnings test amounts, lots of SSA retirement planning information is on the Social Security website,, in the Retirement Benefits section and especially in the Retirement Planner area at

Different calculators are in the Retirement Planner section for your use. One of these is an “earnings test calculator” to help you see how your earnings may affect your benefit payments if you are currently working and are eligible for retirement or survivors benefits this year.


No one knows about a 2016 COLA yet

Articles guessing about a Social Security cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for next year are starting to appear.

No matter what you read or hear, no one knows 2016 COLA information yet and no one will know until approximately mid-October. Last year, Social Security announced 2015 COLA details on October 22, 2014.

COLAs for Social Security benefits are based on the percentage increase in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W) from the third quarter of the last year a COLA was determined to the third quarter of the current year.

The CPI-W is determined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Department of Labor. By law, it is the official measure used by the Social Security Administration to calculate COLAs.

The third quarter of the year ends September 30. Until CPI-W information is available, any cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) amount mentioned for next year is a guess.




Receiving Social Security? Is your earnings estimate accurate?

Q: I am 64, work part-time and receive Social Security retirement. In 2015, I will earn more than expected. Should I update my earnings estimate with Social Security?

A: You probably should but it depends on what your original estimate was and what your current estimate is.

Gross wages or net self-employment earnings in a year can reduce benefits for the year until full retirement age (FRA). If expecting earnings over the 2015 limits for your age, update your earnings estimate now.

At age 64, which is younger than your FRA, the 2015 earnings limit is $15,720. Earnings over this will reduce benefits. Lower earnings will not.

If your current 2015 earnings estimate is over $15,720, you should definitely contact Social Security and update your estimate. On the other hand, if you originally expected to earn $10,000, but will actually earn $14,000, an updated estimate is not needed because both amounts are less than the $15,720 limit for 2015 and neither would reduce benefits payable this year.

Earnings test amounts vary based on your age compared to your full retirement age. Details about 2015 earnings limits for different ages are in the SSA retirement planner section,, and in publication 05-10069, How Work Affects Your Benefits, also in that section. Pensions and other non-employment income do not count for the earnings test.

If younger than full retirement age for all or part of the year, keeping your estimated calendar year earnings current with Social Security is important if you expect to earn over the earnings limit. This is especially so if your original estimate was below the limit and you will actually earn over it. You can update your estimate anytime during the year.

If you will earn more than originally estimated, and the amount is above your earnings test limit, updating your estimate now can prevent or reduce the chance of your being incorrectly paid and needing to refund money to Social Security.

If you originally expected to earn above your 2015 earnings test amount limit, but will really earn less, updating your estimate now can release any withheld benefits to you faster.

If your final earnings this year are over the annual limit for your age, report actual 2015 amounts directly to Social Security when you get your W-2 form, or if self-employed when you complete your taxes. This is different from tax filings.

The earnings test can apply to anyone younger than full retirement age if receiving Social Security benefits that are not based on their own disability. Separate rules apply to people receiving benefits because of their own disability. If working, they should contact Social Security for information.

Earnings test information for 2016 should be available during October.

See “What You Need To Know When You Get Retirement or Survivors Benefits” for other things to report. Call Social Security nationally at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY-1-800-325-0778) or contact your local office to report changes including your earnings estimate.

Bad things only happen to other people

Of course you have heard the saying “Bad things only happen to other people.” However, we are all “other people” to everyone else.

This brings me to the reminder that Social Security is much more than retirement. Nationally, about 10 percent of SSA monthly benefits go to survivors of all ages due to a death in the family and about 19 percent go to disabled workers and their families.

You can obtain both survivor and disability estimates on your record by creating a personal, pin and password protected, my Social Security account at and viewing your Social Security Statement.

Hoping that you never need this information is different from planning in case you, or your family, do.

Learn more about Social Security disability and survivors benefits now. Make that information part of your family financial planning.

Then you can tell other people about them.

Social Security benefits by state and county

The annual publication “OASDI Beneficiaries by State and County” was recently released with information as of December 2014. OASDI is the Social Security retirement, survivors and disability benefits.

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. … “ 

As of December 2014, approximately 18.5 percent of the United States population received a monthly Social Security benefit with about 91 percent of people aged 65 or older receiving benefits.

How many people receive Social Security benefits in your state?

In your county?

How much money does that involve?

Find out here. For a specific state and county as of December 2014, click on the state information. Then scroll down to Table 4 to seen the number of beneficiaries in that state, with individual county data. Scroll down to Table 5 for the amount of benefits involved. Note that amounts are shown in thousands of dollars. 2014-SSA-state&county