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/

 

Mid-year retirement and the annual earnings test

Q: I have been working all year and will retire soon. Does Social Security start counting my wages with the day I start retirement or from the beginning of the year? Can I start Social Security retirement now or must I wait until 2015 due to my earnings? 

A: If you are at least age 62 and meet all requirements, start Social Security retirement when you want, whether this year after you retire, in 2015, or some other time.  

Your question refers to the annual retirement earnings test. Earnings for the retirement test include your calendar year gross wages and net income from self-employment. Other income is not included for the earnings test. 

People retire all during the year. Since those retiring mid-year might have already earned over earnings test levels for the year, there is a special one-time rule, usually used during the first year of retirement, that lets people receive Social Security retirement benefits based on monthly earnings. Using this one-time exception, you should be able to start SSA retirement when you retire despite your total earnings for this year.

Based on this one-time rule, a person retiring in 2014, at least age 62 but younger than full retirement age the entire year, can receive Social Security retirement for months that gross wages do not exceed $1,290 even though overall calendar year earnings are far above retirement test amounts. Slightly different rules apply for self-employment.   

Earnings test amounts for 2015 are not yet known, but 2014 information is here 

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

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.

 

If delayed, to what age do SSA survivors benefits increase?

Q: My husband and I both worked so each of us received our individual Social Security retirement, although his amount was more. I was age 64 when he died a year ago but decided to delay starting SSA survivors benefits as a widow to wait for a higher amount. Until what age will they keep increasing if I wait?

A: Differences exist between retirement and survivors Social Security benefits but, as with retirement, the younger you are when starting survivors benefits based on age, the larger the reduction. Reductions are based on the number of months away from full retirement age (FRA) a person is. Survivors FRA is different from retirement FRA. For example, for birth years 1945 – 1956, the survivors FRA is age 66 compared to birth years 1943 – 1954 for retirement FRA age 66.

Another big difference is that age based survivors benefits to widows or widowers can start at age 60, compared to age 62 for retirement benefits.

Coming to your question, unlike retirement delayed retirement credits, survivors benefits do not continue increasing if you wait past full retirement age. There is no point in waiting past your survivors FRA to start widows benefits through your husbands work record because they will not continue increasing just because you are older. Of course, you can start to receive them earlier, with a reduction, if desired. 

Along with your age, the widow’s amount will depend on your husband’s retirement amount. By waiting until full retirement age, this will be approximately what he had received, with the total reached by adding the increase from the widows to your existing retirement benefit.  

Since applications for SSA survivors benefits are not yet online, make an appointment with Social Security about two months before you want to start them. Do this by calling the national SSA toll-free number 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778). You already proved your birthdate for your retirement application but will need to show proof of marriage to your husband now.  

More about Social Security survivors benefits is at www.socialsecurity.gov/pgm/survivors.htm.

 

Does receiving SSA disability reduce future survivors benefits?

Q: If a person receiving Social Security disability since his 50’s dies at age 68, does the fact that he started receiving Social Security long before retirement age reduce the survivors benefits to his widow?

In other words, are survivor benefits less because the deceased received Social Security disability rather than retirement?

A: No. The monthly amount received by the deceased based on his or her work record, not the type of Social Security benefit involved, is the important factor in computing the amount of a survivors benefit.

People eligible for Social Security disability based on their own work record do not have their monthly payment amounts reduced for age.

Anyway, even if the Social Security benefits were originally established based on disability, once a beneficiary attains their retirement full retirement age, his or her disability benefits are transferred to retirement. This is for administrative simplicity, without any change in benefits to the person. At age 68, this man would have been older than his full retirement age.

Always contact Social Security to ask about possible benefits when there is a death in the family.  

More about Social Security survivors benefits is online at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/pgm/survivors.htm.

More about creating your my Social Security account

Q: My daughter tried to create a my Social Security account to see her work record and get family estimates but could not because her address did not match a credit report address shown for her. She moved frequently over the last several years and does not know what address was needed. Can this be fixed?

A: Yes. The Social Security Administration puts lots of effort into protecting the identity and electronic records of our public. Usually these efforts do not create inconvenience but, unfortunately, this time they did. An overview of methods used to verify and protect a person’s identity are in the my Social Security section at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount/.

In summary, creating a my Social Security account involves use of routine ID questions from SSA records and several others provided by the Experian credit firm. The credit firm questions are a security feature since the answers are less likely to be known except by the actual person.

Social Security does not keep an address database except for people currently receiving benefits so the address question seen by your daughter would be from the credit firm. As in your daughter’s attempt, online registration cannot be completed if all information provided fails to completely match available records. She can still complete her my Social Security registration by visiting a Social Security office and presenting current photo ID. An appointment is not required.

Having a security freeze or credit alert on your Experian credit report also prevents you from creating a my Social Security account online. In this case you can either temporarily unblock your credit report to create your my Social Security account online, or you can retain the block and visit a Social Security office with photo  ID to have a representative help you.

People not yet receiving Social Security benefits can use their my Social Security account to get their SSA Statement with retirement, survivors and disability estimates and view their earnings record as it is on SSA records. They can also receive information about previously received benefits. Through my Social Security, people receiving a Social Security benefit can request a letter to verify the amount as well as update their address and direct deposit bank information for those benefits.