By Bob Trotter Social Security Public Affairs Specialist in Milwaukee, WI
KEEPING SOCIAL SECURITY UPDATED PREVENTS UNWANTED SURPRISES
Most people love surprises, but many dislike change. It’s just the opposite with Social Security. If you receive benefits, we want to hear about your changes.
Keeping us informed minimizes the chance that we learn about something later that could negatively affect your benefits. That’s the surprise no one wants, because it creates overpayments that you must repay, disrupts payments, and can even jeopardize your entitlement to Social Security benefits.
Here is a reminder of some of the most common forms of information Social Security needs from you.
Your address and direct deposit information. We need to know your current mailing address and phone number so we can reach you if needed. This is especially important if you receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) since where you live can change the amount of your SSI benefits.
When your direct deposit information is not current, it can cause headaches with missing or delayed payments. You can update your address or direct deposit information when you register for a my Social Security account at www.socialsecurity. gov/myaccount.
Your work. When you receive Social Security disability benefits or SSI for a disability, we have found you unable to work because of your condition. That’s why we need to know if you take a job or are self-employed, or if you stop work or have any changes in work hours, or pay. If your work is substantial enough, it may affect your benefits. You may also need to report if you begin receiving or have a change in any worker’s compensation or public disability benefits.
If you are receiving retirement or survivors benefits, be mindful of the yearly earnings limit before you reach Full Retirement Age (FRA), which is currently 67 years old if you were born in 1960 or later. For 2015, the earnings limit is $15,720. When you earn over this amount, we deduct $1 in benefits for every $2 you earn. That means if you earn $30,000, we will have to reduce your benefits by roughly $7,000. It’s very important to give us a work estimate at the start of the year so that we can withhold what’s needed. If we find out you had excess earnings at a later date, you could end up with a large overpayment that you will have to repay.
Your living arrangements for SSI. To receive SSI you must demonstrate financial need, in addition to meeting other requirements. Living arrangements may change how much money you receive. Social Security needs to know how many people are in your household and how expenses are shared. We also need to know if you receive any payments from other sources, and if you have savings that go over the SSI resource limit ($2,000 for an individual or $3,000 for a couple).
You can learn more about reporting responsibilities for people working and receiving disability or SSI benefits by reading our online publication Working While Disabled — How We Can Help and How Work Affects Your Benefits at www.socialsecurity. gov/pubs.
Some changes can be reported online at www.socialsecurity.gov. You can also notify us 1-800-772-1213 or contact your local Social Security office.
Our goal at Social Security is to pay you the right amount, on time, every month. With your cooperation to keep us informed of changes, the likelihood of any unpleasant surprises that could derail your benefits will be greatly minimized.
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SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY HELPS PEOPLE WHO WORK
People with disabilities are challenged with both overcoming barriers and with convincing others that those barriers do not define them.
That’s why we wanted to mark this October’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month by reminding you that Social Security is an earned benefit for millions of disabled individuals, and we can assist them in going back to work.
The Social Security disability insurance program, or SSDI, is perhaps the most misunderstood program of Social Security. Some people may think that SSDI recipients have never worked and are taking advantage of the system by receiving money for minor impairments.
Nothing could be further from the truth. First, anyone who qualifies for SSDI must have worked enough to pay into the system and be “insured.” Second, Social Security has some of the strictest requirements in the world for disability benefits. To qualify, a person must not only have an impairment that will last one year or more, or result in death, but they must be unable to perform any substantial work.
Consequently, Social Security disability beneficiaries are some of the most severely impaired people in the country, and they greatly depend on their benefits. You can learn more by visiting the Faces and Facts website at www.socialsecurity. gov/disabilityfacts. At the website, you will find many personal stories of those who have benefitted from Social Security when they needed it most.
We also have incentives that give beneficiaries with disabilities — who are able — the opportunity to return to work. These work incentives include continued cash benefits for a period of time while you work, continued Medicare or Medicaid coverage, and help with education, training, and rehabilitation to start a new line of work. In some cases, we may even be able to deduct certain impairment-related work expenses from your countable income, making it possible to earn more and also remain eligible to receive benefits. Examples of these expenses are wheelchairs, transportation costs, and specialized equipment needed for work.
Social Security also offers the Ticket to Work program, which gives participants a “ticket” to go back to work while keeping their disability benefits. This program is free and voluntary. Ticket to Work gives access to an employment network, which offers assistance with job searches and placement, and vocational rehabilitation and training.
Those who enroll find the Ticket to Work program makes it easier to explore whether going back to work is right for them. Some even find that they are able to eventually get back to work and earn far more than the disability payments they once received.
Visit www.socialsecurity.gov/work for more information on the Ticket to Work program and work incentives. You may also call 1- 866-968-7842 (TDD 866-833-2967).
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RECOGNIZING LGBT HISTORY MONTH
October is National Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Month. This month is intended to encourage honesty and openness about being LGBT. First celebrated in 1994 to coincide with National Coming Out Day, the month has evolved to include a more diverse range of people identifying as LGBT.
On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court issued a decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, holding that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry in all states. As a result, more same-sex couples will be recognized as married for purposes of determining entitlement to Social Security benefits or eligibility for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments.
Since a previous Supreme Court decision in 2013, Social Security has been able to recognize some same-sex marriages and non-marital legal same-sex relationships for purposes of determining entitlement to or eligibility for benefits. We also consider same-sex marriage when processing claims for SSI. Marriage may affect your SSI eligibility or payment amount.
We’re working closely with the Department of Justice to develop and implement policy and processing instructions to implement the June 26, 2015 Supreme Court decision. As we have additional information, we’ll update our website and issue instructions to our staff. You can read more about important information for same-sex couples at www.socialsecurity.gov/people/same- sexcouples.
In the meantime, if you’re a spouse, divorced spouse, or surviving spouse of a same-sex marriage or non-marital legal same- sex relationship, we encourage you to apply right away for benefits. Applying now will preserve your filing date, which will protect you against the loss of any potential benefits.
If you have any questions about how to apply for benefits, call toll-free 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778). We can answer specific questions from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday. Generally, you’ll have a shorter wait time if you call during the week after Tuesday. We treat all calls confidentially.
MAKE YOUR FUTURE A GOOD ONE WITH THE RETIREMENT ESTIMATOR
In 1985, after making it back to the future from 1955, Marty joined Doc for a drive 30 years into the future. That future is now.
If the alternate 2015 of the Back to the Future film series were accurate, we’d be easing along on hover boards, navigating skyways in flying cars, and enjoying the luxuries of self-lacing sneakers and self-fitting jackets.
In that imagined 2015, we conduct business by fax and watch multiple channels of entertainment on the wall.
In some ways, the real 2015 is far more advanced than the imagined one of the movies. You don’t see any computers or online services in the movie — let alone the computers most of us carry around with us in the form of smart phones and tablets.
In the real 2015, you can do a far better job of predicting your own future. Just visit the Retirement Estimator at www.socialsecurity. gov/estimator. With the Retirement Estimator, you can plug in some basic information to get an instant, personalized estimate of your future benefits. Different choices in life can alter the course of your future, so try out different scenarios such as higher and lower future earnings amounts and various retirement dates to get a good prediction of how such things can change your future benefit amounts.
As Doc said in the final moments of the film series, no one’s future has been written yet. “Your future is what you make it. So make it a good one.”
With the information you get from the Retirement Estimator, you’ll have a better idea of what types of savings and pensions you may need, and at what age you should consider retiring — to make your future the best it can be.
You don’t need a converted DeLorean or flux capacitor or even a team of creative filmmakers to predict your future. Just visit the Retirement Estimator at www.socialsecurity.gov/estimator.
THIS INTERNATIONAL SKEPTICS DAY, CHECK YOUR SOCIAL SECURITY STATEMENT
International Skeptics Day falls in October, making it a month of second-guessing and, hopefully, getting to the truth of the matter. At Social Security, we believe that a healthy bit of skepticism encourages you to get the facts.
We have created an easy way to cast aside doubt about Social Security, and you can access this resource any time of the year, day or night. You can clear any amount of skepticism you might have about your Social Security earnings by creating a safe and secure my Social Security account at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount.
With a my Social Security account, you can instantly check your Social Security Statement. Financial experts have said that your Statement is “… probably the most crucial financial planning document for every American.”
By thoroughly checking your Social Security Statement, you can make sure each year that your work was correctly documented. This will ensure you get a correct Social Security benefit when you start collecting.
There are many other valuable features of my Social Security that will stave off that skepticism. You can: • Keep track of your earnings and verify them every year; • Get an estimate of your future benefits if you are still working; • Get a letter with proof of your benefits if you currently receive them; and • Manage your benefits: o Change your address; o Start or change your direct deposit; o Get a replacement Medicare card; and o Get a replacement SSA-1099 or SSA-1042S for tax season. If you do find a discrepancy on your Statement, you will need to collect the proper documentation from your employer to correct any misinformation and submit it to Social Security. For detailed instructions, you can access the publication How to Correct Your Social Security Earnings Record at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs.
GENERAL Question: I applied for my child's Social Security card in the hospital but have not received it. How long does it take?
Answer: In most states it takes an average of three weeks to get the card, but in some states it can take longer. If you have not received your child's card in a timely manner, please visit your local Social Security office. Be sure to take proof of your child’s citizenship, age, and identity as well as proof of your own identity. And remember, we cannot divulge your child’s Social Security number over the phone. Learn more at www.socialsecurity.gov.
Question: Is it illegal to laminate your Social Security card?
Answer: No, it is not illegal, but we discourage it. It’s best not to laminate your card. Laminated cards make it difficult — sometimes even impossible — to detect important security features and an employer may refuse to accept them. The Social Security Act requires the Commissioner of Social Security to issue cards that cannot be counterfeited. We incorporate many features that protect the card’s integrity. They include highly specialized paper and printing techniques, some of which are visible to the naked eye. Keep your Social Security card in a safe place with your other important papers. Do not carry it with you. Learn more at www. socialsecurity.gov.
Question: I have two minor children at home and I plan to retire this fall. Will my children be eligible for monthly Social Security benefits after I retire?
Answer: Monthly Social Security payments may be made to your children if: • They are unmarried and under age 18; • Age 18 or 19 and still in high school; or • Age 18 or older, became disabled before age 22, and continue to be disabled. Children who may qualify include a biological child, adopted child, or dependent stepchild. (In some cases, your grandchild also could be eligible for benefits on your record if you are supporting them.) For more information, see our online publication, Benefits For Children, at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs.
Question: Can I delay my retirement benefits and receive benefits as a spouse only? How does that affect me?
Answer: It depends on your age. If you are full retirement age and your spouse is receiving Social Security benefits, you can choose to file and receive benefits on just your spouse's Social Security record and delay filing for benefits on your own record up until age 70. By filing for just benefits as a spouse, you may receive a higher retirement benefit on your own record later based on the effect of delayed retirement credits. You can earn delayed retirement credits up to age 70 as long as you do not collect your own benefits — and those credits can increase your benefit by as much as 8 percent for each year you delay. You can use our online Retirement Estimator to test out different scenarios. Go to www.socialsecurity.gov/estimator.
SUPPLEMENTAL SECURITY INCOME
Question: I saw a poster that advised people 65 or over with limited income and resources to apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Next month I'll turn 65, and I thought I'd be eligible for SSI. I planned to apply until my neighbor told me I probably would be turned down because I have children who could help support me. Is this true?
Answer: Whether your children are capable of helping to support you does not affect your eligibility. SSI eligibility depends solely on your income and resources (the things you own). If you have low income and few resources, you may be able to get SSI. However, if you are receiving support from your children or from anyone living inside or outside of your home, it may affect your eligibility or the amount you can receive. Support includes any food or shelter that is given to you, or is received by you because someone else pays for it. Learn more about SSI at www.socialsecurity.gov/ssi.
Question: I just got a notice from Social Security that said my Supplemental Security Income (SSI) case is being reviewed. What does this mean?
Answer: Social Security reviews every SSI case from time to time to make sure the individuals who are receiving payments should continue to get them. The review also determines whether individuals are receiving the correct amounts. You can learn more about SSI by visiting our website on the subject at www.socialsecurity.gov/applyfordisability.
Question: What is the difference between the disability application and the disability report? Do I have to complete both?
Answer: A disability application is a claim for Social Security disability benefits. A disability report provides information about your current physical or mental condition that we need to process your disability application. To establish a claim for disability benefits, you need to file a disability application, submit a disability report, and provide an authorization to release medical records. The best place to start is at www.socialsecurity.gov/applyfordisability.
Question: I’ve been turned down for disability benefits. How do I appeal?
Answer: When we make a decision on your application, we will send you a letter explaining our decision. If you do not agree with our decision, you can appeal. Appealing means you can ask us to look at your case again. You must appeal within 60 days from the date you got our decision letter. You can:
File a disability appeal online at www.socialsecurity.gov/disability/appeal and provide documents to support your request electronically. You can file an appeal online even if you live outside of the United States; or • Visit your local Social Security office. For more information, call us at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778), Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Question: How do I apply for Extra Help with Medicare prescription drug plan costs?
Answer: You have several options for applying. You can: • Apply online by visiting www.socialsecurity.gov/medicare/prescriptionhelp; • Call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) to apply over the phone or request an application; or • Apply at any local Social Security office. Anyone who has Medicare can get Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage. Some people with limited resources and income are eligible for Extra Help to pay for the costs—monthly premiums, annual deductibles, and prescription co–payments—related to a Medicare prescription drug plan. Learn more at www.socialsecurity.gov/medicare. # # #