Saturday, September 28, 2013

Easy to Get Benefit Estimates

Susan from Ohio, who is now age 61, wants to know how much her social security benefits will be if she retires at 65 (note that this will be a reduced benefit because full retirement age is currently age 66).  It is very easy to request a benefit estimate. You can either go to your local SS office to request it in person (this usually requires a large amount of waiting time in urban areas), you can call, you can mail a written request to the local office, or you can request it online, although you will have to set up an account if you want a Social Security Statement of your actual earnings record.  

The Statement will not be provided immediately.  Expect to wait a month or two.  You will receive a Social Security Statement of your earnings record which will include the estimate.  Make sure you review this to confirm that the reported earnings are accurate, because the amount of your benefits will be calculated based on your earnings.  You can correct errors, but ordinarily you can’t go back more than 4 years.

If you want immediate information, you can get  rough estimates online at the Social Security website. See below for details.

Here are links you may find helpful:

Online Quick Calculator (rough estimate)

The Online page to make an account to manage your benefits, including a request for a Social Security Statement:

Phone Number  1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778)

The Social Security Office Locator:

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Remarriage by Widow/Surviving Divorced Wife No Problem (After age 60)

Diane from Utah asks about whether her social security benefits she receives on her ex-husband’s account as a surviving divorced wife will be reduced if she remarries. 

She explains her situation this way “I began receiving social security survivor benefits from my first husband in April of 2013 following my 60th birthday. My first husband died in the year 2000 and I was married to him for 20 years. I had previously divorced him in 1997.

"My current significant other has an insurance plan through his employer and I have a concern as to whether marriage to him would decrease any social security benefits that I am receiving now.

"He is not receiving any social security benefits at the present time as he is only 45 years old. I would greatly appreciate your input regarding this matter.”

Well Diane I am hearing wedding bells! I am happy to advise you that you can go ahead and make your young beau an honest man without worry.  Your remarriage will have absolutely no effect on your benefits because you have passed your 60th birthday.  Remarriage after that milestone is disregarded by Social Security both for widow’s benefits and, as in your case, surviving divorced wife’s benefits. 
And by the way, you had good timing here, because if you had remarried before you turned 60, you would not have been eligible when you applied earlier this year

N.B for disabled widows and disabled surviving divorced wives: for you age 50 is the free- remarriage milestone and you can apply for benefits as well at age 50.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Homeschool Students May Qualify For SS Child Benefits

Dennis of Missouri asks about whether or not a homeschooled child can be eligible for child benefits and what are the required documents.  A little background about student benefits: child benefits are terminated with the month the child turns age 18, unless he or she is a full time student in elementary or secondary school (not college), in which case the benefits can continue as long as the child is under age 19.  Social Security does recognize homeschooling as an educational institution if the state where the school is located recognizes the home school as an educational institution, and the Federal standards for full-time attendance are met, which usually means 20 hours per week (there can be exceptions for health) and at least 13 weeks duration of the course.  The program cannot be a correspondence course. And the home school must meet the requirements of state law.  The documentation for this must be obtained from the state and then presented to the Social Security Administration, which will want statements from the home school parent or teacher to establish the hours and duration of the course.  

Here is a link to the SSA's Programs Operations Manual about homeschooling:

I wish you the very best in your endeavors to educate your children in the best way.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Withholding SS Benefits to Recover VA Debt

Eleanor from upstate New York is having a financial hardship because Social Security is withholding money from her monthly disability checks to recover money she owes to the Veterans Administration. She explains her situation: "I am receiving benefits through SSD, I am a disabled and not able to work. My SSD payments are being garnished from Veteran's system now and it is causing an extreme financial hardship for me to maintain my rent, food, health, etc. I have requested a waiver for hardship through the VA with no response yet from them and the $ are still being deducted from my SSD benefits. Is there any way to stop these deductions to wait and see what the response is on the waiver for hardship?"

The unfortunate answer is no. Under the Debt Collection Improvement Act of 1996 the Social Security Administration must withhold up to 15% of the benefit payment amount from monthly SS benefits to collect delinquent debts owed to a federal agency. They call this the Benefit Payment Offset (BPO in bureaucratese) The benefit payment cannot be reduced to less than $750. The SSA has no authority to make exceptions because that is up to the creditor agency.

But there may be something available for a little bit of relief.  Depending on the individual circumstances, if the total monthly income is less than $797 for an individual living alone, or $976.48 for a couple in upstate New York, you may be eligible for a supplemental payment to bring your household income up to those levels. These payments would be made under the SSI program, or Supplemental Security Income, which is administered by the Social Security Administration. These SSI payments are not subject to the debt collection provisions, so it would behoove Eleanor to go to her local SS office to apply for SSI payments. It just might help, at least a little bit.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Baby Benefits

Larry from Alabama writes to ask if its true that newborn children can receive a benefit on a retiree's account.  Here's how he puts it: "I recently heard that if you are 65 or older and collecting social security as you only means of income; and you have a new born child; social security can or will provide you with a subsidy for your child. Do you know anything about this new program?"

Well Larry this is not a new program at all.  Since 1940 dependent benefits have been available for young children as well as wives and widows  (husbands were not included until much later).  But you must apply for the benefits asap because the application can be retroactive for only 6 months.  And in a rather quirky provision, no benefits are payable for the month of birth, unless the child was born on the first day of the month!  This is because a beneficiary must meet all the eligibility requirements "throughout the month" and one of the requirements is that the baby must be born to be eligible.  No prenatal benefits allowed!