Social Security and You from Creators Syndicate Creators Syndicate is an international syndication company that represents cartoonists and columnists of the highest caliber. en Wed, 21 Apr 2021 06:46:32 -0700 Social Security and You from Creators Syndicate ae0877913b416725a25724f6e75b9407 Spousal Benefits: What You Can and Cannot Do for 04/21/2021 Wed, 21 Apr 2021 00:00:00 -0700 <p>Before I even start, I'm going to address the gender issue. This column is about benefits available to spouses. However, I don't want to spend the whole column trying to be gender-neutral and using awkward combined pronouns like "he/she" or "him/her," or jumbled phrases like "benefits for husbands and/or wives." <span class="column--highlighted-text">Because statistics show that 90% of the people who get spousal benefits are women, I'm going to keep things simple and address this column to women. Or more specifically, to wives who are wondering what benefits they might be due on a husband's Social Security record.</span></p> <p>And two more caveats before I go on. In this column, I will be talking about benefits for wives &#8212; not widows. Different rules apply to widows benefits. They have been explained in past columns and will be explained in future columns. But today I will be addressing women whose husbands are still alive and kicking.</p> <p>And speaking of husbands, that's the other caveat. If you are a husband who happens to fall into that 10% cohort of men who get a smaller Social Security retirement benefit than their wives, then you possibly could be due husbands benefits on your wife's Social Security record. So, as you read this column, simply reverse the gender pronouns. <p>Updated: Wed Apr 21, 2021</p> 849a4cebae6374560f5f18c4b9d76620 The 3 Rules About Social Security Checks Everyone Should Know for 04/14/2021 Wed, 14 Apr 2021 00:00:00 -0700 <p>There are some basic facts about when and how Social Security checks are due and delivered that confuse many people. <span class="column--highlighted-text">To help you understand, here are three rules about getting Social Security checks that everyone needs to know.</span></p> <p>No. 1: Social Security benefits are paid one month behind. In other words, the benefit payment for May will be sent to you in June.</p> <p>No. 2: For most people, your Social Security benefit arrives in your bank account on the second, third or fourth Wednesday of each month. Although, some people, mostly old-timers, get their check on the third of each month.<p>Updated: Wed Apr 14, 2021</p> 8b02ac8869179ca9a8f1dc4b9a715e70 The Good Old Days of Social Security for 04/07/2021 Wed, 07 Apr 2021 00:00:00 -0700 <p>I've been writing a book for years now. It's not going to be a bestseller, and it only has to do with Social Security in a peripheral way. It's a history of my life, my wife's life and our lives together (about 47 years so far). I'm writing this collection of stories for my children and grandchildren and for their children and grandchildren. Some of them, no doubt, will find it boring. But I'm sure that a few of my descendants somewhere down the road will be fascinated by it. </p> <p>My wife and I have been amateur genealogists for years now. We can trace our families' histories back for many centuries. And we can tell you from experience that any kind of written family history is an absolute treasure trove. Both my wife and I had uncles who wrote journals, and we've learned so much by reading what they wrote down many decades ago. And the stories in those journals can be so fascinating. For example, you would be absolutely mesmerized by my Uncle Gene's recollections of his struggles as a Marine on Iwo Jima during World War II. (He was there when they raised the flag on Mount Suribachi. He just didn't get in the iconic picture that became one of the most famous photographs of the 20th century.)</p> <p><span class="column--highlighted-text">As a retired civil servant (and now a frumpy grandpa), I don't have any earth-shaking stories like that to share. After all, I spent a good chunk of my life helping people fill out boring old government forms to file for Social Security benefits. Nobody ever took a picture of me doing that and tried to turn it into a statue or a postage stamp! But I did have interesting experiences and a little bit of fun along the way. And I thought I'd share a couple Social Security-related stories with you today. </span><p>Updated: Wed Apr 07, 2021</p> b1c855bee55243435b63917b88329cd9 Social Security Disability: The Program Everyone Loves To Hate for 03/31/2021 Wed, 31 Mar 2021 00:00:00 -0700 <p>I was heading into a local grocery store the other day, and I noticed a few people gathered around a car parked in one of the spots reserved for people with disabilities. I heard someone yelling. As I got closer to the car, I saw an old guy ranting and raving at the driver of the car, a woman maybe in her mid-40s. There was a younger man in the passenger seat. I can't repeat the "colorful" language the guy was using. But here is a snippet of what I heard: "Why the @#$% are you parking in a handicapped spot? You don't have a sticker, and there's obviously nothing wrong with you!" </p> <p><span class="column--highlighted-text">The woman got out of her car. And with a totally unexpected air of quiet dignity, she calmly told this man: "My son has end-stage non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. He has about three months to live. I would think that for the last 90 days of his life, he ought to be able to park a little closer to the front door of this grocery store." </span></p> <p>The jerk slumped away muttering something unintelligible. The small crowd of people were booing him and actually started clapping for the driver of the car. It really was a touching moment.<p>Updated: Wed Mar 31, 2021</p> 2de5102f1926b299fa34ae5ce25cd2ae I Don't Get the Allure of Retroactive Benefits for 03/24/2021 Wed, 24 Mar 2021 00:00:00 -0700 <p>I just don't get people's fascination with the idea of getting retroactive retirement benefits from Social Security. I can understand that, on the surface, the idea of getting a big retroactive check from the government might sound like a financial windfall. But when you think it through, or at least when I think it through, it just doesn't make much sense.</p> <p>Before I get to today's questions, all of which deal with claiming retroactive benefits, I must make this general point about the issue. The law says you can claim up to six months' worth of retroactive benefits, as long as it doesn't involve the payment of any reduced Social Security benefits. Or to put that another way, no retroactive retirement benefits can be paid prior to your full retirement age. It's a different story when it comes to disability benefits. But today, I'm sticking with the retirement program.</p> <p>So anyway, readers are always asking me about the possibility of getting retroactive benefits. Here are some samples from this week's mailbag.<p>Updated: Wed Mar 24, 2021</p> 8674240aee922b50d7aa23960ce4e513 You Are Not Getting SSI. You Are Getting Social Security! for 03/17/2021 Wed, 17 Mar 2021 00:00:00 -0700 <p>Every single day, I get emails from readers that say things like this: "My wife and I are getting SSI. And we would like to ask you some questions." Or this: "My SSI check is $2,140 per month. My wife's SSI check is $1,800. Can she get any of my SSI?"</p> <p>You know the uncomfortable feeling you get when someone scratches their fingernails on a chalkboard? Well, that's how I feel when I get emails like this. Why does this bother me so? Because these folks are not getting SSI. They are getting Social Security benefits. And there is a HUGE difference, which I will explain.</p> <p>Most people know what Social Security is. You work. You pay taxes. And then, when you retire or become disabled, you start getting Social Security checks based on what you paid into the system. Or if you die, your widow, widower or minor children start getting monthly benefits &#8212; again, based on what you paid into Social Security during your working years.<p>Updated: Wed Mar 17, 2021</p> 9e6dff2b23041157438213b55ae0b53c Social Security -- It's Not Rocket Science for 03/10/2021 Wed, 10 Mar 2021 00:00:00 -0800 <p>I am constantly hearing from readers who comment on the perceived complexities of Social Security laws. They liken the program to something just shy of rocket science or brain surgery. And they marvel that I can keep up with "all the changing and complex rules and regulations."</p> <p>Well, I am no rocket scientist. Nor am I a brain surgeon. Not even close. I'm just a frumpy old retired Social Security Administration employee of average intellect who happens to know a little bit about the program's policies and how they affect you. I will elaborate on that point by answering this question I got from one of my readers.</p> <p>Q: How in the world do you keep up with all the changes to Social Security? You constantly amaze me with your knowledge of the subject! <p>Updated: Wed Mar 10, 2021</p> d410d91bd66680afa33b8c3c3f4f68e7 Don't Lose Sleep Over Future Cuts to Social Security for 03/03/2021 Wed, 03 Mar 2021 00:00:00 -0800 <p>Readers are always telling me they are worried about the future of Social Security. And they say they are inclined to file for Social Security benefits before they originally planned to because they are convinced benefits will be dramatically cut as part of any upcoming Social Security reform. They plan to do this because they want to be "grandfathered" into the current program. </p> <p>My advice: NEVER make a decision about when to file for benefits based on assumed future cuts to Social Security. Why? Because benefit cuts are rare and usually involve ancillary kinds of benefits. And when they are major and affect almost everyone, they are phased in over a long period of time.</p> <p>An example of the latter scenario is the increase in the retirement age from 65 to 67. That law was passed back in 1983 and didn't start going into effect until 2003. Beginning then, people born in 1938 had to be age 65 and 2 months to get full Social Security benefits. And the "full retirement age" has been going up in monthly increments ever since. It won't be fully implemented until 2027 when folks born in 1960 or later must be 67 to get full benefits.<p>Updated: Wed Mar 03, 2021</p> e12c25117628fcfeeca583568123e58a Retirement Benefit Calculation -- the Advanced Course for 02/24/2021 Wed, 24 Feb 2021 00:00:00 -0800 <p>There are two kinds of people in the world. Those who just want to know the time and those who want to take the clock apart to see how it works. I'm sure most of us fall into the first category. I sure do. But of course, there are always those who need to disassemble that clock, examine it and then try to put it back together. </p> <p>And when it comes to Social Security retirement benefits, there also are two kinds of people: those who just want to know what their benefit is going to be and those who want to know exactly how the government comes up with their retirement benefit calculation. </p> <p><span class="column--highlighted-text">But as I think about it, there is probably a third category of Social Security retirement benefit calculators. It is those people who want a general idea of how their benefit will be figured. They just don't need all the nitty-gritty details. I think most seniors fall into that category. </span><p>Updated: Wed Feb 24, 2021</p> 0f34211765b5fdbd20ce06e2bc097ec0 Decline in Social Security Staff Equals Decline in Social Security Service for 02/17/2021 Wed, 17 Feb 2021 00:00:00 -0800 <p></p><p>Imagine that you owned a successful business that was gaining 10,000 new customers every single day. And all the market projections said that trend would continue for many more years. Would you be hiring new staff and opening new outlets to keep up with the demand? Or would you be cutting back on employees, reducing office hours and closing facilities? </p> <p>If you were in the private sector, I guarantee you would be doing the former. But in the wacky world of government funding and operations, the latter is the norm.<p>Updated: Wed Feb 17, 2021</p> 0dcde93dad63be81f4892b1c4c2eb9f9 Seniors Obsess Over 'Maximizing' Their Social Security for 02/10/2021 Wed, 10 Feb 2021 00:00:00 -0800 <p>"I want to make sure we maximize our Social Security payments."</p> <p>"I am very concerned that we will make a wrong decision and leave Social Security money on the table."</p> <p>"My wife and I both took our benefits at 62. We are now in our 70s. Everyone I talk to says we made a huge mistake by starting our benefits early. I am so worried that we did something stupid."<p>Updated: Wed Feb 10, 2021</p> 802d935b78fd42b8d217edadc81928c7 No Social Security in Prison for 02/03/2021 Wed, 03 Feb 2021 00:00:00 -0800 <p>I was recently going through some old family photo albums with my grandkids. One album covered the reasonably short period of time we lived in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. In fact, we only lived there for about eight months. If you want to know why we didn't stay there very long, here's a clue: We moved there on Jan. 1, 1977, and the temperature that day never climbed above zero! And in August, it was pushing 100 degrees with oppressive humidity. We just weren't used to weather extremes like that. So we moved on to greener pastures (and a more temperate climate) the first chance we got.</p> <p>Anyway, that photo album had a picture of the South Dakota State Penitentiary. My grandkids asked why I had a picture of a prison in with all the other family and travel photos. And that's because I spent a fair amount of time there as part of my job with the Sioux Falls Social Security office. </p> <p>And if you are wondering why, let me start with a short history lesson. <p>Updated: Wed Feb 03, 2021</p> bd848940f95df67285bc7787738fe008 Social Security Is a Worldwide Phenomenon for 01/27/2021 Wed, 27 Jan 2021 00:00:00 -0800 <p>Most readers of my column are very nice and very normal people. Some are more progressive in their political thinking. And some are more conservative in their political thinking. But most of these folks, whether they lean left or lean right in their politics, generally agree that Social Security has been a force for good in this country.</p> <p>But then there are those whose politics are just a little to the right of Attila the Hun who hate Social Security. All I have to do is write something rather benign such as, "Social Security has helped some people in the United States." And these guys (and it's almost always guys) blast me with emails labeling me everything from a "socialist" to a "communist" to a "traitor."</p> <p>One recent email I got illustrates their views. He wrote, "Social Security is a deep-state plot to bring down the United States." What these guys just can't understand is that countries around the world recognize their citizens must come together as a caring society to provide some kind of base of support to older people; people with disabilities; and widows, widowers and orphaned children. And the mechanism all these countries use to make sure this happens is Social Security. <p>Updated: Wed Jan 27, 2021</p> 36e110c6c2d19f401740ec353f6017e3 The 'Spousal Bump' for 01/20/2021 Wed, 20 Jan 2021 00:00:00 -0800 <p>Recently, I've received emails from several readers who asked questions about something they call the "spousal bump." <span class="column--highlighted-text">It's a term I never heard before, and it made me chuckle. It sounds to me like some kind of "dirty dancing" move done by an old married couple in a shady nightclub!</span> I can just see a geezer and his wife thumping their rumps up against each other on a dance floor. But, of course, I know that's not what my readers are talking about. Instead, they are referring to the extra benefits a wife would get as a spouse on her husband's Social Security record. So, here are a couple of questions about the "spousal bump." </p> <p>Q: I turn my full retirement age, 66 and 2 months, in March 2021. I am scheduled to get $2,980 from Social Security if I file then. But everything I read and hear from so-called experts tells me to wait until 70 before I file for benefits. If I wait until then, I should get about $3,900 per month. One reason I am encouraged to do this is the extra widows benefits my wife would get, assuming I die first. She is also 66. She took her Social Security at 62. She only gets $550 per month. I have three questions. How much of a spousal bump would she get if I file now, at my full retirement age? I'm assuming it's half of my FRA benefit. How much would she get if I wait until age 70 to file? I'm assuming it's half of my age-70 rate. And finally, do you think I should file now or wait until 70?</p> <p>A: Well, first of all, your assumptions are wrong. Here is roughly how they will figure your wife's spousal benefits if you file at your full retirement age. They would take her full retirement rate and subtract that from one-half of your full retirement rate. The difference will be added to her reduced retirement benefit. So, let's put some numbers to that.<p>Updated: Wed Jan 20, 2021</p> 3ebcd55fdc51c608d9b9fb0d60ef05e8 More Questions About Widows Benefits for 01/13/2021 Wed, 13 Jan 2021 00:00:00 -0800 <p>Sometimes, when I write a column about a certain topic, that column seems to generate more questions than it answers. And that certainly was the case with a column I wrote about widows benefits just before the holidays. Ever since, my inbox has been crammed with emails from widows or about widows. And I even got some questions about benefits for widowers.</p> <p>Q: <span class="column--highlighted-text">You wrote an interesting column about widows benefits. But you didn't say anything about widowers. So, what about us guys? Can we get anything from Social Security if our wife dies first?</span></p> <p>A: Legally, men are due the very same kind of survivor benefits as women. But practically, it doesn't happen very often. Why? Because for a variety of reasons involving higher average salaries and longer working careers, a husband's Social Security retirement benefit is almost always higher than his wife's retirement benefit. And that means his potential widowers benefit (anywhere between 70% and 100% of his wife's retirement rate) is less than his own Social Security check. That's why men rarely get widowers benefits.<p>Updated: Wed Jan 13, 2021</p> 8aee574231ae3a2b39d11638a15022f4 Turning Full Retirement Age in 2021? Consider Filing for Benefits This Month. for 01/06/2021 Wed, 06 Jan 2021 00:00:00 -0800 <p>I write a column similar to this one every January. But I don't mind plagiarizing myself, because it contains a very important message for people planning to retire in 2021.</p> <p><span class="column--highlighted-text">January is a critical month for the hundreds of thousands of potential Social Security beneficiaries who are reaching 66 and 2 months, their so-called full retirement age, in 2021.</span> The important message: All of them should at least consider the possibility of filing for their benefits this month, even though they may not be reaching their retirement age until later in the year.</p> <p>Please note that if you want to delay filing for your Social Security benefits until 70 to get the "delayed retirement credit" of almost 32% added to your monthly benefits, then you should forgo the procedure discussed in this column. <p>Updated: Wed Jan 06, 2021</p> ee9a10533c6aba6bda4b01d042472449 Social Security Update for 2021 for 12/30/2020 Wed, 30 Dec 2020 00:00:00 -0800 <p>It has been my custom for most of the past 23 years to write a year-end column that summarizes the Social Security changes and updates scheduled to take place the following year. </p> <p><span class="column--highlighted-text">Almost all Social Security beneficiaries are familiar with the most popular and publicized upcoming change: the increase in monthly benefit checks for 2021 due to the automated cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA.</span> In fact, Social Security recipients have probably already received a letter from the Social Security Administration telling them of the expected increase. </p> <p>All Social Security checks are going up 1.3% in 2021. The COLA is based on something called the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers. This is the official measuring stick the SSA has used to determine COLAs for the past 46 years. If you want to learn more about this measure, check out the website of the folks who maintain it: the Bureau of Labor Statistics. You'll find them at<p>Updated: Wed Dec 30, 2020</p> 56da0143a8bd825e49b94bcebd45fb00 Full Retirement Age in 2021 and Beyond for 12/23/2020 Wed, 23 Dec 2020 00:00:00 -0800 <p>I know many people are saying, "Good riddance" to 2020, partly due to political turmoil but primarily due to the deadly COVID-19 virus. But as for me, I have been dreading 2021. Why? It has to do with the increase in the Social Security full retirement age. And therein lies a story.</p> <p>For the first half-century of the Social Security program, life was simple. You could wait until 65 to collect full benefits. Or you could take a reduced benefit as early as age 62. The term "full retirement age," or FRA, didn't exist and wasn't needed.</p> <p>But in the early 1980s, the Social Security program was reaching a financial crunch point. So, President Ronald Reagan, working with Congress, formed the bipartisan "National Commission on Social Security Reform." I got involved in some of their meetings &#8212; in a very minor role. And what was that role? Think "gofer" &#8212; as in: "Yes, Senator, would you like a cup of coffee? I'll see if I can get you one." But, hey, at least I was in some of the rooms where commission meetings were taking place.<p>Updated: Wed Dec 23, 2020</p> 7b9d8959af1a8c793c1716a372ee7a33 A Holiday Gift Idea: My New Social Security Book! for 12/16/2020 Wed, 16 Dec 2020 00:00:00 -0800 <p></p><p>First of all, let me wish a heartfelt happy holidays to all the wonderful readers of my column. I've heard from so many of you over the years. I've managed to help you understand Social Security a little bit better. And many of you have managed to brighten my days with your kind words about me and my column. </p> <p>Some of you are new to the column because it just recently began running in whatever newspaper or publication you read. But many of you have been reading it for years. In fact, just today, I got an email from a guy who told me that he and his wife have been reading my column for 20 years! <p>Updated: Wed Dec 16, 2020</p> 8f1c129666e501a83e6c8d8813bd137b Benefits for Widows for 12/09/2020 Wed, 09 Dec 2020 00:00:00 -0800 <p>I get a lot of emails from women who have questions about the widows benefits they are already getting. Or they have questions about the widows benefits they think they will be getting in the future. I've saved up a few of those and will answer them in today's column.</p> <p>Q: I am 70 years old. My husband has stage-four lung cancer. He is 72. He waited until he was 70 to start his benefits. He is getting $3,366 per month. I only worked on and off during our marriage, so my own benefit is small. And I took reduced retirement at age 62. I get $900 per month. I called Social Security to find out what I would get when my husband dies. The agent told me that because I took reduced retirement benefits, my widows benefit also would be reduced. She said she couldn't give me an exact number, but figured I would get about $2,000 per month. I was a little uncomfortable with that information. So, I called again and talked to a different representative. This guy told me that I would get a full 100% widows benefit, but it would be 100% of my husband's full retirement rate, not his age-70 rate. He said I would keep my own $900 and get about $1,625 in widows benefits to take me up to my husband's full retirement rate of $2,525. Does that sound right to you?</p> <p>A: <span class="column--highlighted-text">Gosh, did you get some bum advice! Both Social Security representatives you talked to were wrong. When your husband dies, you are going to start getting $3,366 per month in combined widows and retirement benefits. </span>I can help you understand this by dealing with the answers you got from the SSA reps.<p>Updated: Wed Dec 09, 2020</p>