Social Security and You from Creators Syndicate Creators Syndicate is an international syndication company that represents cartoonists and columnists of the highest caliber. en Sat, 23 Jun 2018 18:00:08 -0700 Social Security and You from Creators Syndicate e7eb2ad019afa551e18f0fc67e51e795 Men Ask About Widow's Benefits for 06/20/2018 Wed, 20 Jun 2018 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>I get lots of questions about widow's benefits. And surprisingly, most of them come from men concerned about the benefits their wives will get after they die. Here are some examples.</p> <p>Q: I waited until I was 70 to start my Social Security. Those benefits just kicked in last month. I did that for two reasons: to maximize my retirement benefits and to make sure my 66-year-old wife gets the highest possible benefits after I am gone. So imagine my shock when I discovered that my wife's spousal rate is just 50 percent of my age 66 rate! Does this mean her future widow's benefits will also be based on my age 66 benefit amount?<p>Updated: Wed Jun 20, 2018</p> 75d01a7dc8b8a4afe16b7ded0fa2571f The Basics of Applying for Social Security Benefits for 06/13/2018 Wed, 13 Jun 2018 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>I've saved up a bunch of questions that have to do with applying for various kinds of Social Security benefits. Frankly, I think of most of them as rather elementary. But then I remind myself that I've dealt with Social Security issues almost every day of my life for the past 45 years. And most of my readers deal with the program, at least in a major way, only once in their life &#8212; at the time they file for benefits. So I hope those of you pushing Social Security age get something out of this. </p> <p>Q: I want to retire when I am 66 in September. When should I apply for benefits?<p>Updated: Wed Jun 13, 2018</p> e7a6e17cea34fc6c90d07eb36e02266d Top Five Social Security Myths for 06/06/2018 Wed, 06 Jun 2018 00:00:00 -0700 <p>It's time for me to dust off and update a column I write every five years or so about Social Security myths. I could write a book called "The Top 100 Social Security Myths." But I'm having too much fun taking bike rides with my wife and playing Scrabble with her on the back porch to spend time doing that. So instead, I'll just take an hour or so out of my day to write this column that exposes the five most common program and policy Social Security myths. At some future date, I'll put the kibosh on all the silly political myths about Social Security that are floating around on the internet. </p> <p>Myth Number 1: There are secret or hidden rules to Social Security.</p> <p>Almost every day I get emails from readers who tell me about suspicious mailings they get, usually from financial planning outfits inviting them to a seminar with come-ons like this: "Learn the hidden truths about Social Security" or "The Social Security secrets the government won't tell you!"<p>Updated: Wed Jun 06, 2018</p> 01324faf390c1b407407d1f5fe59308d More Questions About the Timing of Social Security Checks for 05/30/2018 Wed, 30 May 2018 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>Q: I think you covered this issue in a past column. But I'm still confused. I will turn 66 on Aug. 28, 2018. I want to start my Social Security then. And because I know that Social Security checks come one month behind, I understand that the first check I will be due will come in September. So when I sign up for Social Security, do I tell them I want my benefits to begin in August or September?</p> <p>A: You tell them you want your benefits to begin in August. You are right that Social Security checks are sent out one month late. In other words, your August payment will be deposited into your bank account in September. <span class="column--highlighted-text">But don't worry about the timing of the delivery of your Social Security check. Just worry about which month you want your Social Security eligibility to begin. </span>And since you want your benefits to start at age 66, and you are 66 in August, then that is the month you tell them you want your benefits to start.<p>Updated: Wed May 30, 2018</p> 1bd284429418e689239cc450854b1847 Trying to Help Dad Led to Complications for 05/23/2018 Wed, 23 May 2018 00:00:00 -0700 <p>Q: My dad is 90 years old and I help him with medical appointments and managing important business affairs. We went to our local Social Security office to change dad's address. While there, I asked to be added to dad's account so that I can make inquiries on his behalf. The clerk signed me up to be his "representative payee." Then a few weeks later, I got a letter explaining that I now was the only person responsible for dad's Social Security account &#8212; a designation that included reporting requirements to the government. That is NOT what I wanted. So we went back asking to revoke the representative payee status. This time, a different clerk told us we could not do that without a doctor's note to say that dad can manage his own affairs. I got the doctor's note, and we went back to social security office. Yet another clerk then made dad his own representative payee. So now, I've just transferred the burden of reporting to my father! Is there any way to explain things better to the folks at the Social Security office to get things back to dad's original status? We just want him to be a regular person getting his Social Security in the regular way without all this payee stuff. Can you help me sort this out? </p> <p>A: First of all, let me reassure you that based on what you told me, everything seems to be back to normal. Your dad is just "a regular person getting his Social Security checks in the regular way." But now let me review what happened in your case to explain how Social Security handles these cases. </p> <p>I must start out by making this important point: <span class="column--highlighted-text">The Social Security Administration is very strict about privacy laws. </span>Back when I was first hired by SSA in 1973 and sent to a training class, we spent the entire first day reviewing the privacy laws of Social Security records. Those laws require that NO information from your Social Security record can be disclosed to anyone else. Not even to a spouse, a grown child or a close relative. Because of those privacy laws, there is simply no way you could simply be "added to dad's account." <p>Updated: Thu May 24, 2018</p> 7d4f160d707a61fc066e0f53d26aea18 Questions About Delayed Retirement Credits for 05/16/2018 Wed, 16 May 2018 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>All of today's questions involve the payment of what are known as "delayed retirement credits." This is an incentive built into the law that augments the monthly Social Security checks of anyone who delays claiming Social Security benefits beyond their normal full retirement age. The maximum extra credit is 32 percent for people who wait until age 70 before signing up for Social Security.</p> <p>Q: I just turned 68 yesterday. I was planning to wait until I turned 70 to apply for my Social Security benefits. I wanted to get the 32 percent bonus for doing that. But I recently got bad news. I have cancer and my prognosis for a long life isn't good. So now I want to start my Social Security checks right away. Will I be forfeiting my chance to get the bonus because I'm not going to wait until age 70 to file? <p>Updated: Wed May 16, 2018</p> 81e4e0c36ececcb9cee2994a2d4eceb5 Riding the Social Security Gravy Train for 05/09/2018 Wed, 09 May 2018 00:00:00 -0700 <p>Before I get to today's question, I must give some background information on the topic at hand &#8212; and that is the so-called maximizing strategy that many people mistakenly call "file and suspend." What they usually mean is the strategy called "file and restrict." And it's not just a matter of semantics. I will explain.</p> <p>A Social Security law passed in the 1990s that allowed working seniors to claim full benefits at age 66 (the prior age was 72) included some totally unintended provisions that let seniors play around with, or maximize their benefits. One of those provisions came to be called "file and suspend." This strategy was usually employed by a husband who wanted to wait until age 70 to claim benefits and get a 32 percent delayed retirement credit added to his Social Security check. But he could file for benefits at 66 and immediately suspend his own benefits, while allowing his wife to take spousal benefits on his record when she came of age. This strategy was actually eliminated a couple years ago. But the term "file and suspend" lives on &#8212; mostly on the internet.</p> <p>People still ask me if they can "file and suspend." Again, they can't. But what they can do is employ a somewhat related strategy called "file and restrict." That tactic allows one member of a married couple to claim dependent husband's or wife's benefits on the other spouse's record at age 66 while letting his or her own retirement benefits grow &#8212; usually until age 70. File and restrict is also pegged for elimination. But it's still good for another couple years. Anyone turning 66 before January 2, 2020 can employ that strategy.<p>Updated: Wed May 09, 2018</p> d08aa2e6bda1571691715f4be1507bc7 Sometimes the Government Giveth and Then Taketh Away for 05/02/2018 Wed, 02 May 2018 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>Q: I am 66 years old, and I get my own small Social Security retirement benefit. Because it is so small, I get some additional spousal benefits off my husband's record. I am still working. I just got a letter from the Social Security Administration telling me that my retirement benefit is being increased by $20 per month because of my most recent earnings. But at the same time, the letter said my spousal benefit is being reduced by $20. I don't get this. Why is the SSA giving me extra money but then turning around and asking for it back?</p> <p>A: Wow! <span class="column--highlighted-text">It's as if the government slipped a $20 bill into your right pocket and then sneaked its hand into your left pocket and took out 20 bucks!</span> What's going on? It just doesn't seem fair, does it? But I think that when you read my explanation, it will make sense to you.<p>Updated: Wed May 02, 2018</p> 5dd63852f1b3f1eb95152e4f9e38d692 This Couple Has a Couple Options for 04/25/2018 Wed, 25 Apr 2018 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>Q: My wife and I both turn 66 later this year. (Our birthdays are just two days apart.) I've worked all my life and expect to get a full retirement benefit of about $2,600 per month. My wife has been a homemaker all her life and has no Social Security account of her own. So she will only be due a spouse's benefit on my record. I am thinking of waiting until 70 to claim my benefits, while letting my wife claim her spousal rate now. I am doing this for two reasons. First, to get the 32 percent extra bonus added to both of our Social Security checks. But more importantly, I want to ensure my wife gets a higher widow's benefit once I am gone. Do you think this is a good idea?</p> <p>A: It certainly is noble and generous of you to consider your wife's future income when making your retirement decisions. But I'm going to give you some food for thought by comparing what you'd be due by taking benefits at 66 versus waiting until age 70 to file. <p>Updated: Wed Apr 25, 2018</p> 0d821a6ebb6d1b1036f2620161885836 Identity Theft and Social Security for 04/18/2018 Wed, 18 Apr 2018 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>Q: My daughter recently had problems with a stolen purse and with someone possibly using her Social Security number. She went to the Social Security office and she was told to contact credit reporting agencies and possibly the police. And they gave her some website to look up. It seems to me they should have done more. Can't they just cancel her old number and give her a new one? Was she informed correctly?</p> <p>A: Yes, she probably was given correct information. When a Social Security card is stolen, many people think that is a problem for the Social Security Administration to resolve. But when you think it through, it really isn't.<p>Updated: Wed Apr 18, 2018</p> ee1eeea02706b526a79f22f630e03bf7 SSA Service: Am I a Shill or a Critic? for 04/11/2018 Wed, 11 Apr 2018 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>I figure I must be doing something right when I get back-to-back emails from readers criticizing me for allegedly voicing diametrically opposite viewpoints. First, there was this little gem.</p> <p>Q: You just think the Social Security Administration is perfect in every way, don't you? I just want you to know that there is a lot of bad information out there. Recently, I applied for widow's benefits, and I won't even get into what they put me through. The first young gal I talked to was clueless. Then she called an old bat for backup and this bat was criticizing me for waiting too long to file. She finally backed down. I just want you to know I read your column for laughs, not for information.<p>Updated: Wed Apr 11, 2018</p> bb5b4f56c1f4bb084a7e13dc2a21a520 Taking Care of Mom in a Mom and Pop Business for 04/04/2018 Wed, 04 Apr 2018 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>Q: My husband and I run a small business. We are in our early 50s. Our profits are modest, but usually enough to reach the Social Security taxable maximum. For years now, my husband has reported all the income under his name for Social Security purposes. We do this for two reasons. One: We think we will come out ahead if he has a bigger Social Security check. And two: I am a few years younger than my husband, and I think Social Security will be broke by the time I hit retirement age. So why should I bother paying into the system? What do you think of our plan? </p> <p>A: You may be onto something with your first bit of reasoning. And I will give you some food for thought about that in a minute. But you are way off base with your "Social Security will be broke so why pay into it" way of thinking. <p>Updated: Wed Apr 04, 2018</p> 79b93b6e4076ea81ea29ec7831e9b070 When in Doubt, Always File a Claim for 03/28/2018 Wed, 28 Mar 2018 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>Q: I want to thank you so much for helping me out. A few months ago, I gave you the particulars of our situation. I won't repeat all the numbers, but my husband's benefit is substantially more than my own. You said that based on the figures I gave you, I might be due extra spousal support. I went to my local Social Security office. The clerk seemed a little confused and initially told me that if I was due more, I would have been getting it already. When I persisted, he went and talked to someone else. They came back to the desk together, printed out something from the computer and told me to read it. It supposedly said I wasn't due anything. (I have a college degree, but I couldn't decipher it!) When I got back home, I sent you a follow-up email. You told me to return to the office and insist on filing a claim. Long story short: I did so and just today I got my first spousal check in the mail, including six months of back pay. I can't thank you enough for encouraging me to do this.</p> <p>A: <span class="column--highlighted-text">Someday, I might write an entire column simply repeating this mantra over and over again: When in doubt, insist on filing a claim!</span> When in doubt, insist on filing a claim! When in doubt, insist on filing a claim!<p>Updated: Wed Mar 28, 2018</p> f1d84ee97f31fba01bf91ac1cd5b3192 An Apology -- 25 Years Later for 03/21/2018 Wed, 21 Mar 2018 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>I just got an email that absolutely floored me. Honestly, it even brought a lump to my throat. It has to do with something that happened about 25 years ago, while I was working for the Social Security Administration in San Diego, California. Frankly, it was a rather routine occurrence for me back then, and still is today. Let me explain &#8212; and then we will get to this guy's email.</p> <p>For almost 50 years now, I have been making speeches and other presentations to large and small groups around the country about Social Security. For most of those years, I was doing so as an official representative of SSA. But I retired from SSA in 2005, and for the past 13 years I've been freelancing as a private Social Security consultant.<p>Updated: Wed Mar 21, 2018</p> f7fd64ab15e9c1a93a2fe67c8ca43980 The 'Three-Legged Stool' Is a Bit Wobbly for 03/14/2018 Wed, 14 Mar 2018 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>I'm sure most people reading this column have heard the term, "the three-legged stool." That refers to the platform upon which your retirement portfolio is to be built. One of those legs represents your Social Security benefit. The second leg is savings and investments. And the third leg propping you up in retirement is a company pension. </p> <p><span class="column--highlighted-text">Well, over the years, that stool has gotten a little wobbly, primarily because the company pension leg keeps getting whittled away.</span> Earning a guaranteed monthly retirement pension from your employer is now about as common as getting your company CEO to offer you the use of his private jet and his vacation home in Maui. <p>Updated: Wed Mar 14, 2018</p> e2e0696b47aa379e9e2efa2d0ba772e1 Observant Reader Notices Fluke in COLA Payments for 03/07/2018 Wed, 07 Mar 2018 00:00:00 -0800 <p></p><p>Q: The recent cost-of-living adjustment to our Social Security checks got me wondering about something. As you've always pointed out in your column, the checks come one month behind. So, for example, the check we got in January is actually the payment for December. But the 2018 COLA increase showed up in that January check. So did we get the 2018 increase for one month of 2017? In other words, did we get the first 2018 increase one month early in our December 2017 benefit payment? And if so, why?</p> <p>A: Bingo! You got it right. And surprise, surprise: Politics is the reason for what happens with the COLA payment. <p>Updated: Wed Mar 07, 2018</p> 24a07a4d2b60a8a4663733b880b062f6 Inspector General's Report Causes Confusion for Widows for 02/28/2018 Wed, 28 Feb 2018 00:00:00 -0800 <p>The inspector general for the Social Security Administration recently released a report that was well-intentioned, but that has sewn confusion among millions of women collecting Social Security widow's benefits. What the report said was that a small percentage of widows were not informed by SSA clerks of a provision that could have resulted in them getting higher Social Security benefits in the long run. But if my emails are any indication, many women thought the report said that all widows were getting shortchanged by the government. This is just not true.</p> <p>The IG's report was referring to a procedure I've discussed hundreds of times in this column: the restricted application rule. This so-called "maximizing strategy" has been all the rage for the past several years among retiring baby boomers. It allows people who are full retirement age to file for spousal benefits on a husband's or wife's Social Security account and then delay starting their own retirement benefits until age 70, at which point they would get a 32 percent credit added to their Social Security checks. </p> <p>As I've also reported many times in this column, that procedure grew out of a loophole in an unrelated Social Security law. It makes a mockery of a well-established legal tenet that says you should not be able to get benefits on a spouse's record unless you were financially dependent on that spouse. Yet most folks jumping through that loophole have been well-heeled retirees. That's why Congress has been gradually closing the loophole. It finally gets sealed up in January 2020, so only retirees turning 66 before January 2020 can employ that unintended maximizing strategy.<p>Updated: Thu Mar 01, 2018</p> 486d356ff639d8ff9fea8db14a6c472b 'Notch Babies' Now Reaching Century Mark -- and They Are Still Mad! for 02/21/2018 Wed, 21 Feb 2018 00:00:00 -0800 <p></p><p>There is a group of very old people out there who, for decades now, has been misled into believing that they are being cheated out of Social Security benefits. I'm talking about folks who are now pushing the century mark &#8212; in their mid-to-late 90s and beyond. And that means that for 30 or 40 years now, they have been carrying a grudge against the government in general, and Social Security in particular. I still get letters from these people. Or, more often lately, I get letters from their sons or daughters (who themselves are now in their late 60s or 70s) asking me if anything can be done about this perceived injustice &#8212; the infamous "Social Security notch." </p> <p>In fact, my own mother was one of those people. Despite my constant reassurances to the contrary, she was convinced that the government was ripping her off by short-changing her on her monthly Social Security check. <p>Updated: Wed Feb 21, 2018</p> 1028005bbf831f65431a17ffca0329b7 Working While Getting Disability Benefits for 02/14/2018 Wed, 14 Feb 2018 00:00:00 -0800 <p></p><p>Q: I am 57 years old and getting Social Security disability benefits. I understand I can work and make $46,000 and still keep my disability checks. But how much can I make when I reach age 62?</p> <p>A: I'm afraid you've really got things mixed up. The $46,000 figure you cite applies to retirees in the year they turn age 66. And nothing is going to change when you turn 62. So let me back up.<p>Updated: Wed Feb 14, 2018</p> d8759c534c706c9c0b0a772433696d0d I'm a Hit with the Ladies! for 02/07/2018 Wed, 07 Feb 2018 00:00:00 -0800 <p></p><p>Don't tell my wife, but if my inbox is any indication, I'm a big hit with the ladies! I have a hunch I get more emails from women around the country than any other old goat my age who isn't rich or famous. Alas, they are just asking boring old Social Security questions. Here's the latest batch. </p> <p>Q: You write a very confusing column. You recently wrote that someone cannot take reduced benefits on one record and then later switch to full benefits on another record. I always thought I would get widow's benefits when my husband dies because they are much higher than my own. But are you now saying that I can't switch to higher benefits later?<p>Updated: Wed Feb 07, 2018</p>