Social Security and You from Creators Syndicate Creators Syndicate is an international syndication company that represents cartoonists and columnists of the highest caliber. en Tue, 29 Sep 2020 22:37:04 -0700 Social Security and You from Creators Syndicate 1faf234e23a17ebaa3ca03a007da1e6c Disability Benefits Are Not Welfare for 09/30/2020 Wed, 30 Sep 2020 00:00:00 -0700 <p>It never ceases to amaze me how millions of misinformed Americans think that Social Security disability benefits are some form of welfare. They think Congress tacked on the program to the original Social Security Act as a kind of afterthought to provide benefits to the poor and indigent. (And the really nasty naysayers out there think it is a program specifically designed for cheaters and deadbeats.) </p> <p>Even people who get a monthly Social Security disability check are confused. I constantly hear from them with questions similar to this one, which was in my inbox this morning: "I am getting Social Security disability benefits. I just won $5,000 from our state lottery. Will I lose my disability check?" Quick answer: Of course you won't lose your benefits. Let me repeat: Social Security disability is not welfare! </p> <p>I always tell people to think of Social Security disability benefits as something like an early retirement benefit for somebody with a disabling impairment. In fact, the benefit formulas for the two programs are similar. When figuring a disability benefit, you simply use the year you became disabled instead of the year of retirement in the computation. <p>Updated: Wed Sep 30, 2020</p> 326076a0a7366526b5ff84fb74de7e95 Trump and the Future of Social Security for 09/23/2020 Wed, 23 Sep 2020 00:00:00 -0700 <p>My inbox has been inundated with emails from worried senior citizens who tell me they have heard that President Donald Trump will end Social Security if he is reelected and that the trust funds will dry up in 2023 and all Social Security checks will stop going out.</p> <p><span class="column--highlighted-text">I can't imagine the president has plans to end Social Security. But it doesn't help that he puts his famous foot in his famous mouth and says things that people can interpret to mean exactly that.</span> Trump recently made some rather unfortunate remarks about the Social Security payroll tax that has caused all the uproar. And his aides have been scrambling to come up with excuses and clarifications. </p> <p>On Aug. 8, the president told a gathering of supporters, "If I'm victorious on Nov. 3 I plan to make permanent cuts to the (Social Security) payroll tax." <p>Updated: Wed Sep 23, 2020</p> 4fddd13fd0b5a5e71587a36fca8fc622 Social Security -- Don't Drop the Ball for 09/16/2020 Wed, 16 Sep 2020 00:00:00 -0700 <p>I frequently get emails from people who have lost out on Social Security benefits they might have been due. And they are looking for somebody to blame. They usually don't like it when I have to turn around and tell them it is their fault.</p> <p>I'm not a huge sports fan. In fact, it's interesting that, in our family, my son and I are just barely interested in baseball, football, hockey, et al., whereas my wife and my daughter are huge sports fans and have been known to travel the country (previrus) to watch football games, tennis matches, etc.! </p> <p>Despite my lack of interest in the world of sports, I'm going to use a sports analogy to make the primary point of this column. When it comes to your eligibility for Social Security &#8212; what benefits to file for and when to file for those benefits &#8212; the ball is in your court. Don't drop it! In other words, it's up to you to educate yourself about the Social Security program and to decide when and how to file for whatever benefits you might be due. I've saved up some emails to illustrate this point. <p>Updated: Wed Sep 16, 2020</p> 8ee0c29757c2c18803f5d26123d6ace3 When in Doubt, File a Claim for 09/09/2020 Wed, 09 Sep 2020 00:00:00 -0700 <p>I'm going to start this column at the bottom! Or, rather, with the bottom-line message I want to deliver today: Whenever you think you might be due any kind of Social Security benefit, insist on filing a claim for that benefit. You have every right to do so. Before I clarify that message, let me give you some background.</p> <p>For part of my 32-year career with the Social Security Administration, I was a claims intake person. In other words, it was my job to help people file claims for various kinds of Social Security benefits. Many times, a person's potential eligibility for benefits is fairly cut and dried. For example, if you were 62 years old and not working and showed up at my desk to file for retirement benefits, I would have immediately whipped out the retirement application and helped you fill it out. </p> <p>But other times, a person's eligibility for benefits is questionable. As an example, let's say a 55-year-old guy showed up at my desk and said he had a couple of sore knees and wanted to file for disability benefits. A part of me would have wanted to say this to the guy: "Listen, buddy, the law says you have to be severely disabled to qualify for disability benefits. And I can tell you from experience that a couple of bum knees isn't going to pass muster. You'd be wasting my time and your time filing for disability benefits because your claim is going to be denied."<p>Updated: Wed Sep 09, 2020</p> 1e7a8c10331acec7b5274de6db148887 Internet Lies About Social Security Never Go Away for 09/02/2020 Wed, 02 Sep 2020 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>There are so many Social Security-bashing screeds floating around on the internet. Some are full of a few half-truths, but most are outright lies. I could spend every one of my weekly columns just trying to set the record straight. </p> <p>These things get passed around via emails from one gullible and naive nitwit to the next. <span class="column--highlighted-text">Today, I'm going to address one that has been polluting inboxes for almost a quarter-century now. In fact, I wrote my first column about it in 1997! It's still around, and it's still spreading falsehoods.</span> <p>Updated: Wed Sep 02, 2020</p> e7e9f5f4af79d983a5eb8028f90dd9c8 The Windfall Elimination Provision Should NOT Be Repealed for 08/26/2020 Wed, 26 Aug 2020 00:00:00 -0700 <p>My inbox has been flooded with emails from retired or soon-to-be retired public employees who don't even pay into Social Security. They are writing to complain about a law called the Windfall Elimination Provision, or the WEP, that reduces any Social Security benefits they have earned while working at other jobs where Social Security taxes were deducted from their paychecks. They always tell me about bills pending in Congress that are intended to repeal the WEP, and they want me to endorse the legislation in my column. They are surprised to hear back from me with this message: "The WEP is an entirely fair and just law that should never be repealed. And shame on those self-serving members of Congress who introduce such legislation that they know has no chance of passage. They are merely seeking votes from uninformed constituents who happen to be retired public employees." Before I explain what I am talking about, I must give some background. </p> <p>When Social Security laws were enacted in the 1930s, Congress felt that they could not force a federal pension plan (Social Security) on state and local governments. So, they gave them the option of joining Social Security or not. Most did. But some did not. And still today, about 10% of all workers, mostly in state and local jobs in the public sector, are not covered by Social Security. </p> <p>Also, federal government employees were initially not covered by Social Security because they had their own pension system in place before Social Security came along. But all federal employees hired since 1984 pay into Social Security. However, there are still some old feds out there (hired before 1984) who are not in Social Security. <p>Updated: Wed Aug 26, 2020</p> 775373eb04681335e461e1d7e476c7e1 Benefits for Grandchildren -- Don't Count On It! for 08/19/2020 Wed, 19 Aug 2020 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>One of the joys of growing older is the opportunity to play Grandma or Grandpa. My wife and I have five grandchildren, and each of them brings a smile to our faces and a nice warm glow to our hearts &#8212; at least a good percentage of the time! One of the big advantages to grandparenting is that you get to play with them and bounce them on your knees and otherwise spoil them for a few hours at a time, and then they go home! </p> <p>But for more and more retirees and soon-to-be retirees, those grandkids don't go home. In fact, they are "home" already because they live with Grandma and Grandpa. For a variety of reasons, the kids' parents are unable to care for them, so the responsibility for raising the little tykes falls to the grandparents.<p>Updated: Wed Aug 19, 2020</p> cf10ff75b0a59c8070ca12233bd37729 'My Husband ... He's Dead!' for 08/12/2020 Wed, 12 Aug 2020 00:00:00 -0700 <p>Occasionally, I like to take a break from the routine of covering the same old Social Security questions over and over again. A couple of months ago, I wrote a column in which I shared a funny story involving my first day on the job as a newly minted clerk for the Social Security Administration. I got so many emails from readers who enjoyed that column that I decided to write one more. This will give you a little glimpse into the world of a public servant.</p> <p>The story I shared a couple of months ago happened in the first Social Security office I worked at in the small town of Litchfield, Illinois. After about a year in that office, I transferred to a huge inner-city office on the west side of Chicago. My job involved helping people file claims for Social Security benefits. </p> <p>One morning, the office doors opened, and the usual flood of people filed into the office, including one older woman who was crying hysterically. She kept repeating the phrase: "Oh, my poor husband, he's dead! He's dead!" We all could see other customers in the waiting room trying to console her. Once the receptionist had checked everyone in, including the distraught woman, my fellow claims representatives and I walked up to the front desk to pick up our designated interviews. Sure enough, I was assigned to the sobbing senior. The interview slip the receptionist filled out said "wants to file for widows benefits," so, of course, I had an idea why the woman was so sad. <p>Updated: Wed Aug 12, 2020</p> 3b2f6d1426195952b7784b60f2648995 Benefits for Spouses and Widows Are Sometimes Controversial for 08/05/2020 Wed, 05 Aug 2020 00:00:00 -0700 <p>I'm going to start out today's column by answering a question from a reader about her potential eligibility for benefits from one of her prior husbands' Social Security accounts. I am going to follow that up with typical comments I always get from other readers who are critical of these kinds of benefits.</p> <p>Q: I have worked most of my life, but I had severe medical problems and ended up going on Social Security disability when I was 58. I just turned 62, and I've been told that I can now file for benefits from my second husband. We are divorced, but we were married for over 25 years. He brags that he gets the maximum Social Security benefit. So, can I get half of his and my disability benefit at the same time? And FYI, my first husband died at the age of 35, and we were married for only eight years, so I am sure I'm not due anything on his record because that was so long ago.</p> <p>A: <span class="column--highlighted-text">Believe it or not, it is much more likely that you might be due benefits from your first husband's Social Security record than your second husband's. </span><p>Updated: Wed Aug 05, 2020</p> f480fefc392c9540ebbcf80a74f2d93b Social Security Rules (Not Reps) Confuse Readers for 07/29/2020 Wed, 29 Jul 2020 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>Anyone who has read my column for any length of time knows that I have occasionally been critical of some of my former colleagues at the Social Security Administration for misleading people with misinformation about Social Security programs and policies.</p> <p>But I totally understand that, many times, people who tell me they have been misled by an SSA representative have, in fact, received good information from the agency. But they have not understood what they were told. Or they misinterpreted something that was explained to them, leaving them all befuddled and confused. And then they write to me to complain that SSA reps have led them astray &#8212; when, in fact, they haven't. Today's questions provide examples of that.<p>Updated: Wed Jul 29, 2020</p> 192c37a1fa7e798539d94f332eac34b4 The COVID-19 Virus and Social Security for 07/22/2020 Wed, 22 Jul 2020 00:00:00 -0700 <p>Q: I keep hearing all this talk about how the COVID-19 virus is going to reduce future Social Security benefits. But I can't figure out why. Can you explain it to me?</p> <p>A: I'll give it a shot. But before I do, let me make a couple of important points. First, if the virus affects anyone's Social Security, it probably will be just a small cohort of people &#8212; essentially, anyone turning 60 this year. No one else. And second, it really isn't clear yet if even that small group of people will be affected. So, now let me explain.</p> <p>It all has to do with the Social Security benefit formula. When the Social Security Administration figures your retirement benefit, they look at your entire earnings history, pull out the highest 35 years, add them up and then divide by 420 (the number of months in 35 years) to come up with your average monthly wage. Then they use a formula that gets to the "social" part of Social Security to figure your retirement benefit. <p>Updated: Wed Jul 22, 2020</p> 80530a601c271c16ca4825e5cdd0c043 Federal Employees and Social Security for 07/15/2020 Wed, 15 Jul 2020 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>Q. I am a retired federal employee. I retired when I was 58. I started getting my federal retirement and Social Security at that time. I am about to turn 62. I was told that I have to contact a Social Security office and get my benefit changed. Can you explain that?</p> <p>A. I'm going to start out by giving you half an answer. Then I'm going to give you and the rest of my readers some background information about federal government employees and their relationship to Social Security. After I do that, I will come back and finish answering your question.<p>Updated: Wed Jul 15, 2020</p> 89f0204223be79b313375f221043507b Mixing Apples, Oranges and Kumquats for 07/08/2020 Wed, 08 Jul 2020 00:00:00 -0700 <p>Q: In a recent column, you said that someone's Social Security check might go down if they are still working while getting Social Security checks. You must be talking about taxes, because my husband is 69 and still working, and he gets an increase every year in his benefits. So, can you please clarify things for us?</p> <p>A: You've probably heard the phrase, "You are mixing an apple with an orange." Well, in your case, you are mixing an apple and an orange and a kumquat! </p> <p>In this situation, the kumquat is the taxation of Social Security benefits. And in the prior column you mentioned, I was not discussing that issue. In fact, I rarely get into the topic of the taxes you pay on your Social Security benefits. Why? Because, frankly, I don't feel comfortable discussing it. As a retired Social Security guy, I know all about the payment of Social Security benefits, and that is what I write about. <span class="column--highlighted-text">But the taxation of those benefits is handled by the Internal Revenue Service, not the Social Security Administration. So, when people need to know about the taxes they might pay on their Social Security benefits, I send them to the IRS or to a good local tax advisor.</span><p>Updated: Wed Jul 08, 2020</p> b60ea1d14c174d84e2db61e41ad9b286 The Bad Old Days for 07/01/2020 Wed, 01 Jul 2020 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>My wife and I have been doing a little downsizing lately. One thing we decided we can live without is the rather large collection of books we've accumulated over the past 46 years. We are donating most of them to our local library. But as I looked through the old books, I reread one of them, and it struck a chord with me. It's an autobiography by former New York Times columnist Russell Baker called "Growing Up."</p> <p>In it, Baker tells the story of what it was like to grow up in the 1920s and 1930s. For most of us, the Great Depression is the stuff of history books and hard luck stories revealed in an occasional documentary about the era. But Baker lived one of those stories and writes eloquently about his life and those times.<p>Updated: Wed Jul 01, 2020</p> a7273d264fd34031635e4d49b7176601 Quick and Dirty Answers Lead to Confusion for 06/24/2020 Wed, 24 Jun 2020 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>As regular readers of this column know, every once in a while, I try to squeeze as many questions and answers as I can into one column. And several weeks ago, I did just that. But I knew ahead of time it would cause problems. Why? Because there can be so many "ifs ands or buts" associated with Social Security's rules. And when I try to keep my answers short and sweet ... well, they may be short, but they are not always so sweet. I simply cannot cover all the variables that may pop up, and I can't explain all the nuances to any given Social Security situation. </p> <p><span class="column--highlighted-text">So, even though I broke a record by answering 16 questions in one column, the 16 answers I gave probably led to 160 more questions from confused readers. And here are some of them.</span> <p>Updated: Wed Jun 24, 2020</p> fa8194ddfd7ce6d7d1f9dd4406007b6a The Social Security 'Goody Bag' for 06/17/2020 Wed, 17 Jun 2020 00:00:00 -0700 <p>At least once a day, I get one or more emails that start out with some form of this phrase: "I'll tell you what's wrong with Social Security!" And then they go on from there to trot out time-worn arguments that have been bandied about for years and are usually groundless. </p> <p>One of the more common gripes goes like this: "I'll tell you what's wrong with Social Security. They've added too many perks to the program over the years. If they would just get rid of the goody bag and take the system back to what it was when it started, we wouldn't have any problems today!" Or, as another reader recently told me: "Today's Social Security program includes too many freebies for freeloaders! We need to get back to basics &#8212; to the law's original intent!"</p> <p>Well let's think about that for a minute. The original Social Security Act, passed in 1935, included retirement benefits for people 65 and older who were totally retired. That's it. Period. Nothing else!<p>Updated: Wed Jun 17, 2020</p> dba0f24018053b09a12998881f4e5031 The Social Security 'Retirement Test' Gets a Failing Grade for 06/10/2020 Wed, 10 Jun 2020 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>There is a provision of Social Security law that is rather archaically called the "annual earnings test." It is sometimes also called the "retirement test." (More about where those terms come from in a minute.) But I call it the Social Security earnings penalty. And I've never liked this law. Before I explain why, let me clarify what I am talking about. </p> <p>The rules say that if you are a Social Security beneficiary who is under full retirement age and still working, $1 must be deducted from your Social Security checks for every $2 you earn over $18,240 annually. A more lenient penalty applies in the year you reach full retirement age. The earnings threshold is $48,600 with a 3-for-1 withholding scheme. In other words, $1 is withheld from your benefits for every $3 you make over $48,600. And once you reach your full retirement age, the penalties go away. Starting with that month, you could make $1 million a day and still be eligible for Social Security checks.<p>Updated: Wed Jun 10, 2020</p> 5afd3905e786669ca0ed6cee587feee0 My First Day on the Job for 06/03/2020 Wed, 03 Jun 2020 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>I've been writing this column and answering people's questions about Social Security for more than 20 years. And more often than not, I've been answering the same questions over and over again. And I really don't mind that because I understand there are always new people reading this column who haven't seen the answers before. Other people have been reading the column for a long time, but finally, their Social Security times has come, and they can't remember how I answered a certain question in the past. </p> <p>So, I get it. My role is to go over this stuff again and again so that, eventually, everyone who needs to know about Social Security understands how the program affects them. But every once in a while, I like to take a break from that routine and instead share a few stories from my long career as a Social Security Administration employee. And today, here is one of those stories. <p>Updated: Wed Jun 03, 2020</p> e5614695798eb3dabaa5acea134bf0fd A Divorced Woman's Guide to Social Security for 05/27/2020 Wed, 27 May 2020 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>Q: You always seem to write about married women. But there are a lot of us divorced women out here. We need to know about Social Security, too. So, what can you tell us?</p> <p>A: I can tell you several things. One: I've answered many questions from divorced women in this column. Maybe you just didn't see them. And two: With just a couple of exceptions, a divorced woman is due the same kind of Social Security benefits as a married woman. <p>Updated: Wed May 27, 2020</p> 79e3683144eb70d7b0264e04e4abc151 Social Security Offsets Affect Some Public Employees for 05/20/2020 Wed, 20 May 2020 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>I am continually amazed by the number of emails I get with questions about Social Security from people who don't even pay into the system. Who are these folks? They are primarily teachers in some states and police officers and firefighters in other states. A lot of these employees are covered by other retirement plans and not by Social Security. </p> <p>Why is that? Because back when Social Security laws were enacted in the 1930s, Congress felt that they could not force a federal pension plan (Social Security) on state and local governments. So, they gave them the option of joining Social Security or not. Most did. But some did not. And still today, about 10% of all workers, mostly in state and local jobs in the public sector, are not covered by Social Security. <p>Updated: Wed May 20, 2020</p>