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, 28 Jan 2020 14:02:54 -0800 Social Security and You from Creators Syndicate a3709bd6f17b7f8e784b807d83579ade Do Earnings After Retirement Increase Your Social Security Check? for 01/22/2020 Wed, 22 Jan 2020 00:00:00 -0800 <p></p><p>Conventional wisdom has it that old folks are supposed to spend their retirement years sitting in a rocking chair and occasionally playing a game of Scrabble. But if my emails are any indication, that's not what's happening with today's seniors. I constantly hear from people in their 70s and 80s who are still working. And they wonder if their additional earnings will have any effect on their Social Security check. </p> <p>To understand whether or not the earnings you have and the taxes you pay after you start getting Social Security will increase your benefits, you have to understand how Social Security retirement benefits are figured in the first place.<p>Updated: Wed Jan 22, 2020</p> 383ee04255eb73f16fb9fc62947bed37 Readers Question AARP Article About Spousal Benefits for 01/15/2020 Wed, 15 Jan 2020 00:00:00 -0800 <p>I've gotten quite a few emails from readers who have questions about an article on Social Security benefits for spouses that recently ran in an issue of the AARP Bulletin. Some of you thought the answers they gave were incorrect. But they were not. Let's review some of them in today's column.</p> <p>And one caveat before I go on: In order to avoid a lot of awkward "he/she" or "him/her" pronouns, I am going to assume the person applying for spousal benefits is a woman. Even though Social Security rules are gender neutral, statistics show that 95% of all spousal benefits are paid to women. Having said that, if you happen to be part of a married couple in which the wife earned more money than the husband, just reverse gender references as you read this column.</p> <p>Anyway, one of the AARP questions asked: "Will I get a smaller spousal benefit because my husband retired early?" AARP answered: "No." But this comment from one reader echoed the thoughts of several others. He said, "I thought if I took reduced retirement benefits, my wife's spousal benefit also would be reduced."<p>Updated: Wed Jan 15, 2020</p> 24d0f455c352dbc0bff7b7139dc1bf27 Tips for Dealing With the Social Security Administration for 01/08/2020 Wed, 08 Jan 2020 00:00:00 -0800 <p>Near the end of last year, I wrote a couple of columns in which readers complained about the service they received from the Social Security Administration. After that column ran, I predictably got emails from people with more complaints. They are usually from people griping about long wait times when they call the agency's 800 number or from people who claim to have received misinformation from an SSA rep. I think I've aired enough of their grievances already.</p> <p>Instead, today I'm going to look at the flip side of that SSA service coin. Because I also received quite a few emails from readers who told me that their dealings with Social Security offices and representatives had been professional, courteous and efficient. And some of those folks shared thoughts and insights with me that I will pass along to you.</p> <p>I also heard from several people who currently work for SSA, and they shared their views with me, too. Their potentially valuable advice is included in this column.<p>Updated: Wed Jan 08, 2020</p> df90750b7d98a8817767a08e6b1090b2 Turning 66 in 2020? Consider Filing for Benefits This Month for 01/01/2020 Wed, 01 Jan 2020 00:00:00 -0800 <p></p><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 2020.</p> <p>January is a critical month for the hundreds of thousands of potential Social Security beneficiaries who are reaching 66, their so-called full retirement age, in 2020. 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>Updated: Wed Jan 01, 2020</p> 9896153b46eff54d263dba9c087c8552 Social Security Update for 2020 for 12/25/2019 Wed, 25 Dec 2019 00:00:00 -0800 <p></p><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>Almost all Social Security beneficiaries are familiar with the most popular and publicized upcoming change: the increase in monthly benefit checks for 2020 due to the automated cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA. In fact, Social Security recipients have probably already received a letter from the Social Security Administration telling them of the expected increase.<p>Updated: Wed Dec 25, 2019</p> 2986cd76575609502f82c9b8b847ea75 Working Women, Stay-At-Home Moms And Social Security for 12/18/2019 Wed, 18 Dec 2019 00:00:00 -0800 <p></p><p>Sometimes I will write what I think is the most harmless and innocuous column about a Social Security issue &#8212; and then all hell breaks loose! It happened again recently. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a column in which I explained that a workingwoman will generally be paid her own Social Security benefit first. Only after that will they will look to her husband's record to see if she can get any additional benefits. Well, that triggered a whole host of emails, some of them quite angry. Here is an example. </p> <p>Q: I can't believe how Social Security discriminates against women like me who were forced to work in order to maintain a certain standard of living. It's a travesty that these lazy women who never worked a day in their lives and who got to stay home and let their husbands take care of them get essentially the same benefits that I do. I know a lady from our church who never worked a day in her life, and she gets Social Security from her husband &#8212; and I get squat! What's wrong with this picture? <p>Updated: Wed Dec 18, 2019</p> 0bbdb3b7016fffee4ab06ed5b21d6efc Will This Be My Last 'Notch Baby' Column? for 12/11/2019 Wed, 11 Dec 2019 00:00:00 -0800 <p></p><p>About once every two years or so, I write a column about Social Security's infamous "notch baby" issue. And each time, I think it will be my last such column because these so-called babies are actually now centenarians or darn near it &#8212; and frankly, there just aren't many of them around anymore. But if some recent emails I've received are any indication, a few of them are still kicking, and they're still hopping mad! </p> <p>So who am I talking about? They are a group of people who are now in their 90s and beyond who, for decades now, have been misled into believing that they are being cheated out of Social Security benefits. That means that for 30 or 40 years, they have been carrying a grudge against the government in general, and Social Security in particular. As I said, I still get letters from these people. Or, more often lately, I get emails 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. <p>Updated: Wed Dec 11, 2019</p> fbe56d1c6cf1d0c7eb1367c30a6e9937 More Complaints About Social Security Service for 12/04/2019 Wed, 04 Dec 2019 00:00:00 -0800 <p>A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned the fact that the new commissioner of Social Security, a guy named Andrew Saul, has promised to improve the service people get when they call the Social Security Administration 800 number or visit a local Social Security office. I said I hoped he would be true to his word and wasn't just blowing a lot of political smoke. Today's questions illustrate the kinds of problems he is facing.</p> <p>Q: I wanted to share my recent experiences when I filed for widows benefits. First, I called the Social Security Administration 800 number. I was told there would be a two-hour wait before an agent would be available to help me. Can anyone really be expected to wait on hold for two hours? So I decided to hang up and try my luck at our local Social Security office. Because I didn't have an appointment, I was given a number. I could tell by the numbering system that it would be a very long time before I would see anyone. It turned out to be four hours! The woman I was finally assigned to seemed tired, overworked and frazzled. Throughout the entire interview, she never once looked up at me, except at the very end when we were all done. And frankly, I was disappointed that she never once acknowledged my situation. I had recently lost my husband and a simple expression of sympathy would have meant so much to me. I left the office feeling much worse than when I went in. What can be done about this?</p> <p>A: Gosh, I feel so sorry for what you went through. I hope your experience with the local Social Security representative was not typical. Many years ago, when I was taking claims from Social Security customers, I used to constantly remind myself that even though I did this every day for a living, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the person I was talking to. And I knew the experience, for them, was fraught with tension, anxiety and in cases of survivors benefits like yours, a great deal of sorrow. So I always did my best to make sure the person I was talking to felt welcome and at ease. Let's hope most SSA representatives today offer the same level of compassionate service &#8212; and that maybe you just got stuck with someone who was having a bad day.<p>Updated: Wed Dec 04, 2019</p> 1584e96d34b0f83b9cf4bf64edc76331 Women Who Say They Are Not Getting Enough From Social Security for 11/27/2019 Wed, 27 Nov 2019 00:00:00 -0800 <p></p><p>Just out of curiosity, I wanted to find out what the most common questions readers have been asking lately were. I was pretty sure I knew, and a quick check of my emails from the past month verified what I thought. By far, the most questions came from women who think they should be getting higher benefits on a husband's account. Here are some examples.</p> <p>Q: I am 86. I took my Social Security at age 62. I get $1,230 per month. My husband is 95. He waited until he was 70 to start his Social Security. He gets $3,020. I know a wife gets half of her husband's benefits. Half of his is $1,510. So, by my calculations, I should be getting $280 in spousal benefits to take me up to that $1,510 level. We went to our Social Security office, and they told us he has to be dead before I can get any of this Social Security. You said in your columns that a wife gets half. So how do I let the Social Security people know they are wrong?<p>Updated: Wed Nov 27, 2019</p> 5c511e0cfe46a65d2a6a9a87f236fc25 Name That Commissioner for 11/20/2019 Wed, 20 Nov 2019 00:00:00 -0800 <p></p><p>I am going to give you a series of names. <span class="column--highlighted-text">I would give any reader a hundred bucks if he or she could tell me who these people are and what they all have in common.</span> Here are the names: Stanford Ross. William Driver. John Svahn. Martha McSteen. Dorcas Hardy. Gwendolyn King. Shirley Chater. Kenneth Apfel. Michael Astrue. </p> <p>So, who are they? They are nine of the past 29 commissioners of Social Security. The commissioner of Social Security is the top spot within the Social Security Administration. He or she is responsible for running one of the largest agencies in the federal government. This includes maintaining Social Security numbers and earnings records for nearly every working American and paying retirement, disability and survivor benefits to about 62 million people every month.<p>Updated: Wed Nov 20, 2019</p> bccf69549b93d89ec2df490a94e01c56 Filing Date Still Confuses Readers for 11/13/2019 Wed, 13 Nov 2019 00:00:00 -0800 <p></p><p>Even after writing several recent columns about the issue, I still get many emails from readers confused about which date to choose as the starting date for their Social Security retirement benefits.</p> <p><span class="column--highlighted-text">The confusion essentially centers around the fact that Social Security checks are paid one month behind.</span> For example, the Social Security payment for November will be sent to you in December. That's a relatively straightforward rule, but it leads to all kinds of problems, especially when people are filing for their Social Security benefits online. Here is a typical example:<p>Updated: Wed Nov 13, 2019</p> 036963cf92015c4f2c46cdc8ad0aa981 Mailbag Miscellany for 11/06/2019 Wed, 06 Nov 2019 00:00:00 -0800 <p></p><p>I usually like to have a theme to my columns. In other words, I will generally just cover one topic and present one or more questions from readers that are related to that subject. But every once in a while, I just like to open my email inbox and pick random questions to answer. Today's column is one of those.</p> <p>Q: I am 79 years old. I haven't worked in years, but last year, I did make some money on the side selling some of my antique furniture. And now I got a letter from Social Security telling me my own benefit is going up by $25 but my widows benefit is going down by $25. This makes absolutely no sense to me. What do you think I should do about this?<p>Updated: Wed Nov 06, 2019</p> 802c85e678436117fa5c7d82d0b77173 Don't Confuse Social Security With SSI for 10/30/2019 Wed, 30 Oct 2019 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>Every single day, I get emails from people who will say something like this: "My wife and I are getting SSI." Or this: "We have some questions about our SSI checks." Or this: "If I die, will my wife get any of my SSI?"</p> <p>I know from experience these folks think that SSI stands for Social Security Income. Or maybe Social Security Insurance. But it does not. SSI is the abbreviation for Supplemental Security Income. It is a federal welfare program that pays a small monthly stipend to poor people who are either over age 65 or younger than that but disabled. The program just happens to be managed by the Social Security Administration, which leads to all kinds of confusion.<p>Updated: Wed Oct 30, 2019</p> 07a6e50b1da1c61bfb150b9fee359b73 Retroactive Social Security Benefits Explained for 10/23/2019 Wed, 23 Oct 2019 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>A few months ago, I briefly discussed the possibility of retroactive Social Security retirement benefits. <span class="column--highlighted-text">But if my email inbox is any indication, I guess I raised more questions than I answered.</span> So today I will tackle the topic in more detail. Although the general rules are fairly simple, it can get a little complicated when you get down to the nitty-gritty of things. </p> <p>In a nutshell, the rules say this: You can collect up to six months' worth of benefits retroactively, but those benefits can't include any reduced retirement payments. Or, to put that another way, you can't get any retroactive benefits if you are under your full retirement age. Here are a few quick examples to help explain the rules. <p>Updated: Wed Oct 23, 2019</p> 9f2fb58bf78c2df36c0000e37943bc67 Clearing Up More Myths and Misunderstandings for 10/16/2019 Wed, 16 Oct 2019 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>I pointed out in last week's column that there are hundreds of myths and rumors being spread &#8212; mostly on the internet &#8212; about Social Security. Half of them deal with the politics and financing of Social Security. I covered some of those in recent columns. But there are also a multitude of myths about Social Security programs and how they work. Last week, I dealt with myths surrounding Social Security retirement benefits. <span class="column--highlighted-text">This week, I'll take on the rumors that people hear about dependent and survivor benefits.</span></p> <p>Myth: As a wife, I will get half of my husband's Social Security.<p>Updated: Wed Oct 16, 2019</p> 9a3045f0d7eb3b20fd324f81a381e70b Social Security Program Myths for 10/09/2019 Wed, 09 Oct 2019 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>I could write a book called "The Top 100 Social Security Myths." And that book would be divided into two main sections: 50 political myths and 50 program myths. </p> <p>The political myths deal mostly with the history and financing of Social Security. <span class="column--highlighted-text">Many people, usually with an ax to grind or a chip on their shoulder, publish very biased screeds on the internet that are full of lies and half-truths about the program. </span>They will say things like: "The government has stolen Social Security funds" (it hasn't); "Illegal immigrants collect Social Security benefits" (they don't); or "Social Security sends monthly checks to welfare recipients who never worked and paid into the system" (it doesn't). And then uninformed or naive people pass these missives around from one to another, and soon they go viral and are assumed to be true by millions of Americans. <p>Updated: Wed Oct 09, 2019</p> bad392a61cb34c4e7a356245c39c2257 Seniors Seek Help for Their 'Kids' for 10/02/2019 Wed, 02 Oct 2019 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>I wrote about this phenomenon about a year ago. And it never ceases to amaze me. I'm referring to the emails I get from readers who are asking Social Security-related questions on behalf of their children. <span class="column--highlighted-text">And when I say "children," I don't mean little tykes who are still wet behind the ears. I'm talking about children who wear hearing aids and belong to AARP!</span></p> <p>I find it hard to believe that I get letters from folks in their 80s and beyond who are seeking Social Security advice for their children who are 60-somethings. When I compare it to my own situation, I'm even more surprised. My wife and I have two kids, both of whom are in their early 40s, with children of their own. Our parenting duties have long since waned, and, for the most part, have been replaced by grandparenting chores. I just can't imagine myself, 20 years down the road, shepherding my kids through the process of signing up for Social Security and Medicare. But perhaps I'm wrong. Maybe the urge to be a good parent &#8212; to provide advice and counsel to your offspring &#8212; never goes away.<p>Updated: Wed Oct 02, 2019</p> 5f0a3f98cd2033c4857e98c655b1681f Divorced Women Surveyed About Social Security for 09/25/2019 Wed, 25 Sep 2019 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>I've written many columns in the past with messages targeted to divorced women. And I thought I had everything covered. But I got a fascinating email recently from a reader who surveyed women in her area and had some interesting insights as to why those who are divorced were not familiar with the Social Security benefits they might be due from an ex. Or, more intriguing, why they didn't want to file for such benefits even though they knew they existed. So here is a summary of her findings, with my comments.</p> <p>One: Many women were not familiar with their potential benefits as ex-spouses.<p>Updated: Wed Sep 25, 2019</p> 3883deda70f15f638d9b12b1e541b770 Can Senior Citizens Get Social Security Disability Insurance? for 09/18/2019 Wed, 18 Sep 2019 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>Maybe it's the sign of the times, but I've been getting a lot of emails recently from senior citizens asking if they can get Social Security disability benefits. The answer depends on a variety of factors. It can get a little complicated.</p> <p>But I can begin with some relatively easy answers. If you are over your full retirement age (66 for most people reading this column), you can forget it. Once you reach that age, disability benefits are no longer payable. Or to put that another way, <span class="column--highlighted-text">once you are full retirement age or older, a disability benefit pays the same rate as a retirement benefit.</span> <p>Updated: Wed Sep 18, 2019</p> 19891b33d28adc5799bfa0befe166804 More SSA Blunders for 09/11/2019 Wed, 11 Sep 2019 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>I recently came across a Facebook page dedicated to Social Security Administration retirees. I decided not to join it because one of its tenets was this: "Never criticize the work being done by current SSA employees." I really don't like writing columns that are critical of my former colleagues who work in local SSA field offices or telephone centers. But doggone it! <span class="column--highlighted-text">I hear from readers every week who have been misled or misinformed by agency representatives. And I would be remiss if I didn't point out the errors and set the record straight.</span> Here are a few examples from just this week's mailbag.</p> <p>Q: I will be 66 in October. I continue to work and make about $140,000 per year. I wanted to start my Social Security in October. And you told me that I could do it. You said even though I make well over the $46,920 earnings limit, that limit no longer applies when I turn 66. So I went to my local Social Security office to file, and I was told by a nice young man that I am not due any benefits this year because I make too much money. He told me that I must wait until January 2020 to file, which is what I now plan to do. When I asked to see the rules in writing, he told me they cannot share that information, but he assured me that he was right. So I'm sorry, but you are giving out incorrect information. But still, I really wish I could see something in writing.<p>Updated: Wed Sep 11, 2019</p>