Social Security and You from Creators Syndicate Creators Syndicate is an international syndication company that represents cartoonists and columnists of the highest caliber. en Mon, 15 Jul 2019 16:33:42 -0700 Social Security and You from Creators Syndicate 6901f7a33a50884c52de03414e0fb264 Two Views of Social Security From the 1970s for 07/10/2019 Wed, 10 Jul 2019 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>My sister lives in a home she inherited from my mother after my mom died in the early 1990s. She was recently cleaning out the basement, and in a far corner, she found a box my mom had labeled, "Tom's writings." It was full of essays and other reports I'd written while in grade school, high school and college. There were also clippings of Social Security-related artiicles I wrote occasionally for newspapers and magazines &#8212; long before I started writing this weekly column.</p> <p>My sister sent the box to me. And going through it brought back many memories from my early days working for the Social Security Administration. I'm going to share two of them with you today. <p>Updated: Wed Jul 10, 2019</p> 5c9f852c0a25eecc20be2d4fb5db8532 Filing for Social Security Benefits for 07/03/2019 Wed, 03 Jul 2019 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>I get lots of questions about the mechanics of filing for Social Security benefits. Some of the questions seem very basic to me. But then I remind myself that even though I've been doing this stuff for 45 years, for most of my readers, filing for Social Security is an overwhelming and once-in-a-lifetime experience. Here are some questions from overwhelmed people.</p> <p>Q: I am turning 62 in November and plan to start my Social Security benefits then. When and how should I file? Friends have told me I need to start the process at least six months ahead of time because it takes the government that long to get things right.<p>Updated: Wed Jul 03, 2019</p> ef9081feb424336a17f9e2969905a733 Social Security Reduction Isn't Chiseled in Stone for 06/26/2019 Wed, 26 Jun 2019 00:00:00 -0700 <p>ARF! ARF! ARF! That's not a dog barking. It's the acronym for a little-known Social Security rule that may help some people who retired at age 62 and took reduced benefits but then decided to return to work and now wonder if their reduction is permanent. Because of ARF, it isn't. ARF stands for "adjustment to the reduction factor." It's a software program built into Social Security Administration computers that kicks in after you reach full retirement age to compensate for benefits not received prior to FRA due to the Social Security earnings penalty.</p> <p>Before I explain how the ARF works, I've got to give a little background, starting with a quick overview of the earnings penalty. SSA calls it the "retirement earnings test." But I prefer to call it a penalty because, well, you get penalized if you are a Social Security beneficiary under full retirement age who is working and trying to make a few extra bucks.</p> <p>Specifically, the law says that one dollar must be withheld from your Social Security checks for each two dollars you earn over a certain threshold that changes every year. The 2019 threshold is $17,640. So, to give a really simple example, if Hank is working and plans to make $21,640 in 2019, then $2,000 must be withheld from his Social Security checks in 2019. ($21,640 minus $17,640 equals $4,000, divided by two equals $2,000.)<p>Updated: Wed Jun 26, 2019</p> a2f48db8032f23200406c877d60d5499 German Pensioner Thinks She's Being Cheated By US Social Security for 06/19/2019 Wed, 19 Jun 2019 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>Q: I am 66 years old. Even though I am now a U.S. citizen, I spent the first 30 years of my adult life living and working in Germany. But I have lived and worked in the U.S. for the past 15 years. I get a generous retirement pension from the German Social Security system. And I was shocked to learn that my U.S. Social Security benefit will be reduced by an unfair law called the "windfall elimination provision." I have paid taxes in this country for 15 years. So I earned every penny of my already small Social Security retirement pension. How dare they reduce it even further! Where is the windfall I am supposedly getting? I see that there is a bill in Congress that has bipartisan support to repeal this unjust law. If that doesn't work, I plan to file a class action lawsuit to get what is rightfully mine. In the meantime, at least I should be able to get some of my husband's Social Security.</p> <p>A: I don't think you are being treated unfairly. And I hope that after I explain the windfall elimination provision law, you will agree. Also, I will comment on your class action lawsuit plans and on the possibility of you collecting spousal benefits on your husband's record. <p>Updated: Wed Jun 19, 2019</p> 6aa5b6d9307100b5142342ecd834ab46 The Social Security Earnings Penalty -- a Bad Law for 06/12/2019 Wed, 12 Jun 2019 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>The Social Security earnings penalty. I don't like this law. I've never liked this law. Before I explain why, let me clarify what I am talking about. The rules say that if you are a Social Security beneficiary who is under age 66 and still working, one dollar must be deducted from your Social Security checks for each two dollars you earn over $17,640 annually. A more lenient penalty applies in the year you turn 66. The earnings threshold is $46,920 with a 3 for 1 withholding scheme. In other words, one dollar is withheld from your benefits for each three dollars you make over $46,920. And once you turn age 66, the penalties go away. Starting with the month you turn 66, you could make a million dollars a day and still be eligible for Social Security checks.</p> <p>But in this column I'm primarily addressing the law that applies to people under age 66. In a bit, I'll tell you why I don't like the law now. But first I want to tell you why I hated it in all of the 32 years I worked for the Social Security Administration. And that's because it was a mess to administer. To illustrate, I'll use my own mother as an example. <p>Updated: Wed Jun 12, 2019</p> cfdf9ef4baca13db9a328c40e5827db9 Happy Anniversary for 06/05/2019 Wed, 05 Jun 2019 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>My wife and I recently celebrated our 45th wedding anniversary. We were married on June 1, 1974. I was a relatively new employee of the Social Security Administration, having been hired a year earlier. How that came to be makes for an interesting story.</p> <p>After graduating from college, I floundered around for a year or two looking for work. Finally, I decided to take a federal civil service exam. Within a month or two, letters arrived from various federal government agencies inviting me for interviews. <p>Updated: Wed Jun 05, 2019</p> c794628a48a46350dbeaa94aebd2569b The Social Security Benefit You've Never Heard Of for 05/29/2019 Wed, 29 May 2019 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>Q: I will admit I am a bit of a wonky nerd. I like researching arcane bits of historical minutiae. Recently, I got interested in Social Security BIC codes. I was able to figure out most of the benefits associated with each code. But one puzzled me: the "J" BIC, which my limited research said are "special age 72 benefits." I know about the enhanced benefit you can get if you wait until age 70 to claim your benefit. But is there some hidden extra benefit you can get at age 72?</p> <p>A: Gosh, talk about a blast from the past. I haven't heard any mention of special age 72 benefits, usually referred to as Prouty benefits, for about 30 years. It makes for an interesting story, which I will share in a minute. But first, I will give a quick answer to your question. No, there are no longer any hidden benefits you can get at age 72.<p>Updated: Wed May 29, 2019</p> 912fcff7c7888b77d7155f986d2073e1 SSA Representatives Challenge Me for 05/22/2019 Wed, 22 May 2019 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>Frequently, I hear from readers who take one of my columns into their local Social Security office to help make their case during benefit inquiries. More often than not, the Social Security representative they are talking to is skeptical, sometimes even hostile, about my involvement in the situation. I can sort of understand that. They usually have no idea who I am or my connection to the Social Security Administration. As far as they know, I'm just some yahoo who writes a newspaper column. They don't know that I spent 32 years working for SSA in a series of increasingly responsible jobs, or that I have been writing this column covering Social Security issues for almost 22 years. Today's questions illustrate this phenomenon. </p> <p>Q: My wife and I went to our local Social Security office to sign her up. She is 66 years old and filed a restricted claim on my record. I am 72. I started my benefits when I was 70, so I am getting the 32 percent "delayed retirement credit" added into my monthly benefits. My wife asked if her future widow's benefits would include those extra credits. The caseworker said "No." She said the widow's rate is based on my full retirement age rate, not my age 70 benefit. We had brought along one of your recent columns in which you said that widow's benefits do include the delayed retirement bonus and showed it to her. And she said: "I am the office expert on widow's benefits. Who are you going to believe? Some clown who writes a newspaper column? Or the office expert on widow's benefits." We went home feeling chastised. Besides your column, do you have something in black and white we can take back to the office and show this "expert" to prove you are right?<p>Updated: Wed May 22, 2019</p> 46986e59ea24144d84a3427eef75f254 The Official Social Security Maximizing Column for 05/15/2019 Wed, 15 May 2019 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>OK, it's official. I'm going to call this column, "How to maximize your Social Security benefits" and spend the rest of my life answering questions about that issue. I'd guess that 80% of the emailed questions I've been getting lately come from readers who are confused about the strategy called "file and restrict." In a nutshell, that procedure allows someone who is turning 66 before Jan. 2, 2020 to file for spousal benefits on a husband's or wife's Social Security record and then at 70, switch to 132 percent of his or her own retirement benefit. Here is a sample from the emails I opened up this morning.</p> <p>Q: I am about to turn 66 and my husband is 68. Neither of us has filed for Social Security. We want to save our benefits until we are 70. We went to our local Social Security office so that I could file and restrict on my husband's record while we both wait to start our own Social Security at 70. But they said in order to do that, my husband would have to file for his benefits now. So are they wrong? Or are we wrong?<p>Updated: Wed May 15, 2019</p> ac7b016964114cbacc81dae27482ca14 I've Been Working on the Railroad for 05/08/2019 Wed, 08 May 2019 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>Q: My husband and I live in Utah. We went to file for our Social Security benefits last week. And we were shocked to learn that his claim must be processed by some railroad board. Why? The work he did for the railroad was more than 30 years ago!</p> <p>A: I can explain. But frankly, I can't quite understand it. Recently, I wrote a column in which I bragged about the fact that I can give the rationale behind almost all Social Security rules and regulations. But I admitted there were several rules that I couldn't explain. I forgot to add this one. It involves the jurisdiction of Social Security claims involving people who also worked for a railroad. <p>Updated: Wed May 08, 2019</p> ce2625be5140c1aaad99b79050d21eb6 Gloom, But No Doom, for Social Security for 05/01/2019 Wed, 01 May 2019 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>In the spring each year, flowers and trees bloom. And so do gloom and doom stories about the future of Social Security. And that's because in April of each year, the Social Security board of trustees is required to issue a report on the status of the Social Security trust funds. (They also issue a status report on Medicare. But this is a column about Social Security, so that is the only report I will cover today.) And although there is some gloom associated with the trustee's report, there is no reason for doom.</p> <p>This year, the report says Social Security will go belly up in 2035. Well, that's what the headlines say. An in-depth reading of the trustees' findings show that if no changes are made to Social Security by 2035, the trust funds will be depleted, and the incoming payroll taxes will only be enough to cover about 75 percent of promised benefits. So Social Security would not be bankrupt in 2035, but the system would certainly be in some serious doo-doo! (That's the gloomy part of the story.) <p>Updated: Wed May 01, 2019</p> a5575c8858a3867a857bea85027ee76e You Say Tomato; I Say Tomahto for 04/24/2019 Wed, 24 Apr 2019 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>I've learned over the years that lots of people get hung up on the lexicon of Social Security. I will use a Social Security-related word or phrase in a column without giving it too much thought. And the next thing I know, there are emails in my inbox taking me to task for supposedly getting or saying something wrong. Here are a few examples.</p> <p>Q: I notice that when you discuss the Social Security deductions from people's paychecks, you always refer to them as Social Security "taxes." But I think if you do your homework and check out the history of the law, you will learn that the proper term is "contributions." Would you please start using the right language?<p>Updated: Wed Apr 24, 2019</p> ef918ab931c7cb7cf9498a811c690236 The 'Burial Benefit' That Won't Bury You for 04/17/2019 Wed, 17 Apr 2019 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>About a month ago, I wrote a column explaining what family members need to do when a loved one who was getting Social Security benefits dies. I primarily discussed what might need to be done about returning the last Social Security check (depending on the timing of the death). I also used that column to help a surviving spouse know what possible widow's (or widower's) benefits might be due and how to apply for them. </p> <p>I only briefly mentioned the one-time $255 so called "burial benefit" that is sometimes payable. I guess that was a mistake because I got lots of follow-up emails asking me about that penurious, yet popular, Social Security benefit. I confused why I was getting all those questions because I thought I had recently covered the topic. After checking my records, I learned that "recent" column was from 2011. (Time flies when you are having fun.) So it's time, once again, to discuss the infamous Social Security "death benefit." <p>Updated: Wed Apr 17, 2019</p> 8a1d3b39a6e745d95c63f724c5c23069 Money Doesn't Always Buy Happiness for 04/10/2019 Wed, 10 Apr 2019 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>Well, I just spent another day answering emails from relatively well-to-do readers who want to know how to squeeze every last nickel out of their Social Security benefits. As someone who never really fixated on the accumulation of wealth, I've always wondered if all of this money they were trying to bleed out of the system was going to buy them happiness. I mean, if it does, then I guess that's good. But I've mused before about how so many seniors seemed to be stressing out over decisions that may or may not add a few more crumbs to their already-stuffed Social Security cookie jar.</p> <p>And it got me to thinking about a man I met in the early days of my career working for the Social Security Administration who was on the opposite end of the economic spectrum. In fact, he was the only person I ever met who said that he was getting too much money! I've written about him before. But I think it's time to share his story again. <p>Updated: Wed Apr 10, 2019</p> 1459217e736be1667bda4547f24a928a 12 Questions ... 12 Answers for 04/03/2019 Wed, 03 Apr 2019 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>I usually devote an entire column to just one subject so that I can thoroughly cover all the nuances. But today I'm going to go for a record. I will see if I can answer a dozen questions in the limited space I have. Obviously, the answers will be short and to the point.</p> <p>Q: If I wait until 70 to file for Social Security, will my wife's eventual widow's benefit include the delayed retirement credits I will earn?<p>Updated: Wed Apr 03, 2019</p> c587b2815dd38418dbae5c28fefbaebc Colleagues Praise Me and Berate Me for 03/27/2019 Wed, 27 Mar 2019 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>There are about 60,000 Social Security Administration employees around the country. More than a few of them read my column. And I've learned over the years that they have differing opinions of the job I do. Today, I will share a couple of recent emails, voicing opposite reactions to my column.</p> <p>Q: I am a field rep for SSA. I want to tell you what a fantastic job you do. I have saved your columns over the years, and I frequently refer to them as a supplement to POMS and our other training materials. Keep up the good work!<p>Updated: Wed Mar 27, 2019</p> b9f107994758cdd049509452462aeb8b Absolutely Not True for 03/20/2019 Wed, 20 Mar 2019 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>I was answering emails from my readers today. And after a while, it dawned on me that three or four of them in a row began with some version of "My neighbor told me this" or "Some friends told me that." Each email went on to describe an unsubstantiated rumor about Social Security. I began each answer with the same phrase: "That is absolutely not true." So, it's time, once again, to refute some of the Social Security hearsay that is being passed around from one uninformed senior to the next.</p> <p>Q: I have heard that if two seniors each getting their own Social Security benefits get married, they will suffer a reduction in their benefits and the female member of that couple could lose her benefits entirely. Several of my friends have confirmed that this is a fact. Can you confirm this?<p>Updated: Wed Mar 20, 2019</p> eef41cb09475399a468d60c9426f9d6d Seniors with Disabilities for 03/13/2019 Wed, 13 Mar 2019 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>Baby boomers (like me) aren't just getting old. Some of us are also getting frail. I'm a pretty good example. After a lifetime of essentially good health (I was once honored for using the fewest sick leave days by my former employer, the Social Security Administration), in the past few years, I've had to deal with issues as minor as a bum knee and as severe as blood clots. </p> <p>And judging from the many emails I get from other health-ravaged seniors, I'm not alone. Many folks pushing Social Security age, and some already getting Social Security retirement, want to know if they are eligible for Social Security disability benefits. I sure don't like giving wishy-washy advice, but I'm afraid the answer is "it depends." So let's spend the rest of this column discussing those variables that may or may not make you eligible.<p>Updated: Wed Mar 13, 2019</p> b81dbe736710257ad3ae95bc527de512 Social Security Rules I Can't Explain for 03/06/2019 Wed, 06 Mar 2019 00:00:00 -0800 <p></p><p>I pride myself on being able to give my readers the rationale behind various Social Security rules and regulations. Many times, readers will send me emails in which they express utter befuddlement at a law or regulation that affects their eligibility for Social Security. It's usually a situation that results in them getting reduced benefits. And, of course, this irks them to no end. They figure the government is out to shortchange them. But once I explain why the rule exists, they almost always accept the fact that the law makes sense.</p> <p>My interest in these issues came about early in my career. I would overhear clients complaining to a fellow Social Security Administration agent about some regulation that they didn't like. And the agent frequently would respond with, "Well, it's the law!" That unhelpful comeback did nothing to assuage the anger of the customer. <span class="column--highlighted-text">So, I made it my mission to understand some of the more confusing laws and why they were enacted.</span> I never wanted to give the unsatisfactory "it's the law" response. <p>Updated: Wed Mar 06, 2019</p> e857d0bfd1c6c533319f392fe77068f5 What To Do When a Loved One Dies for 02/27/2019 Wed, 27 Feb 2019 00:00:00 -0800 <p></p><p>I worry that I sometimes neglect a significant cohort of my readers. I get so many emails from people for whom their Social Security checks are just the icing on their retirement cakes. For example, they tell me that they want to delay starting their benefits as long as possible because they have other investments or savings to keep them economically comfortable. So frequently, the topics of my columns are pitched toward them discussing issues like "maximizing" their Social Security payout.</p> <p>But then every once in a while I get emails from people on the opposite end of the economic spectrum. These folks rely on their Social Security checks for most, if not all, of their livelihood. I got such an email recently from "Mary."<p>Updated: Wed Feb 27, 2019</p>