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, 17 Jan 2018 23:53:36 -0800 Social Security and You from Creators Syndicate a6eba25ea4a2d1ed781b68dd9be3144b 'Living in Sin' No Longer Required to Get Social Security for 01/17/2018 Wed, 17 Jan 2018 00:00:00 -0800 <p></p><p>Q: My mother told me she remembers a time when women had to "live in sin" (those are her words) to avoid losing Social Security benefits. She couldn't elaborate, but she thinks some senior women still have to do that today. Do you know what she is talking about?</p> <p>A: Yes, I know exactly what she is talking about. It has to do with the payment of Social Security widow's benefits. And it makes a good story about how Social Security and politics can make strange bedfellows.<p>Updated: Wed Jan 17, 2018</p> a10d8d4d06eabba274651db36d28b969 Question on Online Application Form Still Confusing Many for 01/10/2018 Wed, 10 Jan 2018 00:00:00 -0800 <p></p><p>About two months ago, I got a question from a reader that I had never received before. (And believe me, that is unusual. I thought there wasn't a single Social Security-related question I haven't been asked a hundred times before.)</p> <p>The unique question had to do with how to answer a specific question on the online application form for Social Security retirement benefits. I'm paraphrasing, but it essentially asks this: "What month do you want your Social Security payments to start?"<p>Updated: Wed Jan 10, 2018</p> 31ff5170f9531245da1cb3979aea36d3 Turning 66 in 2018? Consider Filing for Benefits This Month for 01/03/2018 Wed, 03 Jan 2018 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 2018.</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 2018. The important message: All of them should at least consider 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 03, 2018</p> 7587fb7c20bb1f528fc3b1c2073fbe64 Social Security Update for 2018 for 12/27/2017 Wed, 27 Dec 2017 00:00:00 -0800 <p></p><p>It has been my custom for most of the past 20 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 2018 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 27, 2017</p> d5360d769ca3b865460fb95fbc25ddad My Christmas Wish List for Social Security for 12/20/2017 Wed, 20 Dec 2017 00:00:00 -0800 <p></p><p>Dear Santa,</p> <p>I've been a good kid this year. Well, I've occasionally been naughty. For example, I was a bit of an impish bad boy when I penned last week's open letter to President Trump. But if the emails I get from readers telling me that they appreciate the information and advice I dispense in this column are any indication, I think I should be pretty high up on your list of good little boys and girls. <p>Updated: Wed Dec 20, 2017</p> 5e31c70e81c3d99dbd6dd7f84c61cd6d An Open Letter to President Trump With a Christmas Gift Idea for 12/13/2017 Wed, 13 Dec 2017 00:00:00 -0800 <p></p><p>Dear Mr. President,</p> <p>I hear that your presidency is off to a rocky start. That swamp you said you'd drain seems to be getting muddier and murkier. On the other hand, you have appeased your base of government-bashing supporters by ordering federal agencies to slash their funding by 15 percent, including the Social Security Administration. I wrote a column a couple months ago questioning whether that is a good idea for SSA. After all, there are 10,000 people retiring every day and signing up for Social Security. And there are thousands more filing for Social Security disability benefits, and even thousands more filing for survivor benefits. <p>Updated: Wed Dec 13, 2017</p> 4da5bbcd183641f174289f0b63da806b Split Marriage Adds Up to No Benefits for 12/06/2017 Wed, 06 Dec 2017 00:00:00 -0800 <p></p><p>Q: I am 66 years old. I am getting my own Social Security retirement check, but it is rather small &#8212; just shy of $1,000 per month. I tried to get benefits from my deceased husband's record but my claim was turned down. They said I wasn't married long enough. But I was married for a total of 10 years. Can you please review my case and tell me what you think? And is there anything I can do about it? Here are the facts. I was married on August 5, 1989. Then we got a divorce on May 14, 1998. But then we remarried on June 19, 1999. And my husband died on January 21, 2000.</p> <p>A: Wow! What an intriguing situation. I once wrote a column in which I answered reader's complaints that Social Security rules are so complicated by pointing out that it is actually people's lives that can be so complicated &#8212; and Social Security's laws and regulations just get a little twisted trying to adapt to that fact. <p>Updated: Wed Dec 06, 2017</p> 310dacc6223e2c6a664b47c64d03f164 Guessing at Answers to Unedited Questions for 11/29/2017 Wed, 29 Nov 2017 00:00:00 -0800 <p>I get about a hundred questions emailed to me every week. And I put as many as I can into this weekly column. As you might think, I sometimes have to summarize or rephrase the question to make sure other readers understand what the questioner was asking. </p> <p>But today, I thought it would be interesting to offer you an unedited glimpse into some of the more confusing queries that land in my mailbag. You'll see that sometimes I have to guess what the person was asking before I take a stab at an answer.</p> <p>Q: What is the maximum rate someone who waited until 75 can get from Social Security? He waited that long to get his Social Security. I don't know where he is. I am only getting $1,565 and I think I should get more. I don't trust the Social Security clerks because when I ask them, they either tell me "no" or they tell me they don't understand my questions.<p>Updated: Wed Nov 29, 2017</p> 996a95c78e301c05c4237e99dfa65d13 Benefit Starting Date Confusion for 11/22/2017 Wed, 22 Nov 2017 00:00:00 -0800 <p></p><p>Q: I turn 66 in January and want benefits to start then. A few weeks ago, I filled out the claim forms online. One of the questions asked when I want my benefits to start. Knowing that Social Security checks are sent out one month in arrears, I answered by indicating "February," because the January check comes in February. Now I just received an award letter telling me my first month of eligibility is February, with the check to come in March. What went wrong? What can I do about it? And can they rephrase the question on the application form? </p> <p>A: In my opinion, you were overthinking the question. When the retirement application form asks, "Which month do you want benefits to start?" &#8212; it is asking just that. It isn't asking you which month do you want your first check to physically be sent to you. In your question to me, you said you want your benefits to start effective with the month you turn age 66. And that is January, and that's the way you should have answered the question.<p>Updated: Wed Nov 22, 2017</p> e8262e37bbe50771b14182f689d954bb More Questions From Divorced Women for 11/15/2017 Wed, 15 Nov 2017 00:00:00 -0800 <p></p><p>Just two weeks ago, I wrote a column answering questions from divorced women. Obviously, I left a lot of questions unanswered because my email inbox has been flooded with inquiries about Social Security benefits for divorcees. </p> <p>Q: I am about to turn 70. When I was 66, I filed for wife's benefits on my ex-husband's Social Security record. Someone told me that I must sign up for my own Social Security when I reach 70. This can't be right. I am getting $1,270 on my husband's account. I worked just barely over 10 years early in my life and the last time I checked, my own Social Security check was about $110. Why should I sign up for my own Social Security when it is so much less?<p>Updated: Wed Nov 15, 2017</p> e380890d02ea001b2ef973d54e11a1b7 Checks for Son Can Still Come in Mom's Name for 11/08/2017 Wed, 08 Nov 2017 00:00:00 -0800 <p></p><p>Q: I took my Social Security at age 62 so my 14-year-old son and his 55-year-old mother could get benefits on my record. My son is about to turn 16. So his mother will no longer be eligible for benefits. But my son's checks were coming in my wife's name. Will I have to go to our Social Security office to get the checks made out in my name?</p> <p>A: You can do that if you want. But you really don't have to. Before I clarify this, let me give some background for other readers. <span class="column--highlighted-text">The law says that children of a retiree can get dependent benefits until the age of 18. </span>The law further says that the mother of the child also can get benefits (assuming she is not working) until the child turns 16. So you are correct that benefits to your wife will stop. However, she can continue to be the payee for your son's Social Security checks, unless for some reason you want the checks to come in your name. Frankly, I don't think it would be worth the hassle to change things. <p>Updated: Wed Nov 08, 2017</p> d43b5fc7100baee7c3cca1093d4d0798 Benefits for Divorced Women for 11/01/2017 Wed, 01 Nov 2017 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>All of today's questions come from, or are about, women who are divorced. So let me make this general point first. The law says a divorced woman, who was married to her ex-husband for a minimum of 10 years, is due essentially the same benefits as a woman who is currently married to her husband. In a nutshell, that means a divorced woman can get between one-third and one-half of her ex-husband's Social Security (depending on her age) while he is alive and between 70 percent and 100 percent of his Social Security (depending on her age) after he dies. And those benefits are NOT in addition to her own Social Security. Instead, they are offset by her own Social Security. In other words, she'd get her own Social Security retirement benefit first, and then she'd get the difference between her wife's or widow's rate and her own rate added to her retirement benefit.</p> <p>Q. I was married to my ex-husband for 32 years before we divorced. I understand I would be due benefits on his record if they exceed what I am due on my own. But what I don't understand is why a woman who was married to a guy for only 10 years would get essentially the same benefit rate. Shouldn't the benefits to ex-wives be prorated depending on the length of the marriage?<p>Updated: Wed Nov 01, 2017</p> 6245e10fd59c232582806c2670596817 Swindler Must Pay Up Before Benefits Start for 10/25/2017 Wed, 25 Oct 2017 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>Q: I have a brother-in-law who is a scoundrel in my books. I just don't know what my sister sees in this guy. Back when he was in his 40s, he was convicted of defrauding the Social Security disability program. I know he paid a fine and even served some jail time. That was about 20 years ago. Now he is about to turn 62 and according to my sister, he is signing up for his Social Security old age pension. Surely the government isn't going to start paying this crook retirement benefits, will they?</p> <p>A: Obviously, I don't know any of the particulars about this case other than what you told me. But if he served his prison sentence, then he has repaid his debt to society and he would be eligible for retirement benefits, assuming he meets all the eligibility factors. But even though he's repaid his debt to society, he has not repaid his debt to the Social Security system. And what I mean by that is the Social Security Administration will withhold all of his monthly retirement benefits until they have recovered every nickel in disability benefits that he swindled out of the system.<p>Updated: Wed Oct 25, 2017</p> c997c744c7ad2f9530e7b01d81fe71b8 My Annual COLA Column for 10/18/2017 Wed, 18 Oct 2017 00:00:00 -0700 <p>Most people reading this column have probably heard the government announcement that Social Security checks will go up next year because of the automatic inflation-adjustment rules built into the law. But how much will they go up? </p> <p>Well, here are two headlines I read that answer the question in very different ways. First, there was this one: "Social Security recipients to get largest increase in six years." And then there was this one: "Senior citizens pegged to get another miserly increase." Sounds like those headlines were reporting two different stories, doesn't it? But they weren't. The article accompanying each headline correctly pointed out that Social Security beneficiaries will get a 2 percent increase next year. But how you view that 2 percent is obviously in the eye (and the politics) of the beholder. </p> <p>Over the many years I have been writing this column, I have probably explained the history of the politics and policies associated with Social Security's annual cost of living adjustment, or COLA, a hundred times. Well, here comes No. 101!<p>Updated: Wed Oct 18, 2017</p> 8ad2085c38cec0b9a723c43aaf53ab3e High School Kids and Social Security for 10/11/2017 Wed, 11 Oct 2017 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>I spent part of my 32-year career with the Social Security Administration as a public affairs specialist in San Diego. A big aspect of that job was running around town giving speeches to various groups and organizations. As you might guess, that involved a lot of trips to senior centers and other places where older folks might hang out. It also meant talks to civic groups like Rotary and Kiwanis clubs. And believe it or not, it occasionally involved lectures to high school students.</p> <p>You might think the last thing a high school kid would be interested in, or want to learn about, would be Social Security. And you'd be right. But I thought it was a good idea to get teenagers to think about the subject &#8212; from both a historical and economic viewpoint, and from the perspective of their own budding relationship with the program. Today, I will share with you some of the things I told these kids.<p>Updated: Wed Oct 11, 2017</p> a27a9c7a4b2b4ac7716ae7a7ae33b4a0 Social Security and My Mom for 10/04/2017 Wed, 04 Oct 2017 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>You are probably reading this column sometime in early October, which is when I always think of my mom. Her birthday was Oct. 1. She's been dead for about 20 years now. But when I think of her, two things I remember involve her relationship with Social Security. </p> <p>The first is just a cute story. I started working for the Social Security Administration in 1973. I was with the agency for only about two weeks, and was still in training class, when my mother's mother, my grandma, died. I went home for the funeral and, of course, was surrounded by scores of my grandma's relatives and friends, many of whom were older folks on Social Security. And my mother proudly introduced me to them as "my son, the Social Security expert." I was inundated with what seemed like a hundred questions about retirement benefits, widow's benefits, Medicare benefits and all other elements of the government's retirement and health insurance programs. <p>Updated: Wed Oct 04, 2017</p> 068a2f3205d8a53062aee80239328e54 More Questions ... More Answers for 09/27/2017 Wed, 27 Sep 2017 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>Last week, I tried to answer as many questions as I could in the limited space I have. But I ran out of column before I ran out of queries. So this week, more relatively short and concise answers to reader's questions.</p> <p>Q: I am 61. I plan to wait until I am 70 before I start my Social Security. My wife is 66 and already getting her Social Security. My benefit will be twice as much as hers is. If I die before I reach age 70, what will she get?<p>Updated: Wed Sep 27, 2017</p> 878c9c3945f893cd25d825093a6115b2 Social Security: Short and Quick for 09/20/2017 Wed, 20 Sep 2017 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>Because Social Security rules can be so confusing to so many people, and because it can take some time to explain those rules, I usually spend an entire column trying to clarify just one topic. But every once in a while, I like to give short and quick answers to as many questions as possible covering a wide array of subjects. </p> <p>Q: I am turning 66 and am about to file for my Social Security. What documents will I need?<p>Updated: Wed Sep 20, 2017</p> 57e3aeb7afbbcfefd6307ae30723dc39 Do You Really Want a Shrunken SSA? for 09/13/2017 Wed, 13 Sep 2017 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>I sure am glad President Trump isn't considering me to be the new head of the Social Security Administration. What a thankless job! As about 10,000 people retire every day, and as thousands more file for disability and survivor benefits, the agency's workforce keeps dwindling. And it's going to get worse.</p> <p>Trump considers it his mandate to shrink the size of government. Of course, almost every Republican legislator thinks the same. And since they are now running the country, the federal government, including SSA, is going to shrink.<p>Updated: Wed Sep 13, 2017</p> cfaf84a0a7a28ee9a475ba6cb90a19a7 Answers for Women About Social Security for 09/06/2017 Wed, 06 Sep 2017 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>I wouldn't know how to go about getting accurate information about this issue, but based on the emails I receive, I'd guess that 75 percent of my readers are women. Here are some example emails. </p> <p>Q: I am 75 years old and getting widow's benefits from my first husband, who died many years ago. I was married a second time for 20 years to another man. He was a doctor and made millions. I divorced him because of physical abuse I suffered. He is living in a mansion in California. What I can't figure out is why I am not getting any of his Social Security?<p>Updated: Wed Sep 06, 2017</p>