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, 06 Jun 2020 12:41:46 -0700 Social Security and You from Creators Syndicate 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> 6b2ef51015a15b5881f11d97df505e5f Let's Play 20 Questions for 05/13/2020 Wed, 13 May 2020 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>I'm going to assume you've all heard of the kids' game "20 Questions." <span class="column--highlighted-text">Well, I'm going to do my own version of that today. I'm going to try to squeeze 20 questions into this column. To do that, my answers must be short and sweet</span>. </p> <p>Q: I just inherited some property that is worth $40,000. If I sell that property, will I lose my Social Security widows benefits?<p>Updated: Wed May 13, 2020</p> b8ea87074f62d6275361c52ee6a69d54 Desperate Seniors for 05/06/2020 Wed, 06 May 2020 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>I get a lot of emails from confused and maybe lonely people who are writing to me mostly out of desperation. They are almost always from older senior citizens, folks in their 80s and beyond, who are looking for more money from Social Security. These emails are especially sad because there is usually nothing I can do for the questioners other than say, "Sorry, but there is really nothing I can do." Many times, especially when they have questions about their benefit amounts, I refer them to the Social Security Administration. After all, I am just one old retired guy sitting in his basement at a computer without access to anyone's Social Security records. On the other hand, the SSA has 62,000 trained employees who have all of your Social Security files at their fingertips. Almost always, when you have a question about your Social Security payments, you are better off going to the SSA than coming to me. </p> <p>Here are some examples of the kinds of emails I am talking about.<p>Updated: Wed May 06, 2020</p> 8a95b041889a80f26d1487192d2b5a79 Virus Means More Work for Me! for 04/29/2020 Wed, 29 Apr 2020 00:00:00 -0700 <p>Just ask me if I'm getting weary of the coronavirus! And I'm not coming at my dislike for the pandemic for any of the normal reasons: the social distancing, the masks, the confusing signals from Washington, etc. etc. What really makes me dislike the disease is that folks must be getting tired of watching "Tiger King" and "Ozark" and other streaming options and are instead thinking up Social Security questions to send me. Lately, I've been getting about 50 emails every day. And yesterday, you helped me break a record. I got 122 emails from my readers! In just one day!</p> <p>Oh, I guess I shouldn't complain. I mean, how many games of Scrabble can I play with my wife before we really get on each other's nerves? So, answering your questions gives me something to do to help fill these "stay at home" days. </p> <p>But before I get to some of these questions, let me make this point. Because of the high volume of emails I get, I simply do not have time to get into complicated issues. Some readers send me emails that go on and on and on. I understand. I know you think you should give me as much background information as possible to preface your question. But remember that your email is just one of hundreds of emails I have to deal with each week. So, please: Keep your questions as short as possible. Now, here are some of the short and sweet emails I got yesterday.<p>Updated: Wed Apr 29, 2020</p> fda710fa7bc62fcf7b9120ecb1919c53 A 2-Tier Social Security System for 04/22/2020 Wed, 22 Apr 2020 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>In last week's column, I provided a very brief overview of the Australian Social Security system. (I got interested in the topic after my wife and I visited the Land Down Under and got to talking to some retirees there.) </p> <p>Their Social Security program, which first started in 1907 (compared with 1935 in the U.S.), is a two-tier system. They have a traditional old-age pension that is funded out of general tax revenues, as opposed to a dedicated payroll tax as we (and many other countries) have. It pays a rather modest retirement benefit that caps out at about $1,200 per month (in American dollars). And those benefits are means-tested. They are gradually reduced depending on how much other income you have and the value of your assets, including your home. So many middle class and richer Australians don't qualify for any of these traditional Social Security benefits.<p>Updated: Wed Apr 22, 2020</p> 77145f2de803b9448036041a3d148eab Social Security in Australia for 04/15/2020 Wed, 15 Apr 2020 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>A couple of months ago, my wife and I returned from a six-week trip to Australia that also included a roundtrip cruise from Sydney to New Zealand. I had been planning that trip for about a year. And little did I know during that entire planning process that the dates I chose would work out so well. We went there after the worst of the bushfires that devastated parts of Australia and before the coronavirus devastated the world! We really were extremely lucky.</p> <p>Anyway, shortly after we returned from the trip, I mentioned in a column that I met more than a few old-age pensioners from Down Under. And I said I thought it would be interesting to compare their Social Security system to ours and that I would do so after conducting a bit of research. Well, little did I know what I was getting myself into. <p>Updated: Wed Apr 15, 2020</p> 020e79d06d2ecce6f4de236da49e0f7a Top 10 Social Security Questions for 04/08/2020 Wed, 08 Apr 2020 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>I get hundreds of emails a week from my readers. I try to answer each and every one of them. But I probably answer the same 10 questions over and over and over again! And here they are. <span class="column--highlighted-text">So, I'd like all you guys to clip out this column and stick it in your Social Security folder.</span> (If you are getting Social Security, or anywhere near retirement age, I'm sure you have a Social Security folder.) By the way, my answers are going to be short and to the point, just so I can squeeze in as many questions as I can in the limited space I have.</p> <p>Q: I'm 62. My husband is 67 and getting Social Security. Can I file for spousal benefits on his record and save my own until I'm 70?<p>Updated: Wed Apr 08, 2020</p> 865f56a26ba7a577d93cd90003575394 Social Security Maximizing Madness for 04/01/2020 Wed, 01 Apr 2020 00:00:00 -0700 <p>Every week, I probably get a dozen emails from readers who tell me they want to "maximize" their Social Security benefits. So many senior citizens are absolutely obsessed with the notion that there is some secret to getting more money from Social Security that they don't know about.</p> <p>As I've explained hundreds of times in this column, the alleged "secret" that so many financial planners will dangle in front of you (usually as a lure to attend one of their seminars) is this: Wait as long as possible before claiming any Social Security benefits. And as I've also discussed many times in this column, that may be good advice for some, but not for everyone.</p> <p><span class="column--highlighted-text">Still, all this talk about "secrets" and "maximizing your Social Security" has almost all senior citizens totally fixated on this idea that they are missing out on something or that they will make a mistake when it comes to deciding when to start their Social Security benefits. </span><p>Updated: Wed Apr 01, 2020</p> 3dbb975e6f605de5938cd6c8c8f3eeb4 What To Do When Social Security Reps Give You Misinformation for 03/25/2020 Wed, 25 Mar 2020 00:00:00 -0700 <p></p><p>I really do not like writing columns that are critical of my former colleagues at the Social Security Administration. But doggone it! <span class="column--highlighted-text">Almost every single day, I get emails from readers who share stories with me about misinformation they've received from SSA representatives they've talked to either at the national 800 number or at their local Social Security office.</span> </p> <p>It's bad enough if the misinformation involves an incorrect answer to a relatively minor question. But when it causes someone to miss out on benefits they are due, it is a downright shame. <p>Updated: Wed Mar 25, 2020</p> 4c73b89d77ec49380081c809180c05a3 With a Spouse, Taking Your Social Security Early Might Be Better for 03/18/2020 Wed, 18 Mar 2020 00:00:00 -0700 <p>I'm sure you've seen websites, or received mailers from financial planners, that entice you with come-on's like this: "Learn the secrets to maximizing your Social Security benefits." Or, "You may be losing tens of thousands of dollars if you don't know this Social Security secret."</p> <p>If you open the website, or attend the seminar, here is the "secret" you will learn: delay taking your Social Security benefits until age 70. And the theory is that you will live long enough to make up for the money you lose by not starting your benefits sooner.</p> <p>That's probably good advice for lots of people. But there are still millions of senior citizens who, for a variety of reasons, choose to take their benefits earlier. For example, both my wife and I started our Social Security benefits at age 62. We were perfectly content doing that. We know that if we live until a ripe old age, we might end up coming out on the short end of the Social Security stick. But we don't care. We've been having too much fun for the past decade spending our reduced Social Security checks.<p>Updated: Wed Mar 18, 2020</p> 58b20dc9bede10d3d0b36af48d64e394 Retirees With Disabled Children for 03/11/2020 Wed, 11 Mar 2020 00:00:00 -0700 <p>Some older folks who are pushing retirement age might have a disabled minor child and wonder if that child will qualify for benefits once they sign up for Social Security. Or they have an adult son or daughter who is disabled, and they want to know how Social Security works for them. That's what today's column is all about.</p> <p>Let's start out with the first scenario. You are about to apply for Social Security retirement benefits. You have a child with a disability. What kind of hoops do you have to jump through to get benefits for that son or daughter? Essentially, none. And that's because a child under 18 qualifies for benefits whether he is she is disabled or not.</p> <p>And those benefits normally continue until the child reaches age 18. At that point, the Social Security Administration is going to come back to you and ask if the child is disabled. If he or she is, you will have to fill out a bunch of medical forms that are used to decide if the child meets the legal definition of disability for Social Security purposes. If your child is determined to be disabled, then benefits will continue indefinitely. <p>Updated: Wed Mar 11, 2020</p> cf272b8a8082b684b603e20590000f30 Sometimes a Woman Can Switch From Her Own to Spousal Benefits for 03/04/2020 Wed, 04 Mar 2020 00:00:00 -0800 <p>Many women are constantly sending me emails complaining that they think they should be getting some extra spousal benefits to supplement their own smaller Social Security check. They reason that their benefit is smaller than half of their husband's rate, so they should get the difference. </p> <p>However, they are almost always being paid correctly, because what they fail to take into account is the fact that they started their benefits at age 62 &#8212; and by doing that, they do NOT get the normal 50% spousal rate. It will be closer to about 35%.</p> <p>Here is a typical example. Juan gets $1,500 in retirement benefits. His wife, Maria, gets $600 on her own retirement account. Maria thinks she should get another $150 in spousal benefits to take her up to half of Juan's check, or $750. But Maria took benefits at age 62. That means she is only due 35% of Juan's rate, or $525. Her own $600 is more than her $525 spousal benefit, so she isn't due anything on Juan's account (while he is alive). She would be due a higher widow's check after he dies. But that's a story for another column. Today I am talking about benefits to spouses of a living husband.<p>Updated: Wed Mar 04, 2020</p> a7784c4602e12eb30df5272904e9446c Let's Just Reach Into the Mailbag for 02/26/2020 Wed, 26 Feb 2020 00:00:00 -0800 <p></p><p>I have just returned from a six-week trip to Australia and New Zealand. (I met more than a few Australian and New Zealand pensioners on this trip, and I'm thinking of a future column comparing their Social Security systems with ours.) </p> <p>But right now, I've got hundreds of backed-up emails to answer. So, for today's column, instead of concentrating on a single issue, I'm going to just reach into that electronic mailbag and answer whichever question I pull out.<p>Updated: Wed Feb 26, 2020</p> 20409d1ec3ac0acf153ced33159067f0 Politicians Have Not Stolen Social Security Money for 02/19/2020 Wed, 19 Feb 2020 00:00:00 -0800 <p>I give lots of talks about Social Security. I've given thousands of them over the past 45 years. And at almost every one of those presentations, inevitably, somebody in the crowd will get up and make a statement that begins with these words: "I'll tell you what's wrong with Social Security!" And then they will go off on some rant, spouting lies or half-truths. Lots of times, it's something they've been telling themselves for years. Or more recently, it's some garbage they picked up on the internet.</p> <p>I don't mind the bombastic behavior because once I get a chance to respond, it gives me the opportunity to set the record straight. I can tell that many in the audience follow what I am saying and agree with me. But I almost never convince the guy who is on his soapbox. His misplaced beliefs are just too firmly rooted in his psyche. And I even sort of understand that. For example, if you've spent your whole life being absolutely convinced that the Earth is flat, and then someone shows you proof that the world is round, it might take a while before that knowledge sinks into your brain.</p> <p>There are countless examples of these "what's wrong with Social Security" rants. But today, I only have space to cover one of them. And it is, by far, the most common rant of all. It goes like this: "I'll tell you what's wrong with Social Security. If politicians had kept their cotton-picking hands off the Social Security trust funds, we wouldn't have any problems today!" The implication is that presidents, or members of Congress, have stolen Social Security money and used it for other purposes. Many will go a bit further and say, "It all started with LBJ. He took Social Security money and put it in the general funds of the government!"<p>Updated: Wed Feb 19, 2020</p> 3e9eb670f900c6da983aef6735816d2d Social Security Start Date Problem Solved? for 02/12/2020 Wed, 12 Feb 2020 00:00:00 -0800 <p>Maybe the Social Security Administration fixed the problem? I guess we'll just have to wait and see.</p> <p>So, what's the problem? I'm talking about an issue that, on the surface, sounds very simple. Yet over the years, hundreds, if not thousands, of readers have found it confusing and have written to me for clarification. </p> <p>It's the answer to this simple-sounding question on the online Social Security retirement application form: "When do you want your benefits to start?"<p>Updated: Wed Feb 12, 2020</p> b0a0d3102d38c819111dc48f90cbfea6 Crazy Ideas for 02/05/2020 Wed, 05 Feb 2020 00:00:00 -0800 <p>I know everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion. But let's be honest. Sometimes a lot of those opinions can be downright crazy. And when it comes to Social Security, lots of people share their half-baked or out-and-out nutty ideas with me. And today, I'm going to share some of them with you. </p> <p>Crazy Idea No. 1: "I think the law should say this: If you haven't paid into Social Security, you don't get anything out of Social Security. Period."</p> <p>My comments: On the surface, without thinking it through, this may seem to make sense to a lot of people. You must work and pay taxes into the program in order to reap the benefits of the program. But what about dependents and survivors? I went back to this guy and asked him this: "So, if a guy dies, you're saying his wife should not get widows benefits?" And this was his reply: "That's right. He should make plans to provide for his wife after he dies. It shouldn't be up to the government to take care of her."<p>Updated: Wed Feb 05, 2020</p> 6da53a08be643b5f2f982661eff502e8 OK, You're Dead! Now What? for 01/29/2020 Wed, 29 Jan 2020 00:00:00 -0800 <p>Several months ago, I wrote a column about how to handle Social Security matters when a loved one dies. I guess you all forgot to cut it out and paste it on your refrigerator, because I continually get questions about that topic. Here are some of the latest ones.</p> <p>Q: For Christmas, my wife got me a clever little booklet titled, "So I'm dead ... now what?" In effect, it's a little journal I'm supposed to fill in with instructions to my wife and family about how to handle my affairs after I am gone. One of the sections is about Social Security. So, what do I put in that section? And just so you know, I'm 82, and I get $2,490 from Social Security. My wife is 78, and she gets $1,850.</p> <p>A: Sometime after your death, your wife is going to have to contact the Social Security Administration to file for widows benefits. She should call the SSA at 800-772-1213 to set up an appointment to file that claim over the phone or at your local Social Security office. (As a general rule, widows claims cannot be done online.)<p>Updated: Wed Jan 29, 2020</p> 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>