Social Security Answers for FREE!!

social security questions and answers

This is the biggest announcement I’ve made since I started this website.

Before I get to that, a little background will help to explain.

When I started this website, I had a simple goal. I wanted to help folks make sense out of Social Security. After assisting individuals with retirement planning for over a decade, I knew that the information available on this topic was unclear and often contradicting. Unfortunately, most folks just had to take the word of the person they’d talked to at their local Social Security office as the final word…even when it didn’t seem right.

What I didn’t completely understand was just how popular this site would become. As I’m writing this article, I’m looking back at multiple days where I’ve had over 1,000 daily visitors to my website. That’s still pretty modest for many sites, but I’m ecstatic that there’s that many people who want to read about Social Security! This site is rapidly growing too. In the last 12 months we’ve experienced a 925% increase in traffic from the search engines such as Google and Bing.

I’ve come to realize, there are a lot of people who are looking for answers to their Social Security questions.

To answer that need, I’m launching a question & answer page to my website. It’s 100% free and super easy to use. If you’d like to check it out, visit https://socialsecurityintelligence.com/questions-answers/.

To post your question, you’ll have to do a quick registration (to keep out the spammers), and agree to the following:

  • Your question and the answers will be published for public viewing on this site. Once published, the content will remain posted at the site owner’s discretion. You should not publish personal data such as date of birth, social security numbers, or any other personally identifiable information.
  • The information in this site does not constitute specific and individual advice. It should be interpreted as educational in nature.

I will continue to offer a consulting service if you’d rather contact me directly. For more information on that, visit the Need Help page.

I can’t wait to see your questions!

Why Social Security is Important for YOU (even if you’re not close to retirement)

family coverage under social security

Think Social Security is just for the retired? Think again! There’s something here for everyone.

When we think of Social Security, we usually think about a monthly check when we retire. The truth is, the Social Security system offers a lot more than just retirement benefits. There are also benefits if you become disabled, survivor benefits if you die and benefits if you need medical care. All of these benefits offer a valuable safety net for risks that could occur decades before retirement.

Here are some numbers that show the importance of Social Security benefits that you might use long before retirement:

  • In 2014 there were nearly 3.3 million children receiving benefits.
    —350,000 from a retired parent
    —1,634,000 from a disabled parent
    —1,245,000 from a deceased parent
  • 34% of all Social Security benefits are paid to the spouses and children of retired, deceased or disabled workers.
  • 54 years old is the average of a disabled worker
  • Just over 1 in 4 of today’s 20 year-olds will become disabled before reaching age 67.

Source: SSA.GOV

Let’s face it…the risks are real. Social Security helps families who have faced a loss of income due to death or injury.

If you are serious about planning for the future, and protecting against potential risks, you need to understand how these benefits work and when they apply. With this information, you can make the best decisions about how to protect your family.

Two Categories of Protection

So how does Social Security help to manage these pre-retirement risks? There are two categories of benefits available:

  • Benefits for the worker
  • Benefits for the worker’s family

Both groups of benefits are an important part of your overall financial plan.  Let’s examine each individually:

Benefit for the Worker

In additional to retirement income, Social Security provides two other important benefits for the worker:  income if you become disabled, and medical coverage.

If you become disabled:  Social Security provides income to those who are unable to work due to disability.  Depending on your work history, you may be eligible for one of two programs:  Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

SSDI pays a portion of your pre-disability income, based upon a complex formula.

Eligibility for SSDI is based on your work history and your medical condition.  In general, you must have worked for ten year to be eligible for SSDI, but there are multiple exceptions based upon age.

So how much would this disability payment be? There are a few factors that affect it, but generally speaking you can look at your full retirement age benefit on your Social Security benefit statement for a good idea.

If you become disabled, you may also become eligible for Medicare health insurance after 24 months of disability.

Benefit for Worker’s Family

If you die or become disabled, there are benefits that may be available to your spouse and to your children.

Benefits for your Spouse

There are several ways your spouse may be eligible for social security benefits:

    • When caring for your child under the age of 16
    • If age 62 (60 for survivor benefits)
    • If over the age of 50 and disabled (survivor benefits only)

Generally, your spouse will qualify for these benefits if you were married at least 12 months. The requirement for survivor benefits is only 9 months.  However, there are multiple exceptions to the 9 month length of marriage requirement.

For more information on the Survivors Benefit, see my article Social Security Survivor Benefits: The Complete Guide to Who Gets What and How to Calculate It.

Benefits for your Children

If you become disabled or die, a child who is your biological child, adopted child, or dependent stepchild  is eligible for children’s benefits if the child is:

    • unmarried, and
    • under age 18, or
    • 18-19 and a full-time student in secondary school through grade 12, or
    • 18 or older and disabled with a disability that started before age 22.

How Much In Benefits?

Assuming that each family member meets the eligibility criteria for benefits, they would be able to receive up to:

Also see the quick reference chart below.

SPOUSE

If you die, your spouse will be eligible for 100% of your Full Retirement Age (FRA) benefit if he or she is:

  • at his or her full retirement age, or
  • at any age if caring for a child under the age of 16.

Surviving spouse is eligible to file as early as 60, but benefits will be reduced.

If you become disabled, your spouse will be eligible for 50% of your Full Retirement Age benefit at surviving spouse’s full retirement age or at any age if caring for a child under the age of 16.

Spouse is eligible to file as early as 62, but benefits will be reduced.

CHILDREN

If you die, your eligible child may receive 75% of your Full Retirement Age benefit.

If you become disabled, your eligible child may receive 50% of your Full Retirement Age benefit.

Benefits for children continue until the child reaches age 18, unless the child marries.  Benefits may continue until the child is 19 as long as he or she is completing a secondary school program.  Benefits may also continue for children who were disabled prior to age 22.

 

social security benefits payable to family

Family Benefit Maximum

Each qualified family member may receive a monthly benefit payment based on your full retirement benefit amount, but there is a limit to the total amount the Social Security Administration will pay to your family. They refer to this limit as the Family Benefit Maximum. This maximum benefit is not a set number but is about 150 to 180 percent of your full retirement benefit. Where your percentage falls depends on your full retirement age benefit. I’ve included a chart below to help you figure this out for yourself.

There are two notable exceptions to maximum calculation.

1)If you have a divorced spouse who is receiving benefits from your work record, it will not count in the family benefit maximum and it will not affect the amount of benefits you or your family may receive.

2) The 150%-180% range only applies if the payments to children or eligible spouses is made because of your disability benefit. The maximum is simply 150% of your Full Retirement Age benefit.

2017 family maximum benefit formulaEarnings Limit

If a child or surviving spouse is receiving benefits from Social Security, they are subject to the same earnings limitation as everyone else. It should be noted that your child’s earnings affect only their own benefits and not yours or those of any other beneficiaries on your record.

ssa survivor benefit earnings limit

The Replacement Cost of Social Security

I’ll occasionally hear someone say that they would get out of Social Security if that was allowed.Their thought is that they’ll never receive the amount of benefits to equal to the amount of taxes they’ve paid in. That rationale makes sense if you are only considering the benefit you may get in retirement. But the argument falls completely apart when you consider all the other benefits that are provided from Social Security.

If you really wanted to opt out of Social Security, you’d need to:

  • Buy more life insurance
  • Buy more disability insurance
  • Save a few hundred thousand to pay for healthcare costs
  • Save a few hundred thousand to create a retirement income

The average couple would need to pay for life insurance, disability insurance and save just over $1,000,000 to replace the income from Social Security.

If you still have questions about Social Security, here are two books that I think are great.

Mike Piper’s Social Security Made Simple

Emily Guy Birken’s Making Social Security Work For You

Can Social Security Be Garnished?

Social Security Garnishment Notice

“We need to get immediate payment or we’ll garnish your Social Security benefit!”

The voicemail left for my client couldn’t have been more clear. After his wife died, he was left with thousands of dollars in medical bills. He’d tried to sort it all out, but trying to process his wife’s death and a mountain of medical bills at the same time was overwhelming. He planned to get to it, but for now, he just needed a minute to grieve.

The bill collectors didn’t wait, and it didn’t take long for the nasty calls to come rolling in. His last straw was the voicemail with the threat of taking away his Social Security benefit. I still remember the frustration, fear and anger in his voice when he asked me, “Can Social Security be garnished by debt collectors?”

Hmmm…

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Get Organized: How To Improve Your Chances For A Successful Retirement

Get financially organized

One of the biggest hurdles to a successful retirement is financial organization. It’s easy for account statements, legal forms and other important documents to pile up in some hidden away desk or drawer. Before long, things are messy. Not just physically messy, but mentally messy too.

Before you can accurately plan for an awesome retirement, you need to clean this mess up. Having a clear system will help make all of your life easier.  It might take a little effort, but it will save you so much time and energy in the future.

Here’s how to get your finances organized in seven doable steps:

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Video: How To Calculate Spousal Benefits (the RIGHT way)

Social Security Spousal Benefits really aren’t that hard to calculate. However, they are just a little deeper than some of the stuff I see floating around on the internet.

The cases that are most often misunderstood are those where a lower earning spouse will collect benefits from his/her work record and an additional amount for a spousal benefit.

Here’s a video where I discuss the steps to calculating this “dual entitlement” of both types of benefits.

 

The 9 Social Security Basics That EVERYONE Should Know

Podcast Episodes Part 1 & 2

If you read many of the articles I write, you’ve probably noticed that I put a lot of emphasis on understanding the basics. Why? It’s the foundation! It’s what gives us the ability to spot mistakes, errors and general screw-ups before they turn into big problems.

Recently, on the Big Picture Retirement podcast we spent two entire episodes talking about Social Security basics.

Here are the episodes:

Part 1: The 9 Social Security Basics That EVERYONE Should Know

Social Security is a lot easier to understand if you know about 9 basic concepts.  In this episode we discuss these four topics:

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Top 7 Social Security Tools for Public Servants

social security tools for public servants

Over the past few years I’ve produced a lot of content that covers the complicated Social Security rules for educators and other public servants. Now, as my website has experienced massive growth, the content I’ve created can be hard to find. It occurred to me the other day that I should build a one-stop article that has links to some of my most read and requested material in this area.

Hope you enjoy…

-Devin

1-Social Security for Educators (and other public servants)

This is the first, and most widely read article that broadly covers the topic of Social Security benefits for individuals with a non- covered pension (from a job where no SS tax was paid). This article has an overview of who is affected by the additional Social Security rules, the Windfall Elimination Provision and the Government Pension Offset.

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Social Security Survivor Benefits: The Complete Guide to Who Gets What and How to Calculate It

social security survivor benefits

Whenever I’m asked about how Social Security survivor benefits work, I have a simple answer:

At death of the first spouse, surviving spouses receives the higher of:

  • Their own monthly benefit, or
  • The monthly benefit of the deceased.

That’s the clean and straightforward answer, but it’s not quite that simple.  Although Social Security survivor benefits really are pretty simple, every family is different.  Unique situations and variables can introduce some complexity.

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The Best Solution to Your Social Security Power of Attorney

Why Yours Won't Work and How to Fix It

POA Rejected by Social Security Administration

 

Have you ever tried to use a power of attorney (POA) for Social Security (SS) purposes? If you haven’t, save yourself the trouble. The Social Security Administration (SSA) will not accept it.

After multiple clients experienced frustration at the Social Security office, I reached out to John Ross, an elder law attorney and co-host of our podcast (Big Picture Retirement) for an explanation and guidance.

He said, “There is no Social Security Power of Attorney. Powers of Attorney are creations of state law and vary wildly from state to state.  Since the federal agencies like the SSA do not want to have to separately review POAs based on both the facts and circumstances of their creation and the various state laws that may be applicable, these agencies have taken the position that they will not accept a POA under any circumstances.  Instead, they have developed federal regulations related to incapacitated beneficiaries of federal programs and established criteria under who the agency will deal with.  Since federal law trumps state law, there is nothing an agent under a power of attorney can do to alter this structure.”

How do you help someone with their SS issues if the SSA won’t accept a POA? Essentially a person wanting to assist a SS beneficiary will have two options.

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Social Security Benefits for Children: The 4 Most Important Things You Should Know

social security for children

 

Social Security benefits for children are a big deal. In January 2017, there were more than 4.2 million children receiving Social Security benefits because one or both of their parents are disabled, retired or deceased. These benefits payments to children total more than $2.6 billion every month.

Sadly, many children don’t get the benefits for which they are eligible.  Most people don’t know about the qualifications and rules for this special benefit, so they don’t know to apply for the children in their lives.

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