Need to Know For Retirement or Survivors Benefits

If You Are A Noncitizen


If you are a noncitizen, let us know if you become a U.S. citizen or your noncitizen status changes. If your noncitizen status expires, you must give us new evidence that shows your status has been extended or changed by the Immigration and Naturalization Service to another lawfully present category.

The Death Of A Beneficiary


When a person who receives Social Security benefits dies, no benefit is payable for the month of death. That means if the person died any time in July, for example, the benefits received in August (which is payment for July) must be returned. The financial institution must be notified of the death as soon as possible so it can return any payments received after death.

If the benefits are paid by check, the survivor must bring the check to a Social Security office to have the payee information changed.

Family members may be eligible for Social Security survivors benefits when a retired worker dies.

If a spouse was living with the beneficiary at the time of death, he or she will receive a one-time payment of $255. The payment may be made to a spouse who was not living with the beneficiary at the time of death if he or she was receiving Social Security benefits based on the deceased's earnings record. If there is no surviving spouse, a child (or children) who is eligible for benefits on the deceased's work record in the month of his or her death may claim the payment.

If You're Receiving Social Security And Railroad Retirement Benefits


If you're receiving both Social Security and Railroad Retirement benefits based on your spouse's earnings record and your spouse dies, you must tell us immediately. You will no longer be eligible to receive both benefits. You will be notified which survivor benefit you will receive.

Part 4––Working And Getting Social Security At The Same Time

How Earnings Affect Your Benefits


You can continue to work and still get all of your Social Security benefits as long as your earnings are under certain limits.

These limits increase each year as average wages increase. In 1998, the earnings limits are $9,120 for people under age 65 and $14,500 for people age 65 through 69. Earnings in or after the month you reach age 70 won't affect your Social Security benefits.

You can work and earn up to the limit and still get all your Social Security benefits. If your earnings go over the limit, some or all of your benefits will be withheld. Here's how it works:

  • if you are under age 65, we will deduct $1 in benefits for each $2 you earn above $9,120; and
  • if you are age 65 through 69, we will deduct $1 in benefits for each $3 you earn above $14,500.

Let's look at an example.

Mr. Jones: Age 65
Benefit amount: $800 a month ($9,600 year)

Earnings: $22,000 a year
Minus earnings limit: $14,500
Difference: $ 7,500 ¸ 3 = $2,500

Mr. Jones will get all but $2,500 of his Social Security benefits for the year. He will get $7,100 in Social Security ($9,600 Social Security benefit minus $2,500 reduction) in addition to his $22,000 earnings. His total income–– $29,100.

If, on the other hand, Mr. Jones limits his outside earnings to $14,500, he will get all his benefits. He will get $9,600 in Social Security benefits in addition to his $14,500 in earnings. His total income––$24,100.

If you are under age 65 and some of your benefits are withheld because your earnings are over $9,120 there is some good news. When you reach age 65, your benefits will be increased to take into account those months in which you received no benefit or reduced benefits. Here's why:  your benefit was initially reduced five-ninths of one percent for each month you were under age 65 when you signed up for Social Security. But at age 65, we give you back five-ninths of one percent for each month you didn't get a Social Security benefit because your earnings were too high.

There's another way that working may increase your Social Security benefit. Your benefit is based on a percentage of your earnings averaged over most of your working lifetime. If any income you make after signing up for Social Security increases your overall average earnings, your benefit probably will increase.

For more information, call Social Security to ask for How Work Affects Your Benefits (Publication No. 05-10069).

A Special Monthly Rule


Sometimes, people who retire in mid-year have already earned more than the yearly earnings limit before they retire. That's why there's a special rule that applies to earnings for one year, usually the first year of retirement. Under this rule, you can receive full Social Security benefits for any whole month you are “retired,” regardless of your yearly earnings.

If you retire in mid-year 1998, you are considered retired—even if you earned more than the annual earnings limit—as long as your monthly earnings are limited to $760 (under age 65) or $1,209 (age 65 through 69). The $1–for–$2 and $1–for–$3 rules cannot be applied to selected months. This means that you will lose a whole month's Social Security benefit if your earnings exceed the monthly limit by even $1.

If you're self-employed, the monthly test is based on whether you perform substantial services in your business. One measure of your service is the amount of time you spend working. In general, if you work more than 45 hours a month in self-employment, you are not retired; if you work less than 15 hours a month, you are retired. Work between 15 and 45 hours a month may be considered substantial if you work in an occupation that requires a lot of skill or you are managing a sizable business.

For detailed information about whether your work is substantial, call Social Security to ask for the factsheet, When You Retire From Your Own Business: What Social Security Needs To Know (Publication No. 05-10038).

What Income Counts ... And When Do We Count It?


Only wages and net self-employment income count toward the Social Security earnings limit. Income you have from savings, investments or insurance will not affect your benefits.

If You Worked For Wages
Wages count toward the earnings limit when they are earned, not when they are paid. If you have income that you earned in one year, but the payment was deferred to a following year, it should not be counted as earnings for the year you receive it. Some examples of deferred income include accumulated sick or vacation pay, bonuses, stock options and other deferred compensation.

The Social Security Administration has made arrangements with the Internal Revenue Service to have employers report some types of deferred compensation directly on the W-2 form. These amounts are shown in a box labeled, “Nonqualified Plan.” We will subtract the amount shown from your total earnings counted for the earnings limit.

If you are paid wages in one year for work you did in previous years, you should contact us.

If You Are Self-Employed
If you're self-employed, income counts when you receive it––not when you earn it––except if it is paid in a year after you become entitled to Social Security and was earned before you became entitled to Social Security. For example, if you start getting Social Security in June 1998 and you receive some money in February 1999 for work you did before June, it will not count against your 1999 earnings limit. However, if the money you receive in February 1999 was for work you did after June, it will count against your 1999 earnings limit.

Reporting Your Earnings


Because your earnings may affect your Social Security benefits, we need to know how much you earn during the year. Usually, we get that information from—

  • the earnings your employer reports on your W-2; and
  • your self-employment earnings reported on your income tax return.

You need to report your earnings to us after the end of the year only if—

  • you are eligible for the monthly earnings test and you earned less than the monthly exempt amount (in that case, let us know so we can pay you benefits for that month);
  • some or all of the earnings shown on your W-2 were not earned in the year reported;
  • you earned wages above the exempt amount and you also had a net loss in self-employment;
  • your W-2 shows employer-reported wages that you will include on a self-employment tax return (e.g., ministers);
  • you filed a self-employment tax return, but you did not perform any services in your business or you file your tax return on a fiscal year basis;
  • you are a farmer and you get federal agricultural program payments or you have income from carry-over crops; or
  • we withheld some benefits, but you had no earnings for the year (e.g., no wages reported, no self-employment income).

We will use the information reported along with other pertinent information in our records to make necessary adjustments to your benefits.

We'll tell you the amount we used to adjust your benefits. It's important for you to review the information we used to ensure the accuracy of your benefit payments, as well as the information on your earnings record. Contact us if you think the earnings we used are not correct.

About mid-year, we probably will send you a message asking you to estimate your current and next year's earnings. Your estimates will help us avoid paying you too much or too little in benefits.

Your Earnings Estimate And Your Benefits


We calculated how much of your benefit payments you will receive this year based on the earnings estimate you gave us when you applied for Social Security or on the most recent estimate you gave us.

If other family members get benefits on your Social Security record, the total family benefits may be affected by your earnings. This means we may withhold not only your benefits, but those payable to your family as well. But, if you get benefits as a family member, your earnings affect only your own benefits.

Revising Your Estimate
When you work, you should save records of your earnings, such as pay stubs. At any time during the year, if you see that your earnings will be different from what you had estimated, you should call us to revise your estimate. This will help us keep the amount of your Social Security benefits correct.

Part 5––Other Important Information

If You Become Disabled


If you become disabled before reaching age 65, contact us. You may be able to get a higher benefit if you are eligible for disability benefits.

Retirement Benefits For Widow(er)s


You can switch to retirement benefits on your own work record if they are higher than those you receive on your deceased spouse's record. These benefits may be higher as early as age 62 or possibly as late as age 70. The rules are complex and vary depending on your situation. If you have not talked with a Social Security representative about retirement benefits (or you have but your circumstances have changed), contact your local Social Security office to discuss the options available to you.

Benefits For Children


If a child is getting benefits on your record, there are important things you should know about his or her benefits.

When A Child Reaches Age 18
A child's benefits stop with the month before the child reaches age 18, unless the child is unmarried and is either disabled or is a full-time elementary or secondary school student.

About five months before the child's 18th birthday, the person receiving the child's benefits will get a form explaining how benefits can continue.

A child whose benefits stopped at age 18 can have them started again if he or she becomes disabled before reaching age 22 or becomes a full-time elementary or secondary school student before reaching age 19.

If A Child Is Disabled
A child can continue to receive benefits after age 18 if he or she has a disability. The child also may qualify for SSI disability benefits. Call us for more information.

If A Child Age 18 Is A Student
A child can receive benefits until age 19 if he or she continues to be a full-time elementary or secondary school student. When a student's 19th birthday occurs during a school term, benefits can be continued up to two months to allow completion of the term.

Social Security should be notified immediately if the student drops out of school, changes from full-time to part-time attendance, is expelled or suspended, or changes schools. We also should be told if the student is paid by his or her employer for attending school.

We send each student a form at the start and end of the school year. It is important that the form be filled out and returned to us. Benefits could be stopped if the form is not sent back.

A student can keep receiving benefits during a vacation period of four months or less if he or she plans to go back to school full time at the end of the vacation.

A student who stops attending school generally can receive benefits again if he or she returns to school full time before age 19. The student needs to contact Social Security to reapply for benefits.

How Divorce Affects A Stepchild's Benefits
If a stepchild is receiving benefits on your earnings record and you and the child's parent divorce, the stepchild's benefit will end the month following the month the divorce becomes final. You must tell us as soon as the divorce becomes final.

A Word About Medicare


Medicare is a health insurance plan for people who are age 65 or older. People who are disabled or have permanent kidney failure can get Medicare at any age.

Medicare has two parts––hospital insurance and medical insurance. Most people have both parts.

Hospital insurance, sometimes called Part A, covers inpatient hospital care and certain follow-up care. You have already paid for it through part of your Social Security taxes while you were working.

Medical insurance, sometimes called Part B, pays for physicians' services and some other services not covered by hospital insurance. Medical insurance is optional, and a premium is charged. Unless you decline medical insurance protection, the premium will be automatically deducted from your benefit.

If you applied for retirement or survivors benefits before your 65th birthday, you do not need to file a separate application for Medicare. You will receive information in the mail before you turn age 65 that will explain what you need to do. Your coverage starts automatically at age 65, even if you have not yet received your Medicare card in the mail.

Help For Low-Income Medicare Beneficiaries
If you get Medicare and have low income and few resources, your state may pay your Medicare premiums and, in some cases, other “out-of-pocket” Medicare expenses such as deductibles and coinsurance. Only your state can decide if you qualify. To find out if you do, contact your state or local welfare office or Medicaid agency. For more general information about the program, contact Social Security and ask for a copy of the leaflet, Medicare Savings For Qualified Beneficiaries (HCFA Publication No. 02184).

Can You Get SSI?


If you have limited income and assets, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) may be able to help. SSI is a federal program administered by the Social Security Administration, but financed from general revenues, not from Social Security taxes.

It pays monthly checks to people who are age 65 or older, or who are blind or disabled. If you get SSI, you may get other benefits too, such as Medicaid, food stamps and other social services.

We don't count some income and some assets when we decide if you're eligible for SSI. Your house and your car, for example, usually are not counted as assets.

Call us for more information or to apply.

A Message About Food Stamps


You can get a food stamp application and information at any Social Security office. Or call our toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213. Ask for the leaflet, Food Stamps and Other Nutrition Programs (Publication No. 05-10100) or the factsheet, Food Stamp Facts (Publication No. 05-10101).

If You Disagree With A Decision We Make


If you have any questions about your payment amount or about a letter we sent you, contact us.

If you disagree with a decision we made, you have the right to ask that your claim be reconsidered. Your request must be in writing and filed with any Social Security office within 60 days of the date you receive the letter you are questioning.

There are further steps you can take after reconsideration if you still are not satisfied. They are explained in the factsheet, The Appeals Process (Publication No. 05-10041), available from Social Security.

You have the right to be represented by an attorney or other qualified person of your choice in any business with us. This doesn't mean you have to have an attorney or other representative, but we will be glad to work with one if you wish.

For your protection, there are special rules about who can represent you and what he or she can do. This is explained in the factsheet, Your Right To Representation (Publication No. 05-10075), available from Social Security.

Part 6––Some Frequently Asked Questions

1. How do I change my address?

Call Social Security to report your new address and your new telephone number. Be sure to have your Social Security claim number handy.

2. I need proof of what I receive from Social Security. What can I use?

Every year we will send you an SSA-1099 form showing the amount of benefits you received in the past year. You can use this as proof.

3. If I lose my Social Security card or Medicare card, how do I get a replacement card?

Call Social Security for your replacement card. It helps to have your Social Security number handy when you call.

4. Where is my local office?

Social Security office addresses are listed in the telephone directory under “U.S. Government” or “Social Security Administration,” or call our toll-free number––1-800-772-1213––to ask for the local office's address.

5. Why is my neighbor's benefit higher than mine?

Benefit computations are based on a person's date of birth and work history, so differences are likely. To protect each person's privacy, we cannot give you information about someone else's Social Security record.

6. Are my benefits figured on my last five years of earnings?

No. Retirement benefits are calculated on total earnings during a lifetime of work under the Social Security system. THE TEXT ABOVE IS PUBLIC DOMAIN MATERIAL AUTHORED BY AN AGENCY OF THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT AND NOT COPYRIGHTED BY THIS WEBSITE. To locate the original material (which may have been updated) click here.

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