Q. Have there been any changes regarding Social Security Disability Insurance benefits and investing? Is it still not considered earned income?

A. There has been no change in the definition of earnings for recipients of Social Security Disability Insurance benefits. Earnings are income received from employment or self-employment. Profits on investments are not earnings for earnings limitation purposes or as a measure of whether or not a disabled individual has regained the ability to perform substantial gainful activity.


Q. I am anticipating going on disability. I am on numerous medications. How do I get them covered or is there a prescription plan to help/pay for these?

A. Social Security Disability Insurance beneficiaries become eligible for Medicare after two years of receiving disability benefits. There is no help with medical benefits prior to Medicare eligibility. When you are eligible for Medicare, you will be entitled to purchase a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan.

Until then, there are a variety of options available to assist people with their drug costs:

Medicaid: This program, jointly funded by state and federal governments, provides medical assistance, including prescription drug coverage, for certain individuals and families with low incomes and limited resources. Contact your local Medicaid agency for information

Veterans Benefits: For veterans, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) covers prescription drugs prescribed by a VA doctor if filled at VA facilities. There is a small co-payment. Call 1-800-827-1000.

State-sponsored programs: Half of all US states offer a state-sponsored program to assist elderly and/or disabled citizens with their drug costs.

Pharmaceutical company and pharmacy discount cards: You can sign up for discount programs with drug manufacturers, pharmacy chains and other suppliers. Some of these programs require that you have no other prescription coverage, that you meet an income limit or that you pay a fee. In some circumstances pharmaceutical companies provide free prescription medicines. Access to free medicines is through your own physicians.


Q. My husband and I ran a construction company for 20 plus years. After he had a heart attack, we had to close down. We always filed jointly as a married couple, but his Social Security benefit is almost twice what I get. Why?

A. The most likely explanation for this difference is that when you filed your federal income tax returns, you and your husband indicated that all or most of your business income should be credited to his Social Security earnings record. That is a common tax strategy for couples because generally it produces greater combined Social Security benefits for the two of you. It also maximizes benefits to a surviving spouse.

Your earnings record can be changed retroactively if you can produce business records and other evidence that the earnings credits should have been equally divided. If successful, your husband’s benefit would be reduced while yours would rise. However, the survivor benefit payable to either of you could be reduced. You should consider carefully if that would be a desirable outcome.


Q. Is a person receiving Social Security disability also entitled to receive half of the husband’s Social Security retirement? Do a disabled husband and wife have to pay federal or state tax?

A. A wife receives whichever is greater — her own Social Security or half of her husband’s Social Security benefit (reduced if begun before full retirement age). Both benefits are not payable.

There is no provision in Federal tax law exempting Social Security disability benefits from taxation. You will pay tax on your Social Security benefits, based on Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rules. If you file a joint return, and you and your spouse have a combined income that is between $32,000 and $44,000, up to 50% of your benefits may be taxable; if your combined income is more than $44,000, up to 85% of your benefits may be taxable; if you are married and file a separate tax return, you probably will pay taxes on your benefits.

Call the Internal Revenue Service at 1-800-829-3676 for a definitive answer to tax questions. State law determines how benefits are taxed by the state.


Q. I am a 54-year-old woman, and I am disabled. I haven’t worked enough during the past 10 years to be insured for Social Security disability benefits, but I am receiving Supplemental Security Income payments. I was married to my former husband for over 30 years and have been divorced for the past 4 years. He is the same age as me. Can I qualify for benefits on his record now or do I have to wait until he either becomes disabled or reaches age 62?

A. You will have to wait. Under the Social Security Act, no spousal benefit can be paid before age 62, even when the spouse is disabled.

You can qualify for divorced spouse’s benefits as early as age 62, whether or not your former husband is still in the workforce. However, he must be eligible for benefits by either reaching age 62 himself or by qualifying for Social Security disability insurance benefits.

Should your husband predecease you, you would immediately be eligible for a surviving divorced spouse’s benefit. A disabled widow is eligible for a survivor’s benefit as early as age 50.


Q. I am fifty years old and the 27 years I have been working have been a combination of full-time and part-time employment, with several years of no employment so that I could stay home with my baby. I am back to work full-time now but want to know how all of this will affect my Social Security benefit when I am retired?

A. When you reach the eligibility age for Social Security benefits, which for most people is 62, your monthly benefit will be determined based on your 35 highest years of earnings. If there are years in which you had no earnings, your benefit will be lower than it otherwise would be. This illustrates the inequity that women confront when they leave the workforce to provide care to children or other family members. Oftentimes, a consequence of caregiving is a permanent reduction in Social Security benefits.


Q. I am 62 and am divorced after a marriage that lasted 15 years. Can I receive benefits on my former husband’s record, even though he is still working?

A. As long as your marriage lasted 10 consecutive years and you are still unmarried, you can qualify for a divorced spouse’s benefit on your former husband’s record at any time after reaching age 62. The fact that your husband hasn’t started receiving Social Security benefits doesn’t matter if he is at least age 62 and your divorce has been final for at least two years.


Q.  I’m curious about some information my lady friend received last fall from her local Social Security office. When her husband died at age 65, she was told to take widow’s benefits now, when she was 62, and when she turned 70 piggyback her own Social Security payments onto her widow’s benefit. I thought it was one or the other, not both.

A. Your friend received excellent counseling from her local Social Security office. A widow (or widower) has the option of choosing which benefit to begin first — her own worker’s benefit or a survivor’s benefit based on her deceased husband’s record. She can even switch from one to the other if it is to her advantage to do so.


Q. Is there a way to figure Social Security benefits if one doesn’t work until “normal” retirement age? My wife and I have records of all our contributions, but given our desire to quit our main jobs at 55 — and earn a fraction of our current earnings after age 55 — I have found no good way to calculate our potential benefit at either 62 or 65.

A. The Social Security Administration has an on-line benefit calculator. Go to http://www.socialsecurity.gov/planners/benefitcalculators.htm. Enter your anticipated future earnings and the calculator will provide a new benefit estimate.

One aspect of Social Security law you may want to consider is that Social Security Disability Insurance is somewhat like term insurance. A wage earner is insured for disability benefits while actively working and for up to five years after ceasing work. Specifically, a wage earner must have Social Security work credits in 20 out of the 40 calendar quarters ending when disability begins. Since you and your wife are considering minimizing  your participation in the work force well before retirement age, you should know that you could maintain disability coverage with minimal earnings. For example, in 2022, four quarters of Social Security credits can be earned if annual earnings are at least $6,040.


Q. I took 5 years off from working full-time to raise my child. I am back working F/T again but am wondering how severely  this will impact my Social Security benefit? Is there anything I can do to make up any potential benefit loss?

A. The answer to your question depends on whether you will have more than five years with very few or no earnings. If you have only five, then the effect on your benefit should be slight at most. The reason for this is that in calculating a Social Security retirement benefit, the Social Security Administration considers only the 35 highest years during your working history. That said, you will want to make sure you consistently work in covered earnings for the remainder of your career to avoid seeing your Social Security benefit reduced because of years in your computation that contain no earnings or very little earnings.


Q. Would you be kind enough to tell me the maximum monthly Social Security benefit one can receive?

A. Maximum Social Security benefits are paid to a wage earner who earns maximum taxable wages in every year between age 22 and the year of retirement. The maximum payable to a wage earner retiring in 2022 at age 66 is $3,240 a month. Up to 50 percent additional is payable to a retirement-age dependent spouse. The maximum payable in future years can be expected to rise as maximum taxable wages rise. Delayed retirement credits can increase benefits payable to wage earners who defer receiving benefits past full retirement age. For example, a wage earner reaching full retirement age in 2022 receives an 8 percent benefit increase for each full year benefits are deferred (3/4 percent per month) between full retirement age and age 70.


Q. Someone told me if you don’t sign up for Social Security as soon as you are eligible, but do sign up a few years later, you get back pay to when you were first eligible. Is this true?

A. In general, Social Security benefits cannot be paid retroactive to the month the application for benefits is filed. The exception is if the applicant is past full retirement age. In that case, up to six months of retroactive benefits can be paid as long as backdating the application does not result in benefits being paid for any month prior to full retirement age.


Q. I will be turning age 65 soon and I want to apply for my Social Security benefits. How do I do this, and what papers will I need?

A. You should apply not more than 3 months before you want benefits to begin. There are a number of options for applying for Social Security benefits. If you want to schedule an appointment to apply in person at a local office or to apply over the telephone, you can call your local office or the Social Security Administration’s toll-free telephone number, which is 1-800-777-1213. You can also apply online at www.socialsecurity.gov. Click on Retirement and follow the instructions for completing your application. The Social Security Administration may ask for the following documentation: Your Social Security card (or a record of your number); your original birth certificate or other proof of birth, proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status if you were not born in the U.S.; a copy of your U.S. military service paper(s) (e.g., DD-214 – Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty) if you had military service before 1968; and a copy of your W-2 form(s) and/or self-employment tax return for last year.


Q. I am retired and receiving Social Security benefits and am planning on getting married. My fiancée is still employed. What effect will this have on my Social Security benefits? Also I am wondering if I should be having taxes taken from my benefits.

A. Marriage or remarriage never affects a wage earner’s own Social Security benefit. Your Social Security benefit will continue unchanged. After one year of marriage, assuming they have reached retirement age, your spouse could be eligible for a spouse benefit. Death benefits would be payable if the marriage lasted at least nine months before ending in death — even less if death was accidental. With regard to having taxes taken from your Social Security benefits that can be done if you have determined you need to do so. The Social Security Administration allows withholding at four possible rates: 7, 10, 12 or 22 percent of your benefit. To learn more about this service, go to www.ssa.gov/benefits/retirement/planner/taxwithold.html.


Q. If I apply for disability and become approved, will this affect my husband’s check and what about our son’s check?

A. Your eligibility for a Social Security benefit based on your own Social Security earnings record cannot affect your husband’s benefit in any way. If you each meet the law’s eligibility criteria, each of you is entitled to your full, earned benefit. Your son will continue to be entitled to a benefit based on his father’s Social Security earnings record unless a benefit payable on your earnings record or on your combined records would be a greater amount.


Q. I know that the Medicare premium is deducted from your Social Security check at age 65. If I retire at 62, is Medicare deducted also?

A. You may begin your Social Security retirement benefit early, but you will have to wait until the month you reach age 65 for Medicare to begin. If you are already receiving Social Security benefits at that time, you will receive information about Medicare about three months before your birthday. The first Medicare premium will be deducted from your Social Security payment for the month before you reach 65. Medicare coverage will begin on the first day of the month you are 65.


Q. I turned 65 and my Social Security check was reduced $144.60 for Medicare coverage. Will my next COLA increase be based on the amount of money I was receiving prior to the Medicare reduction or the amount after the reduction?

A. Social Security Cost-of-Living Adjustments (COLAs) are based on the full Social Security monthly entitlement before the Medicare premium is withheld.


Q. I’m 5 years older than my wife. We’re both still working and planning to continue for 3 or 4 more years. I’ve worked continuously and have a higher income. I want to ensure my wife receives the largest monthly payment if I die before we both reach 70. If I never claim, could she claim my “70-year-old” benefit when she reaches 70?

A. Should you predecease your wife, she would have the option of which benefit to begin first — her own benefit or her widow benefit. She would maximize her widow benefit by waiting until she reached full retirement age to apply for widow benefits. Under current law, she would gain no increase by deferring benefits beyond her full retirement age. Should you die before reaching full retirement age, your wife’s widow benefit would be calculated as if you had reached your full retirement age. If your death occurred between ages 66 and 70 (but before you begin benefits) your wife’s widow benefit would be calculated as of your last full month of life.


Q. Do pension offsets apply only to federal government pensions or also to state, county and city pensions?

A. The Government Pension Offset of spouse and widow benefits applies to any public employment that was not covered by Social Security. The pension received could be from local, state or Federal employment. A second offset, known as the Windfall Elimination Provision, reduces an individual’s own Social Security if he or she also earned an annuity from non-Social Security employment that was not covered by Social Security. Pensions based on employment with international organizations located in this country or based on employment performed outside the United States can also invoke this offset.


Q. Do the earnings of your final ten years of employment have any special bearing on your Social Security benefits once you retire?

A. Final years of earnings have no special significance. Earnings prior to age 60 are indexed to bring them up-to-date. Actual earnings from age 60 on are included in the benefit calculation. Benefits are determined on the basis of the highest 35 years of indexed or actual earnings. It does not matter when those years of earnings occur.


Q. I am single and will be eligible to receive Social Security as of next January. Will I have to pay income tax on this?

A. All Social Security benefits are subject to Federal income taxation. Whether any tax is due depends on all of your other income. For specific information on taxation of Social Security benefits, call the Internal Revenue Service at 1-800-829-3676 or go online to www.irs.gov and read or download publication No. 915.


Q. My husband and I both worked full time for many years and individually will qualify for close to a maximum benefit. Will we each be able to do that, or is there a maximum payment to married persons that is less than the total they would receive if they were not married?

A. There is no maximum benefit for a married couple when both have participated in the workforce. In the situation you describe, each of you will receive his or her own benefit. In survivorship cases, the survivor receives whichever of their two benefits is the greater.


Q. I will be 62 in March. I have a child who has been disabled since birth. He began to receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits when he turned 18. When I start Social Security, will I get extra money for him?

A. When you are eligible for a Social Security benefit, your disabled child will be eligible for a dependent benefit on your record. However, because SSI is an assistance benefit based on need, your child’s SSI will likely be reduced when he becomes entitled to Social Security.  You might find helpful the Social Security Administration publication “Understanding The Benefits.” This issue brief gives a good description of dependent benefits for family members. Go to the Social Security website (http://www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10024.html) and click on Benefits for Your Family.


Q. I am still working full time and have not yet applied for Social Security. I would like to know how my continued employment will affect my Social Security benefits. By how much will my benefit be increased for each year I work beyond my full retirement age of 66?

A. First, for each year after your full retirement age that you defer receiving Social Security and up to age 70, your benefit will increase by eight percent. For example, if you wait until you reach age 70 to start Social Security, your monthly benefit would be 32 percent higher than if you had started receiving benefits at age 66. Your benefit also might be higher when your wages for years after age 66 are added to your Social Security earnings record. When you apply for benefits, the Social Security Administration will calculate your initial monthly Social Security benefit based on your highest 35 years of earnings. If your earnings in any of the years you work after age 66 is high enough, these new earnings may increase your benefit as well.


Q. We know that everyday people who have worked for 20 or more years die before reaching 65. What happens to all of that money?

A. Payroll taxes not needed for immediate benefit payment remain in the Social Security trust funds. Social Security is not only a retirement and disability insurance program. Social Security protects the dependents and survivors of retired, disabled or deceased workers. The FICA payroll taxes paid by workers who do not live to retirement age or who do not recover their own contributions make possible Social Security’s wide range of family benefits. Over four million young or disabled adult children receive monthly benefits as dependents of retired, disabled or deceased workers. Nearly three million retirement-age spouses and five million widows who have not earned their own benefit receive a check based on the working spouse’s earnings. Numerous wives and widows and some husbands and widowers who have earned their own benefit receive partial spouse and survivor benefits because their own benefit is less than the benefit they are entitled to receive as a spouse or surviving spouse. In addition, nearly 1,700 dependent parents of deceased workers receive Social Security retirement benefits.


Q. Will I and my 16-year-old daughter continue to receive any part of my husband’s Social Security disability now that he has passed?

A. The Social Security Act provides two kinds of benefits to widows — retirement benefits and caregiver benefits. Young widows with dependent children in their care receive caregiver benefits until the youngest child reaches age 16. A dependent benefit to a child remains in effect until the child reaches age 18, age 19 if still in high school. A Disabled Adult Child can continue to receive dependent benefits for life if the child is disabled before age 22. A mother caring for a Disabled Adult Child remains entitled to a benefit as long as the child remains in her care. Other than the caregiver benefit, no monthly benefit is payable to a widow until she reaches retirement age. If you are unmarried, you will be eligible for a widow benefit based on your deceased husband’s Social Security earnings record when you reach age 60. As a disabled widow you would be eligible for a widow benefit as early as age 50. If you remarry after age 60 (50 if disabled) you will remain entitled to a widow benefit based on your first marriage.


Q. How can I change the name on my Social Security card back to my birth name?

A. You can correct the name on your Social Security record with valid proof of your identity.  Contact the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213 to arrange an appointment at your local Social Security office. When you make the appointment, be certain to ask what types of proofs of identity you will need to bring to the office to accomplish the change.


Q. My wife retired nine years ago at age 62. She has since become disabled. Can she file for disability benefits? If so, how does she go about it?

A. Disability Insurance is available only to wage earners who have not yet reached full retirement age.


Q. I have been of the belief that Social Security benefits are determined by taking the average income of all the years of employment. I recently heard that it is the average of the highest thirty-five years of employment. Which is correct?

A. Monthly Social Security benefits are determined on average monthly earnings over 35 years. When a benefit application is filed, the Social Security Administration indexes lifetime earnings to bring them up to date. The highest 35 years of earnings are selected and averaged to determine the monthly benefit. If a worker has more than 35 years of earnings, excess lower-earning years are disregarded. If the worker has fewer than 35 years of earnings, some zero income years are included in the calculation.


Q. My husband and I both worked full time for many years and individually will qualify for close to a maximum benefit. Will we each be able to do that, or is there a maximum payment to married persons that is less than the total they would receive if they were not married?

A. There is no maximum benefit for a married couple when both have participated in the workforce. In the situation you describe, each of you will receive his or her own benefit. In survivorship cases, the survivor receives whichever of their two benefits is the greater.


Q. I called a local Social Security office yesterday to discuss filing for benefits for my wife and me. We have both reached full retirement age. The agent asked me when I wanted to start benefits. I didn’t know we had a choice. What answer should I give when we go to file?

A. You have the right to specify the exact month you want your Social Security benefits to begin. Benefits begun before full retirement age are reduced for each month of early retirement. Benefits begun after full retirement age are increased for each month that a benefit is deferred. This has always been a retiree’s option.


Q. I will be turning age 65 soon and I want to apply for my Social Security benefits. How do I do this, and what papers will I need?

A. You should apply not more than three months before you want benefits to begin. There are a number of options for applying for Social Security benefits. If you want to schedule an appointment to apply in person at a local office or to apply over the telephone, you can call your local office or the Social Security Administration’s toll-free telephone number, which is 1-800-777-1213. You can also apply online. Go to http://www.ssa.gov/planners/about.htm and follow the application instructions.


Q. A Federal retiree who is not eligible for Social Security has elected a 100 percent survivor annuity for his spouse. His wife is eligible for Social Security benefits based on her own work history. When he dies, does she collect the full 100 percent spousal survivor annuity plus her own Social Security or is her Social Security or survivor annuity reduced?

A. Receipt of a Federal Civil Service Survivor Annuity never affects a widow’s own Social Security benefit. This wife, if widowed, will receive the full Federal Civil Service survivor benefit her husband provided in addition to her own Social Security benefit.


Q. My father-in-law is 77. He receives Social Security benefits and plans to marry. His intended receives her deceased husband’s benefits. Do they lose either benefit after marriage?

A. If your father-in-law and his fiancée choose to marry, there will be no change whatsoever in either of their Social Security benefits. Marriage or remarriage never affects a worker’s own Social Security benefit. Marriage after age 60 (50, if disabled) never affects a widow or widower’s right to a survivor benefit based on a prior marriage.


Q. I am 65 and started drawing Social Security; my wife is drawing too. My question is: what are the rules for drawing money out of my IRA? I want to take out around $6,000 to pay credit cards off. How will this affect me? Will I lose my monthly benefits? How about paying taxes on $6,000?

A. Withdrawals from your 401K plan or liquidation of any other retirement assets will not affect your Social Security benefits. The Social Security annual earnings limitation considers only earnings from employment or self-employment. Pensions, interest, dividends, capital gains or other retirement savings are not earnings from new work-related activity.


Q. I was just wondering if we will get an increase on our Social Security this year or not? I will be turning age 65 soon and I want to apply for my Social Security benefits. How do I do this, and what papers will I need?

A. Social Security beneficiaries will receive a 1.3% Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) this year. That amounts to about $20 extra per month for the average Social Security beneficiary.


Q. I am eligible for benefits; my husband does not have enough credits. I know he will receive survivor benefits if I die, but does he receive any income if both are alive?

A. When you apply for your Social Security benefit to begin, your husband could become eligible for a Social Security spouse benefit if he is at least 62. At 65, he will be eligible for Medicare based on your Social Security earnings record. Upon your death, your husband will be eligible for a surviving spouse benefit (i.e. widower benefit). Whether a spouse or widower benefit is payable depends on your husband’s earned retirement benefits. If, for example, he receives a pension based on non-Social Security government employment, any spousal benefit he is otherwise entitled to receive will be reduced by two-thirds of his government pension. An issue brief discussing this provision of law can be found here. http://www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10007.html.


Q. I turned 65 and my Social Security check was reduced $105 for Medicare coverage. Will my next COLA increase be based on the amount of money I was receiving prior to the Medicare reduction or the amount after the reduction?

A. Social Security Cost-of-Living Adjustments are based on the full Social Security monthly benefit before the Medicare premium is withheld.


Q. I know that Medicare is deducted from your Social Security check at age 65. If I retire at 62, is Medicare deducted also?

A. You may begin your Social Security retirement benefit early, but you will have to wait until the month you reach age 65 for Medicare to begin. If you are already receiving Social Security benefits at that time, you will receive information about Medicare about three months before your 65th birthday. The first Medicare premium will be deducted from the payment for the month before you reach 65. Medicare coverage will begin on the first day of the month you are 65.


Q. I am retired and receiving Social Security benefits and am planning on getting married. My fiancée is still employed. What effect will this have on my Social Security benefits? Also I am wondering if I should be having taxes taken from my benefits.

A. Marriage or remarriage never affects a wage earner’s own Social Security benefit. Your Social Security benefit will continue unchanged. After one year of marriage, assuming they have reached retirement age, your spouse could be eligible for a spouse benefit. Death benefits would be payable if the marriage lasted at least nine months before ending in death — even less if death was accidental. With regard to having taxes taken from your Social Security benefits that can be done if you have determined you need to do so. The Social Security Administration allows withholding at four possible rates: 7, 10, 12 or 22 percent of your benefit.


Q. If I apply for disability and become approved, will this affect my husband’s check and what about our son’s check?

A. Your eligibility for a Social Security benefit based on your own Social Security earnings record cannot affect your husband’s benefit in any way. If you each meet the law’s eligibility criteria, each of you is entitled to your full, earned benefit. Your son will continue to be entitled to a benefit based on his father’s Social Security earnings record unless a benefit payable on your earnings record or on your combined records would be a greater amount.


Q. I’m 5 years older than my wife. We’re both still working and planning to continue for 3 or 4 more years. I’ve worked continuously and have a higher income. I want to ensure my wife receives the largest monthly payment if I die before we both reach 70. If I never claim, could she claim my “70-year-old” benefit when she reaches 70?

A. Should you predecease your wife, she would have the option of which benefit to begin first — her own benefit or her widow benefit. She would maximize her widow benefit by waiting until she reached full retirement age to apply for widow benefits. Under current law, she would gain no increase by deferring benefits beyond her full retirement age. Should you die before reaching full retirement age, your wife’s widow benefit would be calculated as if you had reached your full retirement age. If your death occurred between ages 66 and 70 (but before you begin benefits) your wife’s widow benefit would be calculated as of your last full month of life.


Q. I started taking Social Security in February of this year and now realize it may not have been the best decision. Once Social Security monthly benefits are started is there any way for me to change my mind and delay receiving benefits and if so what do I need to do to accomplish that?

A. Since it is less than a year since you began benefits, you are entitled to withdraw your original application for benefits. To exercise that option you must repay the benefits received thus far. When you again want to receive benefits, you would submit a new application.


Q. My husband and I both worked full time for many years and individually will qualify for close to a maximum benefit. Will we each be able to do that, or is there a maximum payment to married persons that is less than the total they would receive if they were not married?

A. There is no maximum benefit for a married couple when both have participated in the workforce. In the situation you describe, each of you will receive his or her own benefit. In survivorship cases, the survivor receives whichever of their two benefits is the greater.