Expert answers questions regarding benefits, statements and more
What is the maximum Social Security retirement benefit?
The maximum benefit depends on the age you retire. For example, if you retire at full retirement age in 2018, your maximum monthly benefit would be $2,788. However, if you retire at age 62 in 2018, your maximum monthly benefit would be only $2,158. If you retire at age 70 in 2018, your maximum monthly benefit would be $3,698. To get a better idea of what your benefit might be, visit our online Retirement Estimator at socialsecurity.gov/retire/estimator.html.
I prefer reading by audio book. Does Social Security have audio publications?
Yes, we do. You can find them at socialsecurity.gov/pubs. Some of the publications available include What You Can Do Online, Working While Disabled - How We Can Help, Apply Online for Social Security Benefits, and Your Social Security Card and Number. You can listen now at socialsecurity.gov/pubs.
How can I get a copy of my Social Security Statement?
You can get your personal Social Security Statement online by using your personal My Social Security account. If you don’t yet have an account, you can easily create one. Your online Statement gives you secure and convenient access to your earnings records. It also shows estimates for retirement, disability, and survivors benefits you and your family may be eligible for.
To set up or use your account to get your online Social Security Statement, go to socialsecurity.gov/myaccount.
We also mail statements to workers age 60 and over who aren’t receiving Social Security benefits and do not yet have a My Social Security account. We mail the Statements three months prior to your birthday.
Can I delay my retirement benefits and receive benefits as a spouse only? How does that work?
It depends on your date of birth. If you were born on or before Jan. 1, 1954, and your spouse is receiving Social Security benefits, you may apply for retirement benefits on your spouse’s record as long as you are at your full retirement age. You then will earn delayed retirement credits up to age 70, as long as you do not collect benefits on your own work record. Later, when you do begin receiving benefits on your own record, those payments could very well be higher than they would have been otherwise. If your spouse is also full retirement age and does not receive benefits, your spouse will have to apply for benefits and request the payments be suspended. Then you can receive benefits on your spouse’s Social Security record.
If you were born on or after Jan. 2, 1954, and wish to receive benefits, you must file for all benefits for which you are eligible. Social Security will determine the benefits for which you are eligible and pay you accordingly. For individuals born on or after Jan. 2, 1954, there is no longer an option to select which benefit you would like to receive, even beyond your full retirement age. Widows are an exception, as they can choose to take their deceased spouse’s benefit without filing for their own. For more information, visit socialsecurity.gov.
I worked the first half of the year, but plan to retire this month. Will Social Security count the amount I earn for this year when I retire?
Yes. If you retire mid-year, we count your earnings for the entire year. We have a special “earnings test” rule we apply to annual earnings, usually in the first year of retirement. Under this rule, you get a full payment for any whole month we consider you retired regardless of your yearly earnings. We consider you retired during any month your earnings are below the monthly earnings limit, or if you have not performed substantial services in self-employment. We do not consider income earned, beginning with the month you reach full retirement age. Learn more about the earnings test rule at socialsecurity.gov/retire2/rule.htm.
My husband has been in poor health for some time and doctors have recently diagnosed him with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease. I’ve heard Social Security has a “fast track” for some people who are disabled. Would you tell me about it?
We have two processes to “fast track” applications for disability benefits. Our Compassionate Allowances initiative allows us to fast track certain cases of individuals with very severe disabilities. There are dozens of different types of disabilities that qualify for this expedited decision, including ALS, and that list continues to expand. Learn more about Compassionate Allowances and see the full list of conditions at socialsecurity.gov/compassionateallowances.
Another way we speed up decisions is with our Quick Disability Determinations initiative, which uses technology to identify applicants who have the most severe disabilities and allows us to expedite our decisions on those cases. Read more about Quick Disability Determinations at socialsecurity.gov/disabilityresearch/qdd.htm.
If I go back to work, will I automatically lose my Social Security disability benefits?
No, Social Security has several work incentive programs to help people who want to work. You may be able to receive monthly benefits and continue your health care coverage during a trial work period. For information about Social Security’s work incentives and how they can help you return to work, you should visit our special work site at socialsecurity.gov/work; see the Red Book on work incentives at socialsecurity.gov/redbook; or check out our publications at socialsecurity.gov/pubs and type “work” in the search box.
For more information, visit socialsecurity.gov or call 800-772-1213 (TTY 800-325-0778).
If I receive Supplemental Security Income disability, what is the effect on my benefits when I take seasonal work?
Even a small amount of earned wages can cause a deduction in your SSI payment. However, it takes substantial work to make your benefits stop. In many cases, we will deduct approved work expenses to determine your SSI payment amount. In most cases, you can continue to receive your medical coverage for up to two years after you begin working. We have several publications on SSI, including Reporting Your Wages When You Receive Supplemental Security Income, available at socialsecurity.gov/pubs. For more information, call toll-free 800-772-1213 (TTY 800-325-0778) or visit socialsecurity.gov/benefits/ssi/wage-reporting.html.
My brother died recently and left me some money. Will this inheritance affect my SSI benefits?
We consider the money inherited from your brother as income for the month you receive it. That could make you ineligible for SSI that month, depending on the amount of the inheritance. If you keep the money into the next month, it becomes a part of your resources. You cannot have more than $2,000 in resources and remain eligible for SSI. You should call Social Security, 800-772-1213 (TTY 800-325-0778) between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., Monday through Friday and report the inheritance. Representatives can tell you how the inheritance might affect your SSI eligibility. Find out more at socialsecurity.gov/ssi.
Vonda VanTil is the public affairs specialist for West Michigan. You may write her c/o Social Security Administration, 3045 Knapp NE, Grand Rapids MI 4952,5 or via email to vonda.Vantil@ssa.gov.