Social Security Disability and Retirement Benefits
The Social Security Administration operates a variety of programs and benefits, including retirement and survivor benefits, Social Security disability insurance benefits, Medicare health insurance, and Supplemental Security Income benefits. In Montgomery County there are three Social Security offices:
1700 Markley Street
Norristown, PA 19401
115 West Avenue
Jenkintown, PA 19046
39 West Ridge Pike
These local Social Security offices offer helpful and informative publications available free to anyone who requests them. Additionally, an attorney who works in with Social Security benefits should be consulted in the event of any questions since the programs and benefits are quite complex.
Anyone who has access to the Internet can check the Social Security Administration’s official website which offers comprehensive information about all of its programs and benefits. The website is www.ssa.gov and it offers more than 10,000 pages of information. You can do a variety of tasks at this website: request a copy of your earnings record and an estimate of the benefits you and your family will receive when eligible; find out how to file a claim for retirement or disability benefits; find out how to replace a lost Social Security card or change the name on your Social Security records; locate the nearest Social Security office and get a statement verifying the amount of Social Security benefits you receive. You can also download copies of booklets and fact sheets about Social Security disability, retirement and survivor benefits and SSI benefits.
Applying for Benefits From the Social Security Office
Do not delay in applying for benefits for which you may be eligible. Any delay on your part could result in fewer benefits if you are ultimately found eligible for certain benefit programs operated by Social Security. When in doubt, contact Social Security to begin the application process as soon as you may be eligible. To get an estimate of your benefits you can submit a completed form SSA-7004-SM to the Social Security Administration. It takes about six weeks to receive the information.
Keep in mind that Social Security will give you a deadline to finish certain tasks; such as filing an appeal if you are dissatisfied with a decision. You must comply with their timelines or you will lose your right to potential benefits. Typically, their deadlines are within 60 days. However they may be shorter for special circumstances so you must check this carefully.
Toll-Free Social Security Number: 1-800-772-1213; Website: www.ssa.gov
The Social Security Administration maintains a toll-free number which you can call to obtain information, set up an appointment, or transact other business. Be careful. There have been some reports that some Social Security staff members who answer this toll-free number do not always provide accurate or complete information. When in doubt, call your local Social Security office to make an appointment to meet with their staff in person so they can review your file with you. Take a friend, relative or Social Security attorney with you. People who are deaf or have difficulty hearing may call the Social Security office at their toll-free “TTY” number: 1-800-325-0778.
Written Explanation for Denial of Benefits
If Social Security denies your claim for any benefits, you are entitled to a written explanation giving the reasons for denying certain benefits. If you do not receive a written explanation, ask Social Security to provide you with this documentation and consult an attorney concentrating in Social Security law to protect your rights.
Correcting Records with Social Security
If you are receiving benefits or applying for benefits from Social Security, it is important that you contact the Social Security Administration to inform them of any changes or corrections in your records. For example, if you move, change bank accounts, or disagree with the earnings records which they have posted to your Social Security account, you should take immediate steps to inform Social Security of any changes or additions.
It has been estimated that a small percentage of Social Security participants have incorrect Social Security retirement accounts. This means that Social Security may not know about all of your earnings in your lifetime, and therefore your retirement benefits may be lower than they should be. It is important to check your records every couple of years, at least until you are receiving benefits, to verify your earnings records on file with Social Security.
If you have a problem with a Social Security claim and desire legal advice, a good contact is the National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives: 1-800-431-2804. They maintain a national listing of attorneys who concentrate their law practice in Social Security matters. You may also wish to contact your local Legal Aid office in your community or the Montgomery Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service; telephone 610-279-9660; fax 610-279-4846.
Social Security Benefits
Following is a brief description of some of the benefits available through the Social Security Administration. Remember that Social Security is a system of social entitlement; it is neither welfare-based nor based on means. The system provides benefits not only during retirement but also for survivors and dependents in case of death or disability. Keep in mind that this is not a description of all of the eligibility requirements for each of these programs and benefits. Some of the eligibility requirements are complicated and cannot be fully addressed in this handbook. When in doubt, contact the Social Security Administration and set up an in-person appointment to ask about your eligibility for benefits and consult an attorney working with Social Security benefits.
Anyone born before 1938 will be eligible for full Social Security retirement benefits at the age of 65. However, beginning in the year 2003, the age at which full benefits are payable will increase in gradual steps from 65 to 67.
No matter what your “full” retirement age is, you may start receiving benefits as early as age 62. However, if you start your retirement benefits early, they are reduced five-ninths of 1% for each month before your full retirement age. There are disadvantages and advantages to taking your retirement benefits before your full retirement age. The disadvantage is that your benefits are permanently reduced. The advantage is that you collect benefits for a longer period of time. Each person’s situation is different, so you should contact an attorney who is familiar with Social Security law before you make any decisions.
Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits (SSDI)
If you have worked long enough and earned enough Social Security “credits” to qualify for disability on your own work record, and if you are medically determined to be unable to do “substantial gainful” work for at least one year, you may qualify for Social Security disability insurance benefits on your own account. This is a complicated program and you should visit your local Social Security office in order to apply. This is not intended for a temporary condition; there is no such thing as a “partial” disability benefit program from Social Security.
Supplemental Security Income Benefits (SSI)
The SSI program is based on means. To qualify, you must be “poor” (low income and requires to have assets under $2,000 if single and under $3000 if a couple) and be either medically disabled, blind, or 65 or older. However, this is not a benefit program to “supplement” your income. In other words, in addition to the other eligibility requirement, you must meet strict poverty income guidelines in order to receive this benefit. For example, for a single person in Pennsylvania, if you are medically disabled, but receive more than $674.00 .00 per month from another benefit such as SSD, retirement, or a pension, or income, you will not be eligible for SSI benefits because Social Security will consider that you make too much money to qualify for SSI. There is no COLA (cost of living increase) in the payment amount in 2010.
When you die, certain members of your family may be eligible for benefits on your Social Security earnings record if you have earned enough credits while you were working. Family members who can collect benefits include:
a widow or widower who is 60 or older;
a widow or widower who is 50 or older and disabled;
a widow or widower at any age if they are caring for a child under 16 or a disabled child who is receiving Social Security benefits;
children if they are unmarried and
under age 18;
under age 19 but in an elementary or secondary school as a full time student;
age 18 or older and severely disabled (the disability must have started before age 22);
your parents, if they were dependent on you for at least half of their support.
Surviving spouses can directly contact Social Security by calling 800-772-1213 in order to apply for benefits.
Benefits For a Divorced Spouse
One receives Social Security benefits in one of two ways: based on one’s contributions to the Social Security system or as a spouse of such a contributor, which benefits are called derivative benefits. The recipient will receive benefits in the manner that provides the higher benefits.
After divorce, one can receive benefits based on the contributions of a former spouse if the marriage was of at least ten years duration. Derivative benefits for divorced spouses do not affect the benefits of the contributing spouse and family allowance does not apply. If a divorced spouse seeks benefits based on an eligible former spouse’s earning record, and the former spouse is not collecting benefits, the divorced spouse can collect benefits only after two years have elapsed from the date of the divorce. In addition, the spouse from whom benefits are derived must be eligible for benefits; that is, at least 62 years of age and fully insured, even if they are not actually receiving benefits. The qualifications of the dependent spouse are: being at least 62 years of age and remaining unmarried.
If you are already a surviving divorced spouse planning to remarry close to age 60, wait until age 60 to avoid the remarriage penalty. In the event you are considering getting divorced, consider the impact on you of Social Security benefits. If you are a dependent spouse getting a divorce, at any age, and your marriage is close to ten years, defer the divorce until there are ten years from the date of the marriage to the date of the divorce decree. Before having alimony cease at age 62, consider the reduction of benefits and inability to qualify for Medicare. If a divorcing dependent spouse is planning to receive benefits based on the earnings record of the spouse who is not receiving benefits, make sure that benefits are not sought until two years after the date of divorce.
If the dependent spouse remarries, they will not be eligible for derivative benefits from a contributing spouse. However, if such remarriage terminates, the dependent spouse becomes eligible for derivative benefits once again from the former contributing spouse. If a dependent spouse has been married more than once and each time for at least ten years, derivative benefits can come from the former spouse’s contributions providing the higher benefits.
Benefits to Divorced Widow(er)s
If you are divorced, even if you have remarried, your ex-spouse will be eligible for benefits on your own earnings record if you are fully insured when you die. In order to qualify, your ex-spouse must:
be at least 60 years of age, or 50 years of age if disabled, and have been married to you for at least ten years;
be any age if caring for a child who is eligible for benefits on your earnings record;
not be eligible for an equal or higher benefit on his/her own earnings record; and
not be currently married, unless the remarriage occurred after age 60, or 50 for disabled widow(er)s.
The surviving divorced widow receives 100% of the benefits instead of the 50% received if the former spouse is alive.
Income Tax on Social Security Benefits
The test is whether the individual’s adjusted gross income combined with 50% of their Social Security benefits plus any tax-exempt interest exceeds a base amount. For individuals, that base amount is $25,000; for married couples, the amount is $32,000. The amount of benefits that will then be included in taxable income is the lesser of half of the benefits or half of the excess of the taxpayer’s combined income (modified adjusted gross income plus half of the benefits) over the base amount.
For individuals whose combined income exceeds a higher adjusted base amount ($34,000 for single individuals, $44,000 for a married couple filing a joint return), the amount of benefits that will be included in taxable income is the lesser of 85% of the benefits, or 85% of the excess of the taxpayer’s combined income over the adjusted base amount plus the lesser of half the benefits or $4,500 for a single person, $6,000 for married couples. Because these issues are so complex you may wish to consult a tax attorney for guidance.
Most pensions are not counted in the retirement test. However, when one spouse works and the other is drawing benefits, the base amount can be easily exceeded. Form SSA 1099 shows the benefits received and is sent each January to every Social Security recipient for inclusion in the federal income tax return.
Considerations and Issues to Be Aware Of if You Already Receive Some Benefit(s) From the Social Security Administration
Social Security has rules which require you, as beneficiary of Social Security, to report changes to the Social Security Administration. There can be consequences to you if you fail or neglect to report changes to Social Security, and these consequences can include sanctions against you, such as overpayment requests, fraud charges or termination of your benefits. Here are a few of the many things to be aware of if you already receive Social Security benefits:
1. If you receive Social Security retirement or survivors benefits or wages or a salary over a specified exempt amount:
A. You must report any changes in your address, or if you change your name, via marriage or divorce.
B. If you are over the age of 65, you will continue to receive full Social Security benefits regardless of how much you earn in wages or salaries; this is due to a change in the law implemented in March 2000 and it was made retroactive to January 2000.
C. However, if you are younger than full retirement age during all of 2010, $1 will be deducted from your benefits for every $2 you earned above $14,160 in 2010. If you reach full retirement age in 2010, $1 from your benefits for each $3 you earn above $37,680 until the month you reach full retirement age will be deducted.
2. If you receive SSI disability benefits:
A. You must report any income changes (increases, decreases) to the Social Security Administration. You should also report any changes in the income of other family members living with you (i.e. spouse, child). Income is a very broad term and includes many things, including wages from a job, the value of food or shelter or clothing that someone else gives to you or the amount of money they give you to help pay your bills, unemployment, annuities, pensions, etc.
B. You must inform Social Security if you move and provide them with your new address.
C. You must inform Social Security if there is a change in the number of people who live with you, or if you get married or if your marriage ends. For example, if someone moves into or out of your home, or if someone who lives with you dies.
D. You must inform Social Security if you enter or leave an institution such as a nursing home, hospital, shelter or penal institution.
E. If you return to work, part-time or full-time, you must report this to Social Security. There are special SSI rules to help you try to work. In some cases, your SSI benefits may continue while you work and are still disabled; as your earnings increase, the amount of your SSI will decrease and may eventually stop if you earn too much each month.
3. If you receive SSD disability benefits, your benefits will generally continue for as long as your impairment has not medically improved and you cannot work. Social Security will review your case periodically to confirm you are still disabled. If you receive SSD benefits:
A. You must report any changes such as change of address or marriage or divorce, or changes such as improvement of your medical conditions. Failure to report such changes in your medical conditions could mean that you will get payments that are not due to you, and that will have to be repaid to Social Security.
B. If you go to work, part-time or full-time, you must report any earnings to Social Security because earnings may affect your Social Security benefits.
C. There are work incentives offered by Social Security to allow you to test your ability to work for at least nine months even after you receive disability benefits.
Trial work period- The trial work period allows you to receive your benefits regardless of how much you are earning as long as you report your work and continue to have a disabling impairment. In 2010, a trial work month is any month in which your total earnings are $720 or more. The trial work period continues until you have worked nine months within a 60 month period.
Extended period of eligibility- After your trial work period, you have 36 months during which you can work and still receive benefits for any month your earnings are not “substantial.” In 2010, earnings of $1000 or more ($1640 if you are blind) are considered substantial. Your free Medicare Part A coverage will continue if your Social Security Disability benefits stop because of your earnings. During the trial work period, there are no limits on your earnings. During the 36-month extended period of eligibility however, you usually can make no more than $1000 a month or your benefits will stop, unless you have extra work expenses as a result of your disability.
4. If you would like to return to work, Social Security’s new Ticket to Work Program will help Pennsylvanians with disabilities go to work under this new program.
A. Tickets will be mailed to people who receive Social Security disability of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits. Tickets can be used for vocational rehabilitation, job training and other employment support services. The program is entirely voluntary and beneficiaries are not required to go to work, but may attempt to do so.
B. Ticketholders may contact an Employment Network established by Social Security to assist beneficiaries in planning for employment and working.
C. Medicare Part A (Hospital) premium free coverage was extended for 4 1/2 years beyond the current limit for disability beneficiaries who work. Therefore, an individual does not have to chose between working and receiving health coverage, including Medicare Part B. SSA will not conduct a medical review of a person receiving disability benefits if that person is using a Ticket. However, income benefits can still be terminated if earnings are above the allowable limits.
D. Starting in 2002, individuals who have received disability benefits for at least 24 months will not be medically reviewed solely because of work activity. However, regularly scheduled medical reviews can still be performed and, again, benefits terminated if earnings are above the allowable limits. So, if you go back to work, you won’t automatically lose your benefits if you earn under the allowable amount.
E. If your benefits have ended because you have substantial gainful work activity, you can request that your benefits resume without filing a new application if you are unable to continue to work because of your medical condition. You can receive up to 6 months of temporary benefits,that do not have to be repaid if you are found ineligible to receive disability benefits, as well as Medicare or Medicaid, pending SSA making a new medical determination. The medical condition must be the same as or related to your initial medical condition when benefits were granted. You must file your request to start your benefits again within 60 months of the date you were entitled to benefits.
Social Security pamphlets include:
“Basic Facts” SSA-05-10080
“Understanding the Benefits” SSA-05-10024
“Retirement Benefits” SSA-05-10035
“Disability Benefits” SSA-05-10029
“Supplementary Security Income” SSA-05-11008
“Survivor Benefits” SSA-05-10084
“What You Need To Know When You Get Retirement Or Survivors Benefits”
“What You Need To Know When You Get SSI” SSA-05-11011
“If You Are Blind How We Can Help” SSA-05-10052
“A Guide For Representative Payees” SSA-05-10076
“What You Should Know When A Representative Payee Manages Your Money”
“Receive Your Benefits By Direct Deposit” SSA-05-10123
These are available by calling the Social Security toll-free number 1-800-772-1213 or through their website at www.ssa.gov.