Using Social Security online: A real time-saver

31 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

How to get your Social Security statement.

Marilyn Murphy of Torrance, Calif., contacted her local Social Security office this past spring to find out if spousal benefits based on her first husband’s work record might be worth more than the retirement benefit she already receives.The future for Medicare and Social Security might not look bright at the moment, but it’s particularly bleak for the government’s disability insurance program.A: Even if your spouse has never worked under Social Security, she can, at full retirement age, receive a benefit equal to one-half of your full retirement amount.With Social Security celebrating its 80th anniversary, now might be a good time to review the benefits you can expect — even if you’re skeptical about ever getting those benefits.

Jerry Nachison, parroting the Democratic line, claims Social Security is self-funded through 2033 and does not affect the national debt (“Future Social Security budget gap easily fixed,” Aug. 23). Not so: If you’re an adult, you can monitor your benefits situation with a few clicks of the keyboard and start serious planning for your retirement income. According to the Social Security trustees’ report released last month, the disability insurance trust fund will run out money in 2016 and it needs immediate attention. The my Social Security accounts give you the chance to change direct deposit of your benefits if you already receive Social Security, as well as request a replacement Medicaid card or order SSA tax documents, among other services.

In the absence of any attention, millions of Americans will receive an automatic 19% reduction in their Social Security disability benefits in the fourth quarter of 2016. Today, however, you will be mailed a paper statement once every five years from ages 25 to 60. (After 60, a statement is sent annually.) If you don’t want to wait, head online. Relying on this misinformation can lead to missing out on benefits for which you qualify or losing opportunities to maximize your checks. “Forty percent of what the good folks at Social Security tell you, almost always with great certitude, is either outright wrong, partially wrong, incomplete, or confused,” said economist Laurence Kotlikoff, co-author of the best-selling book “Get What’s Yours: Secrets to Maximizing Your Social Security.” No one has actually tested representatives on the accuracy of their responses, and Investment News columnist Mary Beth Franklin, who has been writing about Social Security since 2008, said she thought the agency’s employees were getting better at addressing complex situations. Social Security has thousands of rules and claiming strategies that can be hard to grasp, which leads people to misunderstand what representatives tell them, Franklin said. If requested, you should ask why the person asking needs your Social Security number, how it will be used, what law requires you to give your number and what the consequences are if you refuse.

Still, Franklin frequently hears from readers who have been told incorrectly that they cannot suspend their benefits because they are single or started benefits too early. Confirm records with tax returns filed with the Internal Revenue Service;Fix errors due to employee omissions from processed employer reports or missing reports;Rectify mistakes “on the face of the record,” that is, errors Social Security can find after examining agency records of processed reports; and Include wages that an employer reported as paid to you but that don’t appear in SSA records. Financial planners also have reported Social Security representatives who insist that only six months’ worth of back benefits are available to people who rescind their suspension. Benefits, however, are set by a complicated formula based on a worker’s lifetime earnings record at retirement … Workers, on their own, cannot be expected to know how much they could get.” For instance, the study finds that reviewing your records generally leads to an understanding that claiming benefits later increases monthly Social Security income. Anyone who believes collecting taxes and then using this money to redeem Social Security’s treasury certificates is the same as drawing down a trust fund needs to review their basic accounting and economics, and stop talking about Republican economic concepts that would seem to be beyond them.

No evidence, though, indicates that just because most people understand this concept they do delay retiring: Most look at planning for retirement only in terms of saving and investment and not in terms of working longer — the latter of which can drastically increase savings and benefits. Last year, 81 percent of customers said they were satisfied with the service they received, and 33 percent termed it “excellent.” “Whenever we hear that a member of the public did not receive the level of service he or she expected, we take the matter very seriously,” Stump said. The supervisor confirmed that to qualify for divorced spousal benefits, the marriage had to have lasted at least 10 years and Murphy had to be currently unmarried. Murphy was glad she finally got the correct answer to her question, even though switching to the spousal benefit would not have made any difference to her monthly check. If you can’t balance your budget, consider taking withdrawals from your savings and investment accounts to make up for the reduced benefit, says Vosberg.

Franklin and Kotlikoff both suggest doing your own research to determine the best claiming strategies rather than relying on Social Security representatives’ advice. Waiting a few more years before retiring and filing for Social Security raises your monthly benefit with Delayed Retirement Credits (DRCs); these include a 5.5% increase in your eventual benefits per year of delay if you were born in 1933 or 1934, a 7.5% yearly increase if you were born in 1941 or 1942 and an 8% increase in you were born in 1943 or later.

Delaying filing can also of course decrease additional savings you need to maintain your desired standard of living and can shorten the number of years that you eventually draw on savings. Voice your displeasure with how Congress is managing the affairs of this country, says Stephen Stellhorn, president and CEO of MSM Capital Management in Tampa and author of Navigating the Maze of Social Security. “This problem is a legislative one, which Congress must address,” Stellhorn says. “What makes 2016 so unique is there is a presidential election occurring. I strongly suggest the City Council finally steps up and admits to the overwhelming animal population problem this community has, and actually spends those funds for a new animal shelter that is up to the challenge of too many animals and way too many killings of these animals. Or let’s not wait until the next election — start recall petitions on all of them, and get a new mayor and replace each city council member with someone who actually cares about this important and much neglected issue for the past 30 years. To interpret the 14th correctly and understand the meaning of those six words, one must understand that the original intent was to give freed slaves citizenship.

Howard said, “(The 14th Amendment) will not, of course, include persons born in the United States who are foreigners, aliens, who belong to the families of ambassadors or foreign ministers accredited to the government of the United States, but will include every other class of person.” This means exactly what it says; those who are here illegally are citizens of the country from which they came and subject to that country’s laws, not ours.

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