2011-12-09 / Business

The do’s and don’ts of Social Security

FAQs about benefits for survivors, spouses, the disabled
By Essie Landry
Special to the Acorn

Social Security and Medicare are right around the corner for aging baby boomers. The following are answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about the benefits that are offered.

Q: When a person who has worked and paid Social Security taxes dies, are benefits payable on that person’s record?

A: Social Security survivors benefits can be paid to:

A widow or widower, unreduced benefits at full retirement age or reduced benefits as early as age 60.

A disabled widow or widower as early as age 50.

A widow or widower at any age if he or she takes care of the deceased’s child who is under age 16 or disabled and receiving Social Security benefits.

Unmarried children under 18 or up to age 19 if they are attending high school full time.

Under certain circumstances, benefits can be paid to stepchildren, grandchildren or adopted children.

Children at any age who were disabled before age 22 and remain disabled.

Dependent parents age 62 or older.

Q: I lost my Social Security card. Should I get a new one?

A: You may not need to get a replacement card. Knowing your Social Security number is what is important.

However, you can replace your Social Security card for free if it is lost or stolen.

Citizens are limited to three replacement cards in a year and 10 during a lifetime.

Q: Can I get an estimate of my retirement benefit at several different possible ages?

A: Yes. You can use the Retirement Estimator at www.socialsecurity.gov/estimator to test different retirement scenarios.

This online tool will give retirement benefit estimates based on current law and real-time access to your earnings record.

The Retirement Estimator also lets you create additional “what if” retirement scenarios.

Q: If both my spouse and I are entitled to Social Security benefits, is there any reduction in our payments because we are married?

A: No. Lifetime earnings are calculated independently to determine each spouse’s Social Security benefit amount.

When each member of a married couple meets all other eligibility requirements to receive Social Security retirement benefits, each spouse receives a monthly benefit amount based on his or her own earnings.

Couples are not penalized simply because they are married.

If one member of the couple earned low wages or failed to earn enough Social Security credits to be insured for retirement benefits, he or she may be eligible to receive benefits as a spouse.

Q: I am receiving Social Security disability benefits.

Will my benefits be affected if I work and earn money?

A: It can, depending on how much you make.

There are special rules called “work incentives” that help you keep your cash benefits and Medicare while you test your ability to work.

There is a trial work period during which you can receive full benefits regardless of how much you earn, as long as you report your work activity and continue to have a disabling impairment.

Q: Is there a time limit on Social Security disability benefits?

A: Your disability benefits will continue as long as your medical condition has not improved and you cannot work.

Your case will be reviewed at regular intervals to make sure you are still disabled.

Q: Is it true that a person can own a home and still be eligible for Supplemental Security Income benefits?

A: Yes, a person who owns a home and lives in that home can be eligible for SSI benefits.

SSI is for people who are disabled, aged or blind and who have limited income and resources.

However, there are some items we do not count as resources, such as the home you live in.

Q: I know you need to have limited resources to receive Supplemental Security Income.

But what is considered a resource?

A: Resources are things you own that you can use for support, including cash, real estate, personal belongings, bank accounts, stocks and bonds.

To be eligible for SSI a person must have no more than $2,000 in countable resources.

A married couple must have no more than $3,000 in countable resources.

If you own resources over the SSI limit, you may be able to get SSI benefits while trying to sell the resources.

Not all of your resources count toward the SSI resource limit, such as the home you live in and the land it’s on, personal effects and household goods, life insurance policies may not count depending on their value, your car usually does not count, burial plots for you and members of the immediate family and up to $1,500 in burial funds for you and up to $1,500 in burial funds for a spouse may not count.

If you are blind or have a disability, some items may not count if you plan to use them to work or earn extra income.

Q: If I call (800) 772-1213, can a Social Security representative take my application for Medicare prescription drug help over the phone?

A: Yes, if an interviewer is available when you call the 800 number.

If an interviewer is not immediately available, a telephone appointment can be scheduled.

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