19 Jan Social Security Frequently Asked Questions
Social Security Frequently Asked Questions
How much did Social Security benefits increase in 2015?
Social Security benefits increased this year. In 2015, nearly 64 million Americans who receive Social Security or Supplemental Security Income began receiving a cost-of-living adjustment increase of 1.7 percent to their monthly benefit payments.
The average monthly Social Security benefit for a retired worker in 2015 is $1,328, up from $1,306 in 2014. The average monthly Social Security benefit for a disabled worker in 2015 is $1,165, up from $1,146 in 2014.
As a reminder, eligibility for retirement benefits still requires 40 credits (usually about 10 years of work). The Social Security Act details how the COLA is calculated. You can read more about the COLA at www.socialsecurity.gov/cola.
How can I get an estimate of my Social Security benefits?
One way to get an estimate of your future Social Security benefits is to use the benefit calculators available on the Social Security Administration’s website, www.ssa.gov. You can estimate your retirement benefit based on your actual earnings record using the Retirement Estimator calculator, then create different scenarios based on current law that will illustrate how different earnings amounts and retirement ages will affect the benefit you receive. Other benefit calculators are also available that can help you estimate disability and survivor’s benefits. You can also sign up for a my Social Security account so that you can view your online Social Security Statement. Your statement contains a detailed record of your earnings, as well as estimates of retirement, survivor’s, and disability benefits. It also includes other information about Social Security that will be very useful when planning for retirement.
When I retire, how much will I receive from Social Security?
That depends upon how much you have earned and how long you have worked under the Social Security system. Your retirement benefit will be based on your average lifetime earnings. Don’t worry if you started out as a busboy and worked your way up to executive restaurant guru–only your highest 35 years of earnings will count.
The amount you receive will also be affected by whether you start collecting benefits early (you’ll get less), whether you collect benefits late (you’ll get more), whether you work after you retire, whether other family members receive benefits based on your earnings record, whether you collect certain other government benefits, and whether the cost of living rises.
What happens if I start collecting Social Security after full retirement age?
You’ll get a bigger check every month. However, how much bigger depends upon what year you reach full retirement age, and how long you postpone collecting benefits. If you were born in 1943 or later, you’ll receive 2/3 of 1% for each month that you delay collecting retirement benefits (8 percent more per year), up until age 70. So, for example, if your full retirement age is 66 and you delay collecting benefits for 4 years, your benefit at age 70 will be 32% higher than at age 66.
You can estimate your retirement benefit online based on your actual earnings record using the Retirement Estimator calculator on the Social Security website (www.ssa.gov). You can create different scenarios based on current law that will illustrate how different earnings amounts and retirement ages will affect the benefit you receive. You can also visit the website to sign up for a my Social Security account so that you can view your online Social Security Statement. Your statement contains a detailed record of your earnings, as well as estimates of retirement, disability, and survivor’s benefits.
My husband and I are divorcing after 30 years of marriage. Will I still be able to receive Social Security retirement benefits based on his earnings record after our divorce?
Yes. If you already receive Social Security based on his earnings record, you’ll continue to receive it as long as you live (or in some cases, until you remarry). If you don’t receive Social Security yet, you can apply for a reduced benefit when you turn 62 or wait until your full retirement age if you want to receive an unreduced spousal retirement benefit. If you’ve been divorced for more than two years, you can apply as soon as your ex-husband becomes eligible for benefits, even if he hasn’t started receiving them (assuming you’re at least 62). However, if you’ve been divorced for less than two years, you must wait to apply for benefits based on your ex-husband’s earnings record until he starts receiving his own benefits.
You don’t have to worry about losing your benefit even if your ex-husband remarries. Benefits for a divorced spouse are calculated separately from those of a current spouse.
Are my Social Security benefits subject to income tax?
A portion of your benefits may be subject to income tax if your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI), plus one-half your Social Security benefits, exceeds specific limits. Your MAGI equals:
- Adjusted gross income (or the adjusted gross income of you and your spouse if married and filing jointly),
including wages, interest, dividends, taxable pensions, and other sources,
- Tax-exempt interest income (e.g., interest from municipal bonds and qualified U.S. savings bonds), and
- Amounts earned in a foreign country, U.S. possession, or Puerto Rico that are exempt from tax
Up to 50 percent of your Social Security benefits may be subject to income tax if your combined income (MAGI plus one-half your Social Security benefits) exceeds $25,000 for an individual filing single, unmarried head of household, or qualified widow(er) with dependent ($32,000 if married and filing jointly).
If your combined income exceeds $34,000 ($44,000 if married and filing jointly), up to 85 percent of your benefits is taxable. If you are married and filing separately, up to 85 percent of your benefits will be taxed unless you and your spouse live apart for the entire year.
Consult an accountant or other tax professional for more information. Or, contact the Internal Revenue Service at (800) 829-1040 or www.irs.gov. Ask for Publication 554, Tax Guide for Seniors, and Publication 915, Social Security and Equivalent Railroad Retirement Benefits.
If I delay receiving Social Security benefits, should I still sign up for Medicare at age 65?
Even if you plan on waiting until full retirement age or later to take your Social Security retirement benefits, make sure to sign up for Medicare. If you’re 65 or older and aren’t yet receiving Social Security benefits, you won’t be automatically enrolled in Medicare Parts A and B. You can sign up for Medicare when you first become eligible during your seven-month Initial Enrollment Period. This period begins three months before the month you turn 65, includes the month you turn 65, and ends three months after the month you turn 65.
The Social Security Administration recommends contacting them to sign up three months before you reach age 65, because signing up early helps you avoid a delay in coverage. For your Medicare coverage to begin during the month you turn 65, you must sign up during the first three months before the month you turn 65 (the day your coverage will start depends on your birthday). If you enroll later, the start date of your coverage will be delayed. If you don’t enroll during your Initial Enrollment Period, you may pay a higher premium for Part B coverage later. Visit the Medicare website, www.medicare.gov to learn more, or call the Social Security Administration at 800-772-1213.
I’m getting remarried. How will this affect my Social Security benefits?
If you’re receiving benefits based on your own work record, your benefits will continue. If you’re receiving spousal benefits based on your former spouse’s work record, those benefits will generally end upon your getting remarried, but you may be able to receive benefits based on your new spouse’s work record, or on your own.
If you’re a widow(er) under age 60, or you’re disabled but under 50, remarriage ends any benefits based on the record of your deceased spouse. However, if you remarry after age 60 (or after 50 and are disabled), those benefits remain intact, unless you get spousal benefits through your new spouse (at age 62 or older) if those benefits are higher. If your second marriage ends as a result of death, divorce, or annulment in less than 10 years, you will again be eligible to collect benefits on your first spouse’s record. Benefits paid to a disabled widow(er) are unaffected by remarriage.
Note, too, that if you were the working spouse during your first marriage, your remarriage does not change the Social Security benefits paid to either your new spouse or ex-spouse. Because the rules surrounding payment of benefits are complicated, and depend on your particular situation, contact the Social Security Administration at
(800) 772-1213 for more information.