Understanding Social Security

Understanding Social Security

Core Facts

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2015-05-22

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Social Security is one factor in retirement planning for millions of Americans.  But Social Security is now much more than just a retirement program. Its scope has expanded to include other benefits as well, such as disability, family, and survivor's benefits.

Social Security Basics

The Social Security system is based on a simple principle: While you are working, you pay a portion of your earnings into a trust fund, either directly to Social Security or through self-employment taxes. If you are employed, your employer will contribute an equal amount. This puts a plan in place for you to have an income at times when you might need it most – in retirement or if you were to become disabled.

Another benefit is that family members can receive income based on your earnings record, too. The amount of benefits that you and your family members receive depends on several factors, including your average lifetime earnings, when you were born, and the type of benefit that you're applying for.

If you are employed, your earnings and taxes will be reported to the Social Security Administration (SSA) by your employer.  If you are self-employed, this will be done by the Internal Revenue Service. The SSA uses your Social Security number to track your earnings and your benefits.

You can view your Social Security statement and find out about future benefits by signing up for a mySocialSecurity account at the Social Security website, www.ssa.gov. Your statement contains a detailed record of your earnings, as well as estimates of retirement, survivor's, and disability benefits.

Social Security eligibility

When you work and pay Social Security taxes, you earn credits that enable you to qualify for Social Security benefits. You can earn up to 4 credits per year, depending on the amount of income that you have. Most people must build up 40 credits (10 years of work) to be eligible for Social Security retirement benefits but need fewer credits to be eligible for disability benefits or for their family members to be eligible for survivor's benefits.

Your retirement benefits

Your Social Security retirement benefit is based on your average earnings over your working career. Your age at the time you start receiving Social Security retirement benefits also affects your benefit amount. If you were born between 1943 and 1954, your full retirement age is 66. Full retirement age increases in two-month increments thereafter, until it reaches age 67 for anyone born in 1960 or later.

But you don't have to wait until full retirement age to begin receiving benefits. No matter what your full retirement age, you can begin receiving early retirement benefits at age 62. Doing so is sometimes advantageous. Although you'll receive a reduced benefit if you retire early, you'll receive benefits for a longer period than someone who retires at full retirement age.

You can also choose to delay receiving retirement benefits past full retirement age. If you delay retirement, the Social Security benefit that you eventually receive will be as much as 8 percent higher. That's because you'll receive a delayed retirement credit for each month that you delay receiving retirement benefits, up to age 70. The amount of this credit varies, depending on your year of birth.

Disability benefits

If you become disabled, you may be eligible for Social Security disability benefits. The SSA defines disability as a physical or mental condition severe enough to prevent a person from performing substantial work of any kind for at least a year. This is a strict definition of disability, so if you're only temporarily disabled, don't expect to receive Social Security disability benefits. Benefits won't begin until the sixth full month after the onset of your disability. And because processing your claim may take some time, apply for disability benefits as soon as you realize that your disability will be long term.

Family benefits

If you begin receiving retirement or disability benefits, your family members might also be eligible to receive benefits based on your earnings record. Eligible family members may include:

  • Your spouse age 62 or older, if married at least 1 year
  • Your former spouse age 62 or older, if you were married at least 10 years
  • Your spouse or former spouse at any age, if caring for your child who is under age 16 or disabled
  • Your children under age 18, if unmarried
  • Your children under age 19, if full-time students (through grade 12) or disabled
  • Your children older than 18, if severely disabled

Each family member may receive a benefit that is as much as 50 percent of your benefit. However, the amount that can be paid each month to a family is limited. The total benefit that your family can receive based on your earnings record is about 150 to 180 percent of your full retirement benefit amount. If the total family benefit exceeds this limit, each family member's benefit will be reduced proportionately. Your benefit won't be affected.

Survivor's benefits

When you die, your family members may qualify for survivor's benefits based on your earnings record. These family members include:

  • Your widow(er) or ex-spouse age 60 or older (or age 50 or older if disabled)
  • Your widow(er) or ex-spouse at any age, if caring for your child who is under 16 or disabled
  • Your children under 18, if unmarried
  • Your children under age 19, if full-time students (through grade 12) or disabled
  • Your children older than 18, if severely disabled
  • Your parents, if they depended on you for at least half of their support

Your widow(er) or children may also receive a one-time $255 death benefit immediately after you die.

Applying for Social Security benefits

The SSA recommends you apply for benefits online at the SSA website, but you can also apply by calling (800) 772-1213, or by making an appointment at your local SSA office. The SSA suggests that you apply for benefits three months before you want your benefits to start. If you're applying for disability or survivor's benefits, apply as soon as you are eligible.

Depending on the type of Social Security benefits that you are applying for, you will be asked to furnish certain records, such as a birth certificate, W-2 forms, and verification of your Social Security number and citizenship. The documents must be original or certified copies. If any of your family members are applying for benefits, they will be expected to submit similar documentation. The SSA representative will let you know which documents you need and help you get any documents you don't already have.

IMPORTANT DISCLOSURES

Material contained in this article is provided for information purposes only and is not intended to be used in connection with the evaluation of any investments offered by David Lerner Associates, Inc. This material does not constitute an offer or recommendation to buy or sell securities and should not be considered in connection with the purchase or sale of securities.

To the extent that this material concerns tax matters, it is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law. Each taxpayer should seek independent advice from a tax professional based on his or her individual circumstances.

These materials are provided for general information and educational purposes based upon publicly available information from sources believed to be reliable-- we cannot assure the accuracy or completeness of these materials. The information in these materials may change at any time and without notice.

Some of this material has been provided by Broadridge Investor Communications Solutions, Inc.

David Lerner Associates does not provide tax or legal advice. The information presented here is not specific to any individual's personal circumstances.
Member FINRA & SIPC.

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Founded in 1976, David Lerner Associates is a privately-held broker/dealer with headquarters in Syosset, New York and branch offices in Westport, CT; Boca Raton, FL; Teaneck and Princeton, NJ; and White Plains, NY. For more information contact David Lerner Associates Call 516-921-4200 Visit our website: http://www.davidlerner.com

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Contact

Jake Mendlinger
Account Manager
Zimmerman/Edelson
516.829.8374 X 232
jmendlinger@zimmed.com

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