Questions and Answers about Social Security
Will Social Security be around when you need it?
You've probably heard media reports about the worrisome financial condition of Social Security, but how heavily should you weigh this information? While it's very likely that some changes will be made to Social Security (e.g., payroll taxes may increase, benefits may be reduced by a certain percentage, or cost-of-living adjustments may be calculated differently), there's been no proposal to eliminate Social Security. Although no one knows what will happen, if you're approaching retirement, it's probable that you'll receive the benefits you've been expecting. If you're still a long way from retirement, it may be wise to consider various scenarios when planning for Social Security income.
How does the Social Security Administration know how much you've earned?
If you work for an employer, your employer will deduct Social Security taxes from your paycheck and report your wages to the Social Security Administration (SSA). If you're self-employed, you pay your self-employment Social Security taxes and report your earnings to the SSA by filing your federal income tax return. To view your lifetime earnings record, you can sign up to access your Social Security Statement online at the SSA's website, www.socialsecurity.gov.
Will a retirement pension affect your Social Security benefit?
If your pension is from a job where you paid Social Security taxes, it won't affect your Social Security benefit. However, if your pension is from a job where you did not pay Social Security taxes (such as certain government jobs) two special provisions may apply.
The first provision, called the government pension offset (GPO), may apply if you're entitled to receive a government pension as well as Social Security spousal retirement or survivor's benefits based on your spouse's (or former spouse's) earnings. Under this provision, your spousal or survivor's benefit may be reduced by two-thirds of your government pension (some exceptions apply).
The second provision, called the windfall elimination provision (WEP), affects how your Social Security retirement or disability benefit is figured if you receive a pension from work not covered by Social Security. The formula used to figure your benefit is modified, resulting in a lower Social Security benefit.
If someone else receives benefits based on your earnings record, will your benefit be reduced as a result?
Your benefit will not be affected if other people, such as your spouse, former spouse, or dependent children, receive Social Security benefits based on your earnings record.
If you delay receiving benefits until after full retirement age, should you 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 three months before you reach age 65. If you enroll late for Medicare Part B (medical insurance) your coverage may be delayed or cost more later. Visit the Medicare website, www.medicare.gov to learn more.
Do IRA withdrawals count toward the Social Security earnings limit? Prior to full retirement age, an earnings limit applies if you receive Social Security benefits. If you earn more than this amount, your benefit will be reduced. However, only wages from a job or net earnings from self-employment count toward this limit. Unearned income, such as IRA withdrawals, investment earnings, or capital gains, does not count.
What if you change your mind about when to begin Social Security benefits?
You have a limited opportunity to change your mind after you've applied for benefits. You can complete Form SSA-521, Request for Withdrawal of Application, and reapply at a later date. But if you're already receiving benefits, you can withdraw your claim only if it has been less than 12 months since you first became entitled to benefits, and you're limited to one withdrawal per lifetime. In addition, there are financial consequences--you must repay all benefits already paid to you or your family members based on your application, as well as any money withheld from your checks, including Medicare premiums or income taxes.