by Mark A. Krohn, Esq., Partner
Jacobowitz & Gubits, LLP

There still remains a lot of confusion concerning how government benefits are applied. Here are some frequently asked questions I receive as an attorney. I hope that you will find the answers provided to be useful.

When am I eligible to receive Social Security retirement benefits?
Beginning in 2000 the age for full retirement benefits has increased from age 65 by about one (1) month per year. In 2022, the age for full benefits will be 67. You may begin collecting Social Security retirement benefits at age 62, but your monthly benefit will be permanently reduced and will not increase once you reach full retirement age (age 65+).

How are my benefits calculated?
Retirement benefits are based upon your taxable earnings averaged over your lifetime and the payments you and your employer have made into the Social Security Trust Fund. You may request a statement of your earnings and your estimated retirement benefits from the Social Security Administration by asking for your “Personal Earnings and Benefit Estimate Statement.” This form can be obtained from the Social Security Administration’s web site (www.ssa.gov). To be eligible for any benefits, if you were born in 1929 or later you must earn 40 credits. Since you can obtain a maximum of only 4 credits per year ( 1 for each quarter that you earn at least $970. during 2006), you will need to work and pay into the Social Security Trust Fund for at least ten (10) total years. The maximum amount of social security you can collect in 2006 is $2,053 per month.

Can I work after I start collecting Social Security retirement benefits?
Yes, there is no earnings limit for those at full retirement age. For every dollar you earn from your job you will keep all your benefits. If you are reaching full retirement age in 2006, you may earn $2,770 per month in those months before fall retirement before your social security benefits are reduced by $1 for every $3 in earnings above the limit. If on the other hand you are not reaching full retirement age in 2006 you may earn $12,480 a year before your benefits are reduced by $1 for every $2 you earn above the limit. Please remember once again that there is no reduction in benefits for those at full retirement age and older regardless of the amount of their earnings.

Concerning Survivor’s Benefits

Do my other pension or retirement benefits count as earnings?
In general, the pension benefits you receive during retirement will not affect your Social Security retirement benefits. However, if you worked for an employer not covered by Social Security, such as in government or as a teacher, your Social Security benefits may be reduced.

I am a surviving spouse. When can I bean to collect benefits?
You are entitled to collect benefits based upon your deceased spouse’s Social Security benefits if you are age 60 or older, or disabled and between 50 and 59 years old If you collect survivors benefits before fall retirement age, you may be eligible to collect higher benefits, based on your own earnings, when you reach full retirement age.

Are surviving children eligible for Social Security benefits?
Surviving children are eligible for benefits until the age of 18, or age 19 if enrolled as fall time students. The income or remarriage of the surviving spouse will not effect his or her benefits. Disabled adult children, who become disabled before age 22, can receive disability benefits based on the earnings record of the a deceased, retired or disabled parent.

Concerning Disability Insurance Benefits

When can I receive disability insurance benefits?
If you have a disability that prevents you from working for at least one year or is expected to result in death and you are under full retirement age, you may be eligible for disability insurance benefits. You may apply for benefits as soon as you are disabled. However, benefits do not begin until you have been disabled for at least five (5) months. You must also have worked long enough to qualify for Social Security benefits. If you are not eligible for Social Security benefits, you may be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). To be considered disabled, your impairments must interfere with your ability to work on a regular and continuing basis. If you cannot do the work you previously performed Social Security will consider whether you can perform other work, taking into account your age, education, past work experience, and any work skills.

How long do disability benefits continue?
Your benefits will continue as long as you are disabled until you reach age 65 whereupon your benefits will automatically convert to retirement benefits. While you are receiving benefits your case may be reviewed to determine periodically to ascertain whether you are still disabled. If medical improvement of your condition is possible, your case may be reviewed periodically. Benefits may stop if YOU return to work and regularly earn more than the income limit established for where you live.