A question mark drawn in white chalk on a blackboard.

Social Security Q&A Part 19

By: Vonda VanTil, Social Security Public Affairs Specialist

Question: Can I delay my retirement benefits and receive benefits as a spouse only? How does that work?

Answer: It depends on your date of birth. If you were born on or before 01/01/1954 and your spouse is receiving Social Security benefits, you can apply for retirement benefits on your spouse’s record as long as you are at your full retirement age. You then will earn delayed retirement credits up to age 70, as long as you do not collect benefits on your own work record. Later, when you do begin receiving benefits on your own record, those payments could very well be higher than they would have been otherwise. If your spouse is also full retirement age and does not receive benefits, your spouse will have to apply for benefits and request the payments be suspended. Then you can receive benefits on your spouse’s Social Security record. If you were born on or after 01/02/1954 and wish to receive benefits, you must file for all benefits for which you are eligible. Social Security will determine the benefits you are eligible for and pay you accordingly. For individuals born on or after 01/02/1954, there is no longer an option to select which benefit you would like to receive, even beyond your full retirement age. Widows are an exception, as they can choose to take their deceased spouse’s benefit without filing for their own. For more information, visit www.socialsecurity.gov.

Question: I’m trying to figure out the best time to retire based on my future earnings. How can I calculate my own retirement benefit estimate?

Answer: We suggest you use our Retirement Estimator at www.socialsecurity.gov/estimator. Our Retirement Estimator produces estimates based on your actual Social Security earnings record, so it’s a personalized, instant picture of your future estimated benefit. Also, you can use it to test different retirement scenarios based on what age you decide to start benefits. For example, you can find out your estimated monthly payments if you retire at age 62, 70, or any age in between. Try it out now at www.socialsecurity.gov/estimator.

Question: My uncle states that he is considered to be 70 percent disabled through the VA. Does Social Security rate my disability on a percentage scale?

Answer: Social Security does not rate individuals on a percentage scale for disability benefits. For Social Security purposes, a disability is defined as:

  • A medical condition(s) that must have lasted, or be expected to last, at least one year or ends in death; and
  • The condition must prevent you from performing substantial work.

 For more information regarding disability benefits, please visit www.socialsecurity.gov/benefits/disability.

Question: It’s hard for me to get around because of my disability. Can I apply for disability benefits from home?

Answer: Yes. In fact, the best way to apply for disability benefits is online. Our online disability application is convenient and secure. You can apply for benefits online at www.socialsecurity.gov/applyfordisability. If you do not have internet access, you can call us at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) to schedule an appointment to visit your local Social Security office to apply. However you decide to apply, begin by looking at our Disability Starter Kit at www.socialsecurity.gov/disability/disability_starter_kits.htm. It will help you prepare for your application or interview.

Question: What is the definition of disability for children filing for Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?

Answer: Social Security has a strict definition of disability for children under the SSI program. A child who is under age 18 is considered disabled if he or she:

  • Has a physical or mental condition (or a combination of conditions) resulting in “marked and severe functional limitations.” (“Marked and severe functional limitations” means that the condition very seriously limits the child’s activities); and
  • The condition has lasted, or is expected to last, at least one year or is expected to result in death.

To decide whether a child is disabled for SSI purposes, we look at medical and other information (such as information from schools, parents, and caregivers) about the child’s condition(s), and we consider how the condition affects his or her daily activities. We consider questions such as:

  • What activities is the child not able to do or is limited in doing?
  • What kind of and how much extra help does the child need to perform age-appropriate activities—for example, special classes at school, medical equipment?
  • Do the effects of treatment interfere with the child’s day-to-day activities?

Read Benefits For Children With Disabilities, at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs, for additional information on how we decide if a child under age 18 is disabled.

Question: I didn’t enroll in Medicare Part B back when my Part A started a few years ago. Can I enroll now?

Answer: It depends. The general enrollment period for Medicare Part B, medical insurance, begins January 1 and runs through March 31. Keep in mind that although there is no monthly premium for Medicare Part A, there will be a premium for your Medicare Part B. In most cases, that premium goes up each 12-month period you were eligible for it and elected not to enroll. If you are covered by a group healthcare plan based on your employment or the employment of a spouse, you may qualify for a special enrollment. Special enrollments may be processed at any point during the year, but require proof of coverage. To find out more about Medicare, visit www.medicare.gov or www.ssa.gov/benefits/medicare/.

Vonda VanTil is the Public Affairs Specialist for West Michigan.  You can write her c/o Social Security Administration, 3045 Knapp NE, Grand Rapids MI 49525 or via email at vonda.vantil@ssa.gov