A question mark drawn in white chalk on a blackboard.

Social Security Q&A Part 20

By: Vonda VanTil, Social Security Public Affairs Specialist

Question: Is it true I can save about $4,900 per year if I qualify for Social Security’s Extra Help with the Medicare prescription drug program?

Answer: Yes. If your income and resources meet the requirements, you can save nearly $4,900 in prescription costs each year. Resource limits for 2018 are $14,100 (or $28,150 if you are married and living with your spouse). Income limits are $18,210 (or $24,690 if you are married and living with your spouse). If your income or resources are just a bit higher, you might be eligible for some help with prescription drug costs. To learn more, visit www.socialsecurity.gov/prescriptionhelp.

Question: I worked the first half of the year, but plan to retire this month. Will Social Security count the amount I earn for this year when I retire?

Answer: Yes. If you retire mid-year, we count your earnings for the entire year. We have a special “earnings test” rule we apply to annual earnings, usually in the first year of retirement. Under this rule, you get a full payment for any whole month we consider you retired regardless of your yearly earnings. We consider you retired during any month your earnings are below the monthly earnings limit, or if you have not performed substantial services in self-employment. We do not consider income earned, beginning with the month you reach full retirement age. Learn more about the earnings test rule at www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2/rule.htm.

Question: How can I protect myself against identity theft?

Answer: First, don’t carry your Social Security card with you. Keep it secure at home with your other important papers. Second, don’t readily give out your Social Security number. While many banks, schools, doctors, landlords, and others will request your number, it is your decision whether to provide it. Ask if there is some other way to identify you in their records.

If you are the victim of identity theft, you should report it right away. To report identity theft, fraud, or misuse of your Social Security number, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) (the nation’s consumer protection agency) recommends you:

  • Place a fraud alert on your credit file by contacting one of the following companies (The company you contact is required to contact the other two, which will then place alerts on your reports.):
  • Equifax, 1-800-525-6285;
  • Trans Union, 1-800-680-7289; or
  • Experian, 1-888-397-3742.
  • Review your credit report for inquiries from companies you have not contacted, accounts you did not open, and debts on your accounts you cannot explain;
  • Close any accounts you know, or believe, have been tampered with or opened fraudulently;
  • File a report with your local police or the police in the community where the identity theft took place; and
  • File a complaint with the FTC at 1-877-438-4338 (TTY 1-866-653-4261).

Question: What can I do at www.socialsecurity.gov?

Answer: There are many things you can do on Social Security’s website. You can conduct most of your Social Security business with us online at www.socialsecurity.gov/onlineservices. You can get an estimate of future benefits, find out if you qualify for benefits now, and even apply for benefits. You can complete a number of other tasks online, too, including replacing your Social Security card in some states. You can estimate your retirement benefit using our Retirement Estimator, which allows you to get an instant, personalized estimate of your future benefit based on different retirement ages and scenarios. You can even open your own my Social Security account to plan for and manage your benefits at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount.

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.

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