Social Security and You

Tom Margenau

If you were to play a word association game and the phrase “Social Security” came up, I bet many of you would answer “old people” or “senior citizens.” It’s normal to associate Social Security with old folks because, well, the majority of Social Security beneficiaries are just that. But about 30% of people getting a monthly check from Social Security are nowhere near their golden years. For example, there are about 5 million children who get Social Security on a living or deceased parent’s account. And there are another 10 million people who get Social Security disability benefits. I’ve saved up some questions that deal with those aspects of Social Security for today’s column.

Q: I am 62 and not working. I was planning to wait until age 70 to start my Social Security. But I have a 32-year-old son who has had severe physical and mental problems since birth. He is living with us. My wife is 58 and has never worked outside the home because she has been a full-time caregiver for our son. He has never worked and never will. Is there a way I can sign my son up for my Social Security now and still save my own until I’m 70?

A: No, you can’t do that. Your son (and your wife) can get benefits on your record only if you are getting benefits yourself. Because of the extra money that would be payable to your son and wife, I think you need to strongly consider filing for benefits now.

The rules say that a son or daughter who has been disabled since childhood is due a monthly dependent’s benefit on a parent’s retirement account. And the rules further say that benefits can also be paid to the other caregiving parent, assuming he or she is not working outside the home.

Let’s look at what that would mean in your case. At age 62, you would be paid 75% of your full retirement rate. And your son would get an amount equal to 50% of your full retirement benefit. Your wife is also due the 50% rate. Those benefits would continue for the rest of your lives. And if you should happen to die first, your son would get an amount equal to 75% of your full retirement rate. Your wife would get anywhere between 75% and 100%, depending on how old she is when you die.

Q: Our son’s wife recently died. They had three children who are all under age 18. We just learned they are possibly due Social Security checks. Are they? And how do we go about getting them?

A: If your daughter-in-law was working, and worked long enough to be “insured” for Social Security, then the children would get monthly survivor benefits on her record. How much work she would have needed in order for her children to be eligible for benefits on her account depends on her age when she died. If she was older, she might need 10 years of work. But it could be as few as 18 months of work if she was very young when she died.

Each child is technically due an amount equal to 75% of her full rate. But there is a maximum that can be paid on any Social Security account involving children. The maximum rate depends on several factors. But let’s say it is 175% in your daughter-in-law’s case. That would mean that each child would get a rate equal to a little less than 60% of their mother’s Social Security benefit.

I am assuming your son is working. If he is, then he wouldn’t be due any benefits as a caregiving parent similar to those paid to the mother as explained in the answer to the first question.

In fact, even if he wasn’t working, then the family maximum rules would prevent him from being paid anything extra. To say that another way, if your son was put on the beneficiary rolls, the family would still get the 175% maximum payment. It would just be split four ways instead of three.

As far as how to file for benefits, that’s easy. Your son should call Social Security at 800-772-1213 or go online to www.socialsecurity.gov

Q: I am 52 years old. Recently, I had to quit my job because of various physical problems. How do I sign up for Social Security disability? And can I do so if I am getting unemployment benefits?

A: You would be eligible for Social Security disability benefits if you have worked and paid Social Security taxes for five out of the last 10 years and if you have an impairment that is expected to keep you from working for at least 12 months. You can apply for disability benefits online at www.socialsecurity.gov or by calling the Social Security Administration at 800-772-1213.

To the best of my knowledge, there are no laws that prevent you from getting unemployment benefits and Social Security disability benefits at the same time.

But consider this.

To get unemployment benefits, you are essentially telling the unemployment agency that you are ready, willing and able to work.

To get Social Security disability benefits, you would be telling SSA that you are so disabled that you can’t do any kind of work. I hope you see the conflict there!

Q: I am 60 years old and have multiple physical and mental problems. I haven’t worked in several years.

I have applied for Social Security disability three times and been turned down each time. What can I do?

A: If you were turned down just once for Social Security disability benefits, I would say that there is a chance that SSA made a mistake and you should file an appeal.

If you were turned down a second time, I’d recommend that it might be time to hire a lawyer who specializes in Social Security disability cases.

But if you’ve been turned down three times, then I’d suggest that maybe you simply accept the fact that you do not meet the legal definition of disability for Social Security purposes.

Perhaps there is some light work you can do for a couple more years until you turn 62, at which point you can file for Social Security retirement benefits.