Tom Margenau

I get about a hundred questions emailed to me every week. And I put as many as I can into this weekly column. As you might think, I sometimes have to summarize or rephrase the question to make sure other readers understand what the questioner was asking.

But today, I thought it would be interesting to offer you an unedited glimpse into some of the more confusing queries that land in my mailbag. You’ll see that sometimes I have to guess what the person was asking before I take a stab at an answer.

Q: What is the maximum rate someone who waited until 75 can get from Social Security? He waited that long to get his Social Security. I don’t know where he is. I am only getting $1,565 and I think I should get more. I don’t trust the Social Security clerks because when I ask them, they either tell me “no” or they tell me they don’t understand my questions.

A: Well, frankly, I’m not entirely sure I understand what you are asking, either. But let me guess what you are asking. I think you want to know if you might be due benefits on your husband’s Social Security record. Or perhaps you mean your ex-husband. If that is your question, the answer is no. And that’s because the maximum you can get on his account would be 50 percent of his age 66 rate (not his age 75 rate). And the current maximum age 66 rate is about $2,600. Half of that is $1,300. So the $1,565 you are already getting on your own account is more than you could possibly get as a wife on your husband’s or ex-husband’s Social Security record.

Q: I am getting supplemental disability Social Security. I am about to turn 62. I was told I must now file for my retirement Social Security. Is this really true? And if I do that, will I lose my Medicaid?

A: I think you meant to say that you are getting Supplemental Security Income disability benefits. SSI is a federal welfare program managed by the Social Security Administration. (And as I always point out to readers when I mention SSI, those benefits are paid for out of general tax revenues, not Social Security taxes.)

Like any welfare program, SSI is supposed to be a payment of last resort. In other words, you get SSI because you aren’t eligible for any other government assistance. But the other side to the “payment of last resort” stipulation is that you must file for all other benefits you might be due. Now that you are turning 62, you are eligible for Social Security retirement benefits. So that’s why you must file for them.

And whatever you get from Social Security will just come off the top of your monthly SSI check. For example, I’m going to guess that you are getting about $730 per month from SSI. (That’s about the maximum rate.) Let’s say your monthly Social Security retirement check is $600. You would get that $600, and then you would get $130 from SSI. (Well, for reasons I don’t want to take the time to explain here, you actually would get $150 from SSI, giving you a total income of $750.) And you would keep your Medicaid coverage.

Q: I get the city pension offset on my own Social Security. So why can’t I get my husband’s?

A: There is no “city pension offset,” per se. What you were trying to say is that your retirement benefit was reduced by something called the “windfall elimination provision.” I have explained WEP a thousand times in this column and won’t do so again today. But in a nutshell, that law says that if you get a pension because you spent your career working at a job not covered by Social Security (the city pension in your case), and if you have worked on the side and paid into Social Security for less than 30 years, then your Social Security retirement benefit will be reduced from about 5 percent to as much as 50 percent, depending on how long you paid into Social Security.

And then a separate law called the “government pension offset” says that an amount equal to two-thirds of your city pension must be deducted from any Social Security benefits you might be due on your husband’s Social Security record.

Q: I had a Social Security card with a T on it, and now I got another card with an A on it. Which should I use?

A: I’m sure you are talking about Medicare cards, not Social Security cards. My hunch is that you applied for Medicare only when you turned 65. People who are on Medicare but not yet on Social Security usually get a Medicare card showing their Social Security number followed by the letter “T.” (It really doesn’t stand for anything.) Then sometime recently you must have signed up for your own retirement benefits. After doing that, they issued you a new Medicare card with your Social Security number followed by the letter “A”, which is the symbol used to designate retirement benefits.

Q: I am a woman. Am I eligible for any Social Security benefits?

A: Gosh! Talk about an open-ended question! I could answer by saying, “How in the world would I know?” But I won’t be so snippy and instead will give you this very abbreviated benefit eligibility overview. Assuming you have worked and paid taxes for a specified period of time, you could get retirement benefits if you are 62 or older or disability benefits at any age if you have a physical or mental impairment that keeps you from working. You could get benefits from a husband if they pay more than you are due on your own record. Or if your husband is deceased and you are over age 60, you might be due widow’s benefits.

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