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Social Security hodgepodge

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POSTED August 9, 2013 10:36 p.m.

 

I normally like to confine my columns to one particular Social Security topic. But today, we've got a hodgepodge of questions dealing with a variety of Social Security issues. Here it goes.

Q: In a recent column, you said you could explain any Social Security law. Well, can you give me the rationale behind this rule? If I delay taking Part B Medicare until sometime past age 65, I am charged an extra 10 percent premium penalty for each year I didn't have Part B, and I have to pay that penalty for the rest of my life. Can you explain why that is? It seems like highway robbery to me!

A: It's an incentive to get people to take Medicare at 65, and not wait until they need it. That's the way any insurance works. For example, if you were to delay buying life insurance until you were 80 years old and in ill health, you are going to pay a much higher premium than if you took out that life insurance policy at a younger age when you were fit as a fiddle. Likewise, if you delay buying Part B Medicare until you are older and sicker, than you are going to pay a higher premium for that, too.

Q: I have a 53-year-old disabled sister in Missouri who is almost destitute. Her husband has run off with another woman and left her with nothing. She filed for Social Security disability twice and was turned down both times. I don't see how they could do that because, believe me, no one will hire her because of all her problems. You recently wrote a column about SSI. Do you think my sister is eligible for SSI?

A: For those who don't know, SSI stands for Supplemental Security Income. SSI is a federal welfare program managed (but not funded) by the Social Security Administration.

The same disability evaluation criteria apply to Social Security and SSI. In other words, because it was decided that your sister is not disabled enough to qualify for Social Security, then she will not be disabled enough to qualify for SSI either.

But if your sister was turned down for Social Security disability for non-medical reasons (for example, because she didn't have enough work credits for to be eligible for Social Security), then there is a chance she might still qualify for SSI. To get SSI, her income and assets must be below certain limits that vary from one state to another. So if your sister was denied for non-medical reasons, she will have to check with her local Social Security office to see if she meets the SSI eligibility criteria for Missouri.

Q: In a recent column, you printed a letter from someone who characterized her local Social Security office as a zoo. I just wanted you to know that I have always found my local Social Security office to be a very pleasant place to do business. And every time I visit, I deal with professional and helpful personnel.

A: Thanks for sharing that. You are not the only person who wrote to tell me about good service from their local Social Security office. I have worked in or visited hundreds of Social Security offices throughout my career. Most were as professional as the office you describe. A few left some things to be desired. But then that is true with almost any business or office. For example, I have been in Department of Motor Vehicle offices that looked like a top class establishment and I have been in DMV offices that look like a prison waiting room. I have been in fast-food restaurants that looked as nice as the finest dining establishments in town and in burger joints that looked like they should have been shut down by the health department. My wife used to work in a library that looked like the font of knowledge it was. But I have been in libraries that looked like homeless shelters!

I guess my point is that any government agency or business that deals with the public on a regular basis can be a pleasant place to visit, or it can be a zoo.

Q: You passed along some good advice in a recent column you wrote about women who are married to jerks. But you did make one mistake. You told a 62-year-old woman whose philandering 62-year-old husband was going to wait until 70 to claim benefits, thus forcing her to also wait until 70 to get spousal benefits on his record, to divorce the guy. You told her by doing so, she could get benefits "right away." But as a 25-year employee with the Social Security Administration, I can tell you that the rules say there is a two-year waiting period after the divorce before she can get benefits.

A: Thanks for picking up on my mistake! The lady should still "dump his sorry butt" as I suggested in the column. If she remains married to him, she won't get any spousal benefits until age 70. But if she divorces him, she will be able to start drawing those benefits at age 64.

Q: Do you recommend using Social Security's website to apply for Social Security benefits?

A: Yes, IF you have a relatively simple claim. If you are just filing for your own retirement or disability benefits, and you don't have any potentially complicated issues, like dependents or a questionable retirement situation, then the website is the way to go. You can file online at the Social Security Administration website: www.socialsecurity.gov. But I especially advise people who plan to use the file and suspend or the restricted application procedures I have discussed many times in this column to forgo the website and instead call SSA at 800-772-1213 to set up an appointment to talk to someone in person.

 

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