Some of us worry, and naturally so, about retirement. The questions can be many, and overwhelming. Am I going to be eligible? How much will I be able to receive on Social Security benefits? What are the differences between SSI and SSD? Can I only qualify for SSI if I am injured? Do I have to wait until I am ready to retire to start receiving benefits? What if I am denied? How long does this process take?
Social Security Disability (also referred to as SSD) is based on a person’s earnings record. It pays back a year from the date of the application.
Supplemental Security Income (also referred to as SSI) is for people who have not worked. It pays back to the date of the application.
There is one general requirement, however, that applies to all Social Security programs except for SSI: The worker on whose earnings record the benefit is to be paid must have worked in “covered employment” for a sufficient number of years — that is, earned enough of what Social Security calls work credits — by the time he or she claims retirement benefits, becomes disabled, or dies. Often this means a total of at least 10 years of work.
There are definite age limits after which you can start collecting Social Security benefits. The Social Security Administration used to consider 65 to be full retirement age for the retirement benefit. Benefits amounts were calculated on the assumption that most workers will stop working full time and will claim retirement benefits when they reach age 65. Now that people are generally living longer, Social Security’s rules about what is considered full retirement age are changing. Age 65 is still considered full retirement age for anyone born before 1938. See the chart below.
To find out your estimated Social Security benefits at various retirement ages. The Social Security Administration (SSA) keeps a database of your earnings record and work credits, tracking both through your Social Security number. The SSA mails this information annually on Social Security statements to everyone age 25 and over (who is not already receiving Social Security benefits). The Social Security statement gives you an estimate of the benefits you’ll receive at retirement age, which can play an important role in your financial planning. You should receive a statement; if you have not you can go to the SSA website and follow the instructions on how to request a statement.
Your statement includes a record of the earnings on which you’ve paid taxes and an estimate of the benefits you will receive at various retirement ages: 62, 67, and 70. Always check the SSA’s numbers, and don’t be surprised if you find an error. Some government watchers say the SSA makes errors on at least 3 percent of the total official earnings records it keeps. Make sure the Social Security number located on your earning statement is your own, and make sure the income amounts listed on the agency’s records mesh with your own records of earnings as listed on your income tax forms or pay stubs.
Don’t be afraid if you find an error on your statement. Just make sure to call the Social Security helpline at 1-800-772-1213 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. Be patient, as these lines are swamped. You can also go the Social Security office to speak to someone in person and make sure to bring all your documents with you to prove there was a mistake. Also, understand beforehand that this process can take months to correct.
It is possible to work while receiving benefits. People who are past full retirement age may work and earn any amount without losing any of their Social Security benefits. But before you reach full retirement age, Social Security will subtract money from your benefit check if you exceed a certain amount of earned income for the year for example ($13,560 in 2008). The limit applies only to earnings from work; it does not apply to income from such things as savings, investments, pensions or rental property. Earnings from these sources will not affect your Social Security benefits. The SSA has added a special twist for the year in which you reach full retirement age. During the 12 months prior to your birthday, you will lose one dollar of benefits for every three dollars you earn over a set monthly limit ($3,010 per month in 2008). After your birthday, you can earn any amount of money without losing benefits.
If you are trying to get SSD, do not stop treating, and keep going to your doctor’s appointments. Keep all doctor’s reports. Sometimes if you are denied you can try to have a doctor write letters in support if your case.
Do not give up if you get a denial. Here are a few steps to follow when filing for SSI or SSD:
- File the application (either online or by calling 1-800-772-1213).
- File a reconsideration.
- Denial (These first steps take about 60 to 90 days).
- File a request for hearing (it takes 12 months to get your hearing scheduled).
The file then goes to ODAR, the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review in Sacramento and it takes 12 months to get the hearing scheduled with an Administrative Law Judge.
If a fully favorable decision is issued, it takes approximately 60 to 90 days for processing,
If an unfavorable decision is issued then the next step is to file the Appeals Council. It takes approximately 12 to 18 months to get a decision from the A/C (Appeals Council).
If a denial is issued from the Appeals Council the next step is to file a complaint in Federal District Court.
You know it is time to call an attorney when you receive your first denial letter. Some attorneys don’t charge a fee unless they win. If they do win, it’s common for them to take a 25 percent retroactive award. Here are a few names of some Social Security attorneys here in Redding:
Some of this information provided by Richard Grogan.
2015 Shasta Street, Ste. 1
1802 California Street
1755 Yuba street
Campbell and Clark
1648 Riverside Drive
1915 Placer Street
This article is for information only and not to be taken as legal advice or counsel.
Karen Corbelli is a Redding-based legal document assistant armed with more than 20 years of legal experience. She can be reached at 515-5081 or email@example.com.