In my last column, I explained how many disabled individuals (particularly women) get rejected for Social Security Disability benefits because they don’t have a “recent” work history. I illustrated this through the hypothetical story of “Julia,” an MS victim who was financially ineligible for Social Security Disability benefits despite having worked as a fulltime RN for 14 years.
To briefly recap: In order to be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits, you must be both “fully insured” and “disability insured,” which means that you must have earned at least 20 “quarters of coverage” in the 40 quarters of time immediately preceding the date you became disabled. Put more simply, you must have worked at a substantial level for at least 5 out of the 10 years before you became unable to work. If not, much like an insurance policy, your coverage for this type of Social Security benefit will otherwise have “lapsed.”
Until recently, the Social Security Administration mailed a statement each year to everyone who has ever paid Social Security taxes. As a cost-cutting measure, this practice was stopped in early 2011. This statement was important because it contained a history of your taxed earnings, year by year, as well as other useful information, including an estimate of your benefits when you retire. This statement would also tell you if you are insured for disability benefits and what that benefit would be. You would also learn if you have not accrued sufficient “quarters of coverage,” and a review of the earnings history could be used to ascertain if and when you were last insured for disability benefits.
To now obtain this information, you can call the Social Security Administration’s toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213. After going through voicemail, you will be connected to a Social Security employee, and you can then be told what your estimated monthly disability benefit would be, and, if you ask, you can obtain your “date last insured.” You can also go on-line, to “ssa.gov.
,” to create an account which will allow you access to this information.
Assuming that you are “disability insured,” you want to be sure that you remain so. So long as you continue to work and earn at least $4,520.00 in a calendar year, you will accrue the maximum four quarters for that year and thereby continue to extend your insured status. If you remain out of the workforce, you will eventually lose your “disability insured” status (typically, once five years has passed without working). Therefore, it may be worthwhile to work in at least a limited capacity so that you can begin accruing quarters of coverage and potentially reinstate your “disability insured” status. Be pro-active and “creative” – consider trying to generate some limited “self-employment” income doing “direct selling” out of your home, for instance. Of course, all this assumes that you are working “on the books” and paying FICA taxes.
A common, similar problem arises when a woman works in a family business and little or no income is imputed to her, perhaps in favor of a spouse, for “tax reasons.” While the family accountant may advise that there are some short-term tax benefits to be gained, the spouse who is receiving no income is also not paying any FICA taxes and therefore is not accruing those important quarters of coverage. The clear lesson again is that, if you are working, you want to be paying FICA taxes so that you are not left “uninsured” if you become disabled and unable to work.
Even if you are ineligible for Social Security Disability benefits, there are other Social Security benefits programs for which you may be eligible. If you are between the ages of 50 and 60 and have become widowed in the seven years preceding the onset of your disability, you may be eligible for a “Disabled Widow’s Benefit.” Another program, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), is available if you are disabled and have little or no income or assets. For more information, please call (856) 795-8880 or (609) 702-0700 or visit www.davidsbross.com.