Q: I will be 65 in February 2012. I’m still working and plan to keep working until I’m 70. A friend told me that I have to register with the Social Security Administration three months before my 65th birthday even though I don’t plan to take my Social Security yet. Is this true?
A: There really is no such thing as “registering” with Social Security — at any age. You simply file for your retirement benefits a couple of months before you want them to begin. And in your case, it sounds like that’ll be about five years down the road.
I think what your friend was trying to tell you is that you probably will want to sign up for Part A Medicare to start at age 65. And you would do that through your Social Security office about three months before your 65th birthday.
There are two main parts of Medicare. Part A is hospital coverage, and it’s free. Or rather, you paid for it — and continue to pay for it — with your payroll taxes. (If you look at your pay stub, you’ll see a deduction box labeled “Medicare Tax.” That’s buying you the Part A hospital coverage of Medicare.) Even though you likely are covered by your employer’s insurance, you might as well take Part A, just because you’ve already bought it. And there may be times when you need it. Also, there’s a chance that your employer’s insurance might require you to take Part A.
The other main part of Medicare is Part B, or medical insurance. Part B essentially provides partial coverage of all health care costs not associated with inpatient hospital bills taken care of by Part A. Medical insurance usually costs about $100 per month. (It’s not paid for by your Medicare tax deductions.) However, you do not need to take it while you’re still working and covered by your employer’s insurance.
So you should sign up for Part A now. And then you should sign up for Social Security benefits and Part B Medicare coverage when you retire.
Q: My wife is a German citizen living in this country. She has not worked, so she has no Social Security coverage. When I die, will she get widow’s benefits on my record? She may go back to Germany when I die. If she does, will her Social Security check follow her there? And what about Medicare?
A: Assuming your wife is older than 60 when you die, she’ll get widow’s benefits on your Social Security record. And if she moves back to Germany, she’ll continue to be eligible for widow’s benefits while she’s living there.
The rules regarding payment of Social Security benefits while outside the United States can get really complicated. But as a general rule, if you’re a citizen of a country that has a Social Security treaty agreement with the United States — and Germany is one of those countries — then there usually is no problem. To see a list of those treaty countries, visit SocialSecurity.gov.
Medicare, however, is a different story. Your wife won’t be covered by Medicare once she leaves this country.
One other point: I assume you know that you don’t have to die for your wife to be eligible for spousal benefits on your record. Once she turns 62, she can get benefits as a dependent wife on your account — even while you’re still alive and kicking!
Q: I worked as a teacher in Texas most of my life, so I didn’t pay into Social Security all of those years. But after I retired from teaching, I took a couple of odd jobs here and there (like dog-sitting and house-sitting for friends and neighbors). I finally had enough work to get my 40 quarters, so I went to my Social Security office to file for retirement benefits. And a woman there told me I wasn’t eligible for anything because I didn’t work at legitimate jobs, so she wouldn’t take my Social Security claim. What is your opinion about this?
A: I don’t have anywhere near enough information to tell if the work you did was “legitimate” or not. But I can suggest something to you. You should insist on filing a claim for Social Security retirement benefits. (You have every right in the world to do so.) The claim will probably be denied. But formal appeal rights come with that denial. As part of that appeal, you can present evidence about your work to try to prove that you really earned your 40 quarters.
If you don’t file a formal claim, all you have is one Social Security representative’s informal denial, which really represents nothing other than that person’s opinion. But by filing a claim, you can turn this into a legal process and present your case to the Social Security Administration.
If you have a Social Security question, Tom Margenau has the answer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about Tom Margenau and to read past columns and see features from other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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