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Social Security and Divorce: 8 Things You Should Know

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Marriages end for all kinds of reasons, but if you’ve ever been through a divorce you might just be wondering how it’s going to affect your Social Security benefit. Can you still receive benefits from your divorced spouse? If so then how much can you get?

Well lucky for you, I’m about to give you the skinny on Social Security and divorce. Here are eight things you might not know:

1. You don’t have to be married to collect the spousal or survivor benefit—Yep, you just read that correctly. Divorced spouses can receive Social Security retirement benefits based on their ex’s earning history for up to one half of their Social Security retirement benefit or disability benefit. That’s kind of a big deal, especially if your ex makes more than you. And this still holds true even if your ex has remarried. Also note that this benefit is not just for the divorced woman. The ex spousal benefit is gender neutral, so both husbands and wives can reap the benefits of this.

2. You can qualify for divorced spousal benefits if

  • You are unmarried
  • You’re 62 years old or older
  • Your ex spouse’s record qualifies for a Social Security retirement benefit or disability benefit
  • Your ex spouse’s benefit amount is higher than what you would receive based on your own work history

3. To qualify for divorce benefits, you must have been married for at least 10 years—If you were married for nine years and nine months, I’m afraid you don’t make the cut for a spousal benefit. But if you passed the 10-year mark, you’re golden. Just be aware that if you’ve remarried since your divorce, your spousal benefit switches to your new partner after one year. The spouse’s benefit will switch back to your ex only if your current marriage ends from death, divorce, or annulment.

4. If you do decide to collect on your ex’s earnings, it won’t impact the size of their benefits or their new spouse’s benefits—You can breathe a huge sigh of relief over this one. In fact you don’t even have to tell your ex that you’re collecting benefits on their record. As long as you have the necessary marriage certificates, divorce decrees, and your ex’s Social Security number, the SSA will not notify them that you are receiving benefits. If you don’t know your ex’s Social Security number, you can provide their birth date, place of birth and parents’ names instead.

5. If you were married twice for more than 10 years, you can choose the highest earning—If you’ve had multiple marriages that match the 10-year eligibility marker and have since moved on, you have the option to choose the highest set of benefits. Score. This also goes the other way around: your ex could be supporting multiple exes with their earnings history as long as each party was married for more than 10 years.

6. You can claim whichever earning history is higher: yours, your ex’s, or both—Yes, there are cases where you can actually claim both your own benefits and your ex’s to maximize your earnings. If you begin using your divorced spousal benefit at age 66, you can then switch to your own benefits at age 70 when the earnings go up significantly. This tactic is also known as “restricted filing.” Keep in mind that this option only works if you wait to claim benefits until full retirement age.

7. You don’t have to wait for your ex to file for benefits—If you and your ex are both at least 62 and you’ve been divorced for at least two years, you can choose to file for the divorced spouse benefit independent of your ex. It won’t affect their benefits at all.

8. Your ex cannot cut you off from Social Security benefits—Even if you have a less than amicable relationship with your ex, there’s no need to worry that you won’t be able to use their earning history for Social Security reasons. As long as you meet the conditions above, you’ve earned it.

There you have it! Divorce obviously adds some complexity to Social Security, and there are always exceptions to every rule. So if you have more questions, contact the SSA or seek out financial counsel from a professional. And remember even for divorced spousal Social Security benefit you still have to apply. Check out the SSA’s website to find out how.

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SSDI or SSI: What Makes These Programs Different?

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If you are disabled, you can receive help from the government in the form of SSDI or SSI. These two programs help disabled citizens pay for their basic needs. However, the two have different criteria for who to award money to and what you might be eligible for.

SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) is an entitlement program that you can access if you have worked before and paid into Social Security retirement benefits. The program allows you to access those benefits early because you have become disabled. SSI (Social Security Income) is for people who are in special financial need and are disabled. Because this program is funded completely by general taxes, there are stringent requirements that one must fulfill in order to receive it.

Here are some of the main differences between SSDI and SSI:

SSDI

  • Funded through payroll taxes.
  • Available to qualified people who have worked for a certain number of years and contributed to the Social Security trust fund through FICA Social Security taxes.
  • Earned after receiving a certain number of “work credits.”
  • Eligible for Medicare only after receiving SSDI for two years.
  • No maximum asset amount requirements.
  • Must be disabled for a five-month waiting period before receiving benefits.
  • Spouse and children (over the age of 18) are eligible for partial dependent “auxiliary benefits.”
  • Must be younger than 65 to qualify.

SSI

  • Funded by general fund taxes.
  • Based on financial need.
  • Awarded according to low income and low assets—does not deal with work history.
  • Can receive Medicaid if eligible for SSI.
  • Must have assets less than $2,000 (if single) or $3,000 (if a couple), excluding certain items like primary residence.
  • Can receive benefits instantly once approved.
  • No dependent benefits.
  • Must be blind, disabled, or 65 or older to qualify.

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What Do They Have in Common?

SSDI and SSI are both for people who are disabled or blind. However, the eligibility is different when it comes to how old you are. If you are over 65, you can apply for SSI and receive it if your needs match the requirements. SSDI does not cover non-disabled seniors. Those who are not disabled and over the age of 65 are qualified to receive Social Security retirement benefits.

Both programs provide benefits that help take care of your basic needs. Because SSI is a needs-based program, it provides the similar benefit amounts for everyone enrolled. The amount provided by SSI is flexible, meaning you can receive any amount up to the maximum dependent on your need.

On the other hand, SSDI is an entitlement program. Benefits vary according to formulas that the Social Security Administration uses to calculate your specific benefits. The best place to get an estimate of your SSDI benefits is on your Social Security statement. You can see this statement by creating an account on the Social Security Administration’s official website. You can also learn about your Social Security status and other important information at this site.

Even though both the SSI and the SSDI are administered through the Social Security Administration, they have very different application processes. To apply for SSDI, go to the SSA’s online application and follow instructions. SSI is a more difficult process, so we recommend applying at your local Social Security office or on the phone.

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6 Different Types of Service Animals

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Did you know that today is National Dog Day? Every August 26, Americans everywhere celebrate the special dogs in their lives. And today we thought we’d celebrate the holiday by talking about service animals.

Animals can help those in need in many ways. A therapy dog is a companion animal that improves mental health by providing assistance to someone with a psychiatric disability, such as post traumatic stress disorder. But these trained dogs can be much more than just a comfort pet.

According to the ADA, a service animal is any animal that provides assistance to a person with a disability. Unlike an emotional support animal for PTSD, service animals also perform tasks to help their owner function normally. This can be anything from supporting them while they walk, retrieving items they drop, or even reminding them to take medication. Traditionally, when we think of a service animal we think of guide dogs for the blind, and for good reason. According to the National Organization on Disability, the vast majority of all services animals are dogs.


1. Miniature horses—
This type of service animal has been on the rise in popularity since they’re a great choice for someone with a mobility impairment who needs physical support to walk. Many people who are blind use a miniature horse instead of a guide dog, and there’s actually an entire Guide Horse Foundation for this very purpose. Apparently the miniature horse is really good at its job. The species is naturally cautious, mild-mannered, and sharp-eyed, all of which make for a great assistance animal. And on top of all that, miniature horses can live for up to 30 years. That’s five to seven times longer than your average service dog.But there are actually all kinds of animals that assist people with disabilities. To give you an idea of the variety, here are six animals other than dogs that you probably had no idea could be an awesome service animal:

2. Ferrets—Another unlikely service animal, ferrets have the natural advantages of being easy-going, highly social, and easily transportable. Ferrets make great emotional support animals since they enjoy burrowing close to their owners, which can be extremely comforting to people needing emotional support. But ferrets make great service animals too. These critters are known for alerting their owners when they’re about to experience a seizure, and ferrets can also be trained to wake someone up, remind their owner to take medication, and even interrupt harmful behaviors. Not bad, ferrets.

3. Boa Constrictors—This creature might not be the first animal you’d choose to keep in your home, but they actually make great service animals. These snakes are known for helping patients with bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and panic disorders, and there are even cases when these snakes can be used to prevent medical emergencies. One man in Washington has a friendly boa that will squeeze him more tightly when it senses he’s about to have a seizure, giving him enough time to take his medication or go to a safer location until his seizure passes.

4. Parrots—This is a popular animal for treating psychiatric disorders, namely because many species of parrot have the ability to talk to their owners and deescalate them in stressful situations (something a psychiatric service dog can’t do). A great example of this a man named Jim Eggers from St. Louis who relies on his service parrot, Sadie. The parrot has been trained to repeat the mantra, “It’s OK, Jim. Calm down, Jim. You’re all right, Jim. I’m here, Jim” to calm Jim down whenever she senses he’s about to have a violent episode. Jim used to say the mantra to himself, but now with Sadie’s help he can pre-empt episodes even before they start. Sadie is also trained to alert Jim when someone comes to the door and when he leaves the faucet running.

5. Potbelly pigs—Both highly intelligent and mild-mannered, potbellied pigs can be trained to do all the same functions as the traditional service dog. The only difference is that they’re far cleaner than dogs and also don’t shed as much. Sounds like a good bargain. Plus this particular species is known for being good with kids. Lois Brady from California takes her service pig Buttercup to schools to visit children on the autism spectrum. Since most children don’t have any preconceived ideas about pigs, Brady has found that fewer students are afraid of Buttercup than of a big dog. The pig’s gentle nature also come in handy when he encounters students with aggressive tendencies that would probably make a dog turn around and attack.

6. Capuchin Monkeys—Another very exotic service animal choice is the capuchin monkey. These little helpers are native to South America and weigh about 6 to 10 pounds. Capuchins are especially talented at grasping and retrieving, which makes them invaluable companions for quadriplegics and other disabilities that affect fine motor skills. These monkey can perform nearly any specific task: bringing water, fetching phones, performing basic chores, opening doors, and even feeding someone. There’s an entire organization in Boston called Monkey Helpers that trains little capuchins to be the hands for people who can’t use their own.

Want to read more about service animals? Check out our blog post on how to register a service animal.

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Social Security Updates for July 2015

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Like any government institution, Social Security is always changing. If you’re interested in what’s happening in Congress right now, here’s a peek at some current 2015 legislation regarding Social Security:

Ensuring Access to Clinical Trials Act of 2015 (July 16)

This bill allows people receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits to participate in clinical trials freely. Because many of these individuals have rare diseases or disabling conditions, they’re often eligible to participate in paid clinical trials. Congress passed a bill in 2009 excluding this compensation from SSI, but the bill was set to expire in October of 2015. The Ensuring Access to Clinical Trials Act of 2015 will effectively remove the expiration date and allow these people to continue participating in clinical trials without the danger of losing their benefits. The bill passed through the Senate with unanimous consent and will now move to the House for further consideration.

Federal Improper Payments Coordination Act of 2015 (July 28)

This bill is designed to grant federal U.S. agencies access to the SSA’s death records through the Do Not Pay (DNP) Initiative in an attempt to prevent and recover improper or duplicate payments. The SSA already shares its death records for research and statistical purposes, but this bill will be improving the sharing and use of the SSA’s data in order to prevent fraud. The bill passed through the Senate with unanimous consent and will now move to the House for further consideration. You can visit the SSA’s website to read more about this bill.

2015 Trustees Report

Every year the Social Security Board of Trustees releases its annual report to Congress. As usual the report showed a surplus of Social Security funds, a nearly $25 billion surplus so far this year. But the board is still projecting that the Social Security Disability Insurance Trust Fund will be depleted in late 2016. Not surprisingly they’re encouraging lawmakers to at least temporarily increase resources to meet the current disability financial needs before 2016. Otherwise disability benefits will need to be cut by 20 percent.

In the past Congress has rebalanced Social Security’s funds to ward off shortfalls, but expansion of the program is another popular option that might occur. Or abolition of the program altogether. How Congress plans to respond remains to be seen, but the Social Security Trustees seem to be in agreement that whatever Congress decides to do, they should do it fast.

Check out the SSA’s website to read the full synopsis of the Trustees Report.

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