Social Security is a program run by the Social Security Administration (SSA), an arm of the federal government. Social Security uses public funds to provide a degree of economic security for workers. The system is intended to ensure that when anyone who has worked for some years retires or becomes disabled, they will have money to keep themselves and the U.S. economy going.
Social Security is funded by special taxes, which are paid both by employers and employees. The money raised from these taxes funds the Social Security program. Those working today are taxed to pay benefits to today’s elderly, and when it is their turn to retire, younger workers will be taxed to provide benefits for those who have reached retirement age.
Once a person reaches retirement or becomes disabled, the government issues monthly payment checks based on the amount that the person paid during their life. This is called work credits, and you need a certain amount of credits to receive social security benefits. As such, not everyone may be eligible to receive benefits.
Is a social security number mandatory? Technically, no, but it is required to work, and so practically speaking, it is required. All United States citizens over eighteen who receive some type of income from their employment must have a Social Security Number (“SSN”). Employers must use this number to report each employee’s income to the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”).
Although children are not required to have an SSN before the age of eighteen, most people do get an SSN for their child because an SSN is required to open a savings account in their name, obtain medical coverage, or receive any other government-provided service. Generally speaking, parents get an SSN for their child shortly after birth.
What Are Some Examples of Social Security Benefits?
Some examples of common social security benefits include:
- Retirement Benefits: Those who retire after age 62 are entitled to retirement benefits. The amount of Social Security retirement benefits to which you are entitled does not depend on your financial needs. Instead, it is principally based on the amount of income that you have earned and the number of years that you have worked.
- The amount of a person’s Social Security retirement benefit is based on their average income over their working years, the number of years they have worked, their spouse’s average income, and the age at which a person claims their benefit. A person can start drawing Social Security at age 62, but the later someone files for retirement benefits, the larger those benefits will be (up until the age of seventy, when they top out)
- Disability Benefits: If a person becomes disabled before reaching retirement age, they may be eligible for disability benefits. These benefits are roughly equal to what a person’s retirement benefits would have been;
- Supplemental Security Income: SSI benefits are available to those who did not earn much income throughout their working lives to qualify for Social Security but are still in need of financial assistance. Supplemental security income is only available to those who are over the age of sixty-five or are disabled or blind.
- Survivor’s Benefits: If your spouse is deceased, and they would otherwise be entitled to retirement or disability benefits, you can receive the social security benefits on behalf of the decedent
- Surviving Child Benefits: Similar to survivor’s benefits, surviving child benefits are also available for a biological child, adopted child, or step-child when their parent dies.
What Are Some Common Legal Issues Associated with Social Security Benefits?
There can be many different legal issues associated with social security benefits, which vary according to the type of benefits in question. Two areas are especially likely to cause problems: disputes over the distribution of benefits and disputes over the denial of benefits. Some examples of the most common legal issues associated with social security benefits include:
- Eligibility for Social Security: Disputes regarding eligibility for social security benefits are common. To be eligible to receive any sort of social security benefits, you must meet certain criteria, such as being a certain age, and sometimes people apply before they are eligible. To receive full Social Security payments, the individual must have worked at least 10 years and paid Social Security taxes during those years. Someone who has never worked in a job where they paid U.S. Social Security taxes into the system will not qualify; note also that people may only receive one type of benefit. For example, someone may qualify for both retirement benefits and disability benefits, but they will be turned down if they try to receive both types of payments at the same time.
- Social Security Survivor Benefits: As previously mentioned, upon the death of a working person, certain family members are eligible for Social Security survivor benefits. Disputes related to survivor benefits generally involve collecting benefits or limits placed on who can collect what amount.
- Social Security Fraud: Social Security fraud can come in many forms and is generally treated as a criminal action. Examples of fraud include making false statements or false claims or failing to disclose facts that affect eligibility. Another common legal issue associated with social security fraud is identity theft.
What Could Cause My Social Security Claim to Be Denied?
One of the most problematic issues related to social security benefits is the denial of benefits. Denial is not uncommon, and a claim for benefits can be denied for several reasons. Reasons for denial vary based on the type of social security benefits you may have been attempting to obtain. Examples include:
- Retirement Benefits: You will likely be denied retirement benefits if you do not meet the minimum age requirement or if you indicate that you have never worked in a job in which you paid U.S. Social Security taxes;
Surviving Spouse: Denial of surviving spouse benefits includes failure to meet if you meet the minimum age requirement or if you were never married. Another cause for denial would be if you remarried before reaching the age of 60
- Child: Children may sometimes receive their deceased parent’s social security benefits if the parent received benefits. You would be denied if your parent is not deceased or if they did not receive Social Security retirement or disability benefits.
- Supplemental Security Income: You will be denied SSI benefits if you are not 65 years of age or if your income or assets are above the SSI limits. Other reasons would include that you are not a U.S. citizen (or lawfully admitted non-citizen), you do not live in the U.S. or the Northern Mariana Islands, or that you live in a jail or other correctional facility.
- Medicare: Medicare benefit denial will occur if you are not 65 years of age or if you are already receiving Social Security disability benefits.
Can I Appeal a Denial?
If your claim is denied, you are entitled to file an appeal. This process is as follows:
- Reconsideration: Local social security officers will review your claim. If they choose to deny benefits still, you may then have an Administrative Law Hearing.
- Administrative Law Hearing: An administrative judge independently reviews your claim to determine if your denial should be overturned. Should the administrative judge deny your claim, your next step is to appeal to the National Social Security Appeals Council.
- National Social Security Appeals Council: This council will review your claim, and their ruling is final. If the appeals council upholds the denial, and you believe you are entitled to benefits, you will need to take legal action.
- Sue the Social Security Administration: You can sue the Social Security Administration in federal court. However, you must first complete the aforementioned steps.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Social Security Issues?
You should consult with a local and experienced Social Security lawyer if you are facing any issues with your own Social Security benefits. If you are unsure of how to apply or if you have received a denial, a local attorney will be best suited for interpreting and applying social security law. An experienced attorney will offer you legal advice and guidance and can also represent you during an appeal, including in court if needed.