Social Security and Today's Woman, Part 2

Last week's column began an examination of what women should know about Social Security coverage — whether she works, used to work or has never worked. The benefits considerations continue this week with some special employment situations.

Your Own Business

If you and your husband own and operate a business together and you expect to share in the profits and losses, you may be entitled to receive Social Security credits as a partner. This may be true even if you and your husband have no formal partnership agreement.

To receive credit for your share of the business income, you must file a separate self-employment return (Schedule SE) even if you and your husband file a joint income tax return. If you don't file a separate Schedule SE, all the earnings from the business will be reported under your husband's Social Security number. In that case, your Social Security record will not show your earnings, and you may not receive Social Security credits for them.

Military Service

If you have served in the military on active duty or on inactive duty for training since 1957, you have paid into Social Security. Inactive duty service in the Armed Forces Reserves and National Guard weekend drills has been covered by Social Security since 1988. If you served in the military before 1957, you did not pay into Social Security directly, but your records may be credited with special earnings for Social Security purposes that count toward any benefits you may be entitled to receive.

When you apply for Social Security benefits, the credits you receive for military service are added to your civilian work credits. The number of credits you have determines whether you qualify for benefits.

You may be eligible for both Social Security benefits and military retirement. Generally, there is no offset of Social Security benefits because of your military retirement. You will get your full Social Security benefit based on your earnings. Your Social Security benefit may be reduced, however, if you also receive a pension from a job in which you did not pay Social Security taxes.

Social Security survivors' benefits may affect benefits payable under the optional Defense Department Survivors Benefit Plan. You should check with DOD or your military retirement adviser for more information.

When You Retire

You may be able to get Social Security benefits as early as age 62, but your benefits will be permanently reduced to take account of the longer time that you will receive benefits. If you wait until age 65 to retire, you'll be eligible for full retirement benefits. Starting in 2003, the age at which full benefits are payable will be increased gradually until it reaches age 66 in 2009 and age 67 in 2027.

If you're married and also eligible for a reduced spouse's benefit at the time you're eligible for retirement benefits, you must file for both benefits. The same rule applies to your husband. People who are eligible for benefits on more than one work record generally receive the larger benefit amount. (The same rule applies to children who are eligible for benefits on both parents' records.)

If you've had high earnings, it's likely that your own benefits will be higher than a spouse's benefit. On the other hand, if you stopped working for several years or had low earnings, the spouse's benefit may be higher. At full retirement age, a wife receives 50 percent of what her husband is entitled to at full retirement age. When you apply for retirement benefits, a Social Security representative can tell you whether you will get a higher benefit on your own record or on your husband's.

If you earned your own Social Security credits, you have certain options at retirement. For example, suppose your husband continues to work past full retirement age and doesn't collect Social Security benefits. You can retire and get benefits based on your own record. Then when he retires, you can receive benefits on his record if they would be higher.

Or, you can take reduced benefits on your wage record before full retirement age. If you do, your benefits will always be reduced — even if you take reduced benefits on your own record and then take wife's benefits when your husband retires. The same rules and options apply to a husband who's eligible for retirement benefits on both his own and his wife's work record.

Your husband may qualify for benefits on your work record at any age if he is caring for your child who is under age 16 or disabled and entitled to benefits. When you retire, your children can qualify for benefits on your record if they meet the same conditions as if they were disabled.

For More Information

It's easy to learn whether you're eligible to receive Social Security and the amount of monthly benefits you may get. Just call Social Security's toll-free number, (800) 772-1213 (anytime), to ask for Form SSA-7004, Request for Social Security Statement.

You also can request the form at the SSA Web site. You can expect to receive your statement within four to six weeks after Social Security receives your completed request.

Zall is a retired federal employee who since 1987 has written the Bureaucratus column for Federal Computer Week. He can be reached at milt.zall@verizon.net.

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