Coffee heat rising

w00t! Murphy’s Law frenzy is over!

…I hope!

Just talked to one honey-voiced Roselyn at Social Security. About what happens when you commit the crime of earning more than $14,160, she told me an entirely different story from the one I’ve heard from three prior CSRs.

Three people at Social Security—one face-to-face and two over the phone—said that if you earn even a dollar over the prescribed limit, SS stops payment on an entire benefits check. What you owe for your overweening ambition—one dollar for every two dollars you earn—is then subtracted from your benefit that month. But you don’t get the remainder of the benefit check back until the following January. If you over-earn by more than the amount of a single benefit check, then they take two checks away from you. The one I spoke to a month or two ago explained that because your Medicare Part B premium is paid out of your gross benefit, you have to pay that out of pocket, since obviously if you’re not getting your premium check your Medicare B would go unpaid. In other words, not only do you lose the net income from your Social Security check, you also have to beg, borrow, or steal another $111 to pay the Medicare bill!

Well, Roselyn calls bullshit.

She says that is not true at all. When I told her I thought I would earn about $14,900, she said that they would not withhold a month’s benefit check. She said that because of the two for one deal, whatever I would owe would be “not very much.” Furthermore, the fact that I did not work for anyone for two full months this summer counts in my favor. She thinks it’s even possible I will owe nothing.

In any event, says she, you’re not billed for the amount you owe until the following year’s tax returns come in, because the government cannot be certain of what you earned until all your W-2s come in. Once they figure that out, they let you know. You can pay your fine in any of several ways: by simply forking over a check or by having an amount withheld from your benefits check until it’s paid off.

If that’s true…thank you, God!

Of course, there’s no way to be certain that what she says is true. It’s odd that her version would be so radically at odds with what not one, not two, but three other Social Security reps said. And what those three said is different from the variant that you get online: Ehow tells us that if you earn more than $14,160, your benefits will be reduced accordingly throughout the following year. Go to this government site and you get a head-spinning patter of gobbledygook that, to me at least, is utterly incomprehensible: you can work but you can’t and if you do you’ll get more money later and maybe you’ll get some money now and there’s a special rule for if you’re working but also retired and…and…huh? Move on to a government page that tries to explain how they engineer paying off your debt, and you get the explanation that they take half of your overage (i.e., I earn $14,900 in 2010 so have earned $740 over the income limit, so the operative figure is $370) and subtract that from your total year’s Social Security benefit, arriving at a reduced SS benefit. They then divide that by 12 to decide your gross monthly pay.

If that’s accurate, then it would drop my net benefit by $36 a month. More than that, really, because the cost of Medicare will inevitably rise, and with a depression on, you can be sure there won’t be a cost of living increase next year, any more than there was this year.

But as I was speaking with each of the three previous CSRs, I repeatedly asked if even one dollar over the allowed amount meant an entire benefit check would be estopped, and each one assured me that was the case. Each time, I remarked that it didn’t seem fair that a person should lose an entire month’s benefit for earning what I thought at the time would be about $200 over the limit. Each time, the person said, in effect, “Them’s the rules, lady!”

Roselyn told me something else that is directly at odds with what I’ve been told by others and at odds with the language on an official Social Security form. I mentioned that because of PeopleSoft’s lagging pay scheme, GDU paid me in January for work that was done in 2009; that even though my last day was December 31 and I’m on record as having retired on December 31, this payment came in 2010. She said if it was paid in 2010, it would be counted against SS as 2010 income, no matter that my last day on the job was December 31, 2009. Other CSRs have said that money earned in 2009 is counted as 2009 income, and that this also applied to the RASL (unused sick leave pay doled out to state retirees over a three-year period). Thus the $6,800 of RASL paid to me this year would be seen as 2009 income and not counted against my Social Security.

I just downloaded form SSA-131, which contains this language:

Employees are sometimes paid wages in a year subsequent to the year that the wages were earned. The most common types of payments are accumulated vacation pay or sick pay paid after retirement…. Wages which are earned in a year prior to the year the are paid usually do not affect benefits payable under the Social Security annual earnings test.

So, obviously, Roselyn misunderstood this issue. And that makes me doubt everything she says.

Hmmmm….. I’d better jump through another 20 minutes of phone nuisance hoops and call those people back…

• • • • • • • • • •


A really knowledgeable-sounding, professional-sounding rep got on the phone this time. She put me on hold while she personally looked up the question to get a definitive answer. And the answer is….

Yes! Roselyn is right!

4 thoughts on “w00t! Murphy’s Law frenzy is over!”

  1. You were due for something to go your way. But if one applies common sense, (a rare commodity, we know) how would SS know you overearned until you filed your tax return?

  2. @ Nola: They require you to tell them how much you estimate you will earn in a given year. When I started SS in January, they made me give them an estimate of my 2010 earnings, and about a month ago they sent a form demanding that I report how much I’ve earned so far and how much I estimate I will earn the rest of the year.

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