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Social Security benefits are an entitlement promised by the federal government if you or your spouse paid enough into the Social Security fund during your working years to qualify for benefits. While Social Security is not guaranteed by law, it is backed by the promise of the U.S. government, and not fulfilling this promise would be political suicide for members of Congress. Contrary to lively debates about the future of Social Security, in all probability lifetime Social Security benefits will continue indefinitely.

However, to keep the program solvent there may be measured changes in the taxation of benefits, inflation adjustments, additional taxes on workers and other changes potentially detrimental to retirees.

A statement of your expected Social Security benefits is available online at: https://s044a90.ssa.gov/apps6z/isss/main.html. You can also calculate your future benefits at: www.ssa.gov/planners/calculators.htm. Social Security benefits are paid until death and in some cases paid to certain dependents after your death; therefore, the decisions made about Social Security will have an impact throughout your lifetime and possibly for the remainder of a loved one’s life.

You’re generally entitled to benefits if you have not paid into the fund but your spouse qualifies for and is receiving benefits. If a spouse receiving benefits dies, the surviving spouse will generally receive the greater of his/her own benefit or that of the deceased spouse. There are also other provisions that benefit spouses and dependent children of qualifying individuals. These provisions are discussed below in conjunction with when to start benefits.

Retirement benefit calculations are based on your lifetime earnings from which Social Security payroll taxes were withheld. Social Security payroll taxes are collected under the authority of the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (“FICA”). The payroll taxes are sometimes even called “FICA taxes” and are currently 12.4 percent (employee and employer pay 6.2 percent each) of the first $94,200 of annual earnings. For most current and future retirees, the Social Security Administration uses the earnings from your 35 highest years to determine your benefits.

The complex formula used to compute benefits gives additional weight to low-income years that helps boost benefits for the lowest wage earners. If you have a pension from work where you also paid Social Security taxes, the pension will not affect your Social Security benefits. However, pensions based on work that is not covered by Social Security (for example, the federal civil service and some state, local or foreign government systems) will probably reduce the amount of your Social Security benefits.

If you’re under the normal retirement age and want to continue working while receiving Social Security benefits, you’ll want to consider the reduction in benefits due to your earned income. Any time you work in a job that is covered by Social Security — even if you are already receiving Social Security benefits — you and your employer must pay the FICA taxes on your earnings. If you are self-employed, FICA taxes are paid on your net profit.

I will be happy to answer any questions you may have and arrange for a free consultation.

Edward Fusco can be reached at Harbor Village Professional Center, 18 Main St., Townsend, MA 01469. Call (978) 597-9177 or take visit www.sbr.retirerx.com.

This information is provided for informational purposes only and may not be suitable for every situation.