The Elder Law Forum

The Elder Law Forum Editor's Note: The Elder Law Forum is a public service of The University of South Dakota School of Law.

Social Security may increase for over-65 workers. It was a logical question: "My husband is 68 and has been receiving Social Security for three years," said the senior helpline caller (1-800-747-1895; mmyers@usd.edu). "He's still working at the elevator, and they're deducting FICA tax from his paychecks. But his Social Security payments have stayed the same. Will they ever go up?" she asked.

"Yes, they will, modestly, depending upon his lifetime work record," I advised. Social Security retirement benefits are calculated according to a very complicated formula. Generally, benefits are tied to a worker's highest paid 30 to 35 years of employment

Earnings are adjusted for inflation, then your average adjusted monthly earnings are calculated. This number is then multiplied by a fixed number set forth by law.

Thus, self-employed persons like farmers, ranchers and small business operators who paid little or nothing into the system during some low-earning years within their 35-year base, will receive credit for earnings reported, even though they are receiving Social Security benefits. Our 68-year-old, for example, has an opportunity to replace a low-earning 1984 with a higher earning 2003.

Administratively, such upward adjustments should occur automatically by virtue of ongoing calibrations between earnings reported to the Internal Revenue Service and computerized links to the Social Security Administration. However, the catch-up can take anywhere from eight months to two years.

Our 68-year-old elevator employee may wish to take the initiative and contact his local Social Security office to make certain he is receiving credit for his current earnings. One local office has a cohort of some 50 to 100 persons over 65 who stay in touch for that specific purpose.

If you are receiving benefits and are still in the workforce you may wish to do the same. Contact your local, friendly Social Security representatives. I have found them to be just that � friendly and helpful.

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