Greater online access means big changes to Social Security procedures this year. Find out what other changes have been made and how they affect you.
By Emily Brandon, U.S. News & World Report
The Social Security Administration has implemented a variety of new rules and features for 2013. The two-year payroll tax cut has officially ended, and paper Social Security checks will soon cease to be printed. A growing number of Social Security services will also be online this year. Here’s a look at some of the recent Social Security changes that go into effect this year:
Payroll tax cut ends: The temporary payroll tax cut was allowed to expire at the end of 2012. Workers who paid 4.2% of their income into the Social Security system in 2011 and 2012 have now resumed contributing 6.2% of their earnings.
Higher payroll tax cap: The payroll tax cap increased by $3,600, from $110,100 in 2012 to $113,700 in 2013. Workers who earn more than this threshold don’t need to pay Social Security taxes on that income.
More online services: A trip to the Social Security office is no longer necessary to start your Social Security payments. A growing number of retirees are claiming Social Security payments online, largely thanks to an advertising campaign starring actors Patty Duke and George Takei. In 2012, workers could access their Social Security statements online for the first time, including their complete earnings history and expected payments. About 3 million people have already done so. In early 2013, Social Security added online services including the ability to access a benefit verification letter and payment history. Retirees can also change their address and add or change direct-deposit information online. “The ability to do this online, it will be a real convenience for the people who are required to have these benefit verification letters,” says Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue. “It is going to allow us to focus on the kind of conversations that we really do need to have face to face.”
Reduced office hours: Social Security offices are reducing the hours they are open to the public to save money and avoid paying overtime to workers. Social Security locations nationwide have been closing 30 minutes early each day since Nov. 19, 2012, and they began closing to the public at noon every Wednesday on Jan. 2.
Paper checks will end: On March 1, the Treasury department will stop mailing paper checks to Social Security recipients. Retirees will be required to choose to have their Social Security payments either directly deposited into a bank or credit union account or loaded onto a prepaid Direct Express Debit MasterCard. “If you already have a bank account or credit union account, we encourage you, and it’s our preference that you sign up for direct deposit,” says Walt Henderson, the director of the electronic fund transfer strategy division at the Treasury Department. “The debit card is primarily for unbanked benefit recipients. We don’t want people who already have a bank account to feel that they have to get the debit card.” New Social Security beneficiaries have been required to choose an electronic payment option since May 2011, and approximately 93% of Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments are already being made electronically.
Higher earnings limit: People between ages 62 and 66 who work and collect Social Security benefits at the same time might have part or all of their Social Security benefit temporarily withheld. Workers between ages 62 and 65 can earn up to $15,120 in 2013, after which $1 in benefits will be withheld for every $2 of income above the earnings limit. People who turn 66 this year can earn up to $40,080, and then $1 of benefits will be withheld for every $3 earned above the limit. However, once you turn 66, the earnings limit no longer applies. And benefits may be recalculated at age 66 to reflect the withheld benefits and continued earnings.
Bigger payments: Social Security beneficiaries began receiving payments that were 1.7% larger in January. The average monthly Social Security benefit in January increased from $1,240 to $1,261 as a result of the cost-of-living adjustment.