After you have become entitled to Social Security benefits, you must report to the Social Security Administration any change that may affect your continued eligibility to receive benefits. For all types of beneficiaries, earnings must be reported if they go over the earnings limits for the year, except those who receive benefits on account of disability (see Chapter 8 for a full discussion of the annual earnings limitations). In addition to earnings, anything else which affects benefits must be reported, including marriage, remarriage or divorce, not having a young child in your care for a month, stopping school attendance, or in some cases residing in certain foreign countries. Most common times will be discussed in the following sections.
Section 902.1 - Reporting Earnings in General
Chapter 8 has a full discussion of the annual earnings limitations. The amount of money you are allowed to earn without any effect on your benefits depends on how old you are and which year is involved. There are special reporting requirements for disability cases. This is discussed in Section 908 below.
If you receive benefits for another, for example, a mother who receives benefits for a child, it is your responsibility to report the earnings for that person.
Earnings can be reported to the Social Security Administration by a telephone call to the local district office or by a letter. If you have earned over the allowed amount for a year during which you have received benefits, you will be required to file an annual report of earnings (see Section 902.3).
When you file a claim for Social Security benefits, you will be asked how much you expect to earn during that year. Additionally, if you file in the last three months of a year, you will be asked to estimate how much you expect to earn in the following year. The benefits paid to you will be based upon your estimates. Likewise, when you file an annual report of earnings (Section 902.3) you will be asked how much you expect to earn in the coming year and your benefits will be based on that. If you estimate that you will earn under the exempt amount for a year you will be paid all benefits due. If you say you will earn over the exempt amount, Social Security will deduct the required amount from your monthly payments. (See Section 803.)
If you later expect that your earnings will be different than what you reported to Social Security, you should notify them immediately. If your earnings will be higher, you may be overpaid and have to pay money back (overpayments are discussed in full in Chapter 11). If you will earn less, you may be delayed in receiving money due you if you do not notify them promptly.
Sometimes people report that they will not earn over the limit for the year, but then it turns out that they do. Many people think that they dont have to tell Social Security until they actually earn over the limit. This is incorrect and could result in an overpayment. You should notify Social Security at the time you expect your earnings to go over the limit, not when they actually do. Except for annual reports of earnings (Section 903), there are no formal requirements for notifying Social Security of an expected change in your earnings. You may call them on the phone, write a letter, or visit the District Office. If you write, address your letter to the attention of the "Service Unit" and include your claim number (Section 1407). The letter should be mailed to your local District Office (Section 105).
There are no penalties for not notifying Social Security about a change in your earnings estimate, but you must file an annual report for the year if your earnings are over the limit. You may be overpaid and have to pay money back if you delay telling Social Security about an increase in your earnings.
Even though you are responsible for reporting your earnings if they affect payment of your benefits, SSA may consider the earnings information on your W-2 and/or your self-employment tax return as the annual report of earnings required by law. SSA will use that information to adjust benefits under the earnings test. This means that most people will not have to make a specific report to SSA. However, you will need to provide additional information if the information on record is incorrect or incomplete and affects the payments of benefits. If you fail to report information that will require recovery of overpaid benefits, you may be subject to financial penealties, see Section 903 below.
Additionally, if one of the following situations applies, you should submit a report to SSA, because you may be entitled to additional benefits if benefits were withheld:
a. You are eligible to receive benefits under the monthly earnings test.
b. Some or all of the earnings reported on your W-2 was for work done in prior years and are not shown in the "Nonqualified plan" box on the W-2.
c. You earned wages above the applicable exempt amount and also had a net loss in self-employment.
d. You had wages reported on a W-2 that will also be reported on a self-employment tax return, for example if you are a minister or church worker.
e. You filed a self-employment tax return but did not perform any services in the business.
f. You are self-employed and file tax returns on a fiscal year basis.
g. You are a farmer, filed a self-employment return reporting earnings of more than the applicable exempt amount and you received Federal Agricultural Program Payments or had income from carry-over crops.
h. Your estimated earnings are over the exempt amount and you had some benefits withheld during the year but you had no earnings for the year.
i. You Request prorated or deferred work suspension, see Section803.1.
The following information must be reported when filing an annual report of earnings:
a. Name, address and claim number of the beneficiary.
b. Taxable year being reported.
c. Total wages earned in the year (regardless of amount paid).
d. Amount of net earnings or net loss from self-employment.
e. Non-service months (if monthly test applies).
f. Stop work month and year (if applicable).
g. Name and address of person making the report.
If required because your tax return/W2 information is not accurate, an annual report must be filed by you on or before April 15 of the year following the taxable year, if the taxable year ends on December 31. If you file based on a fiscal year, the report is due 3 months and 15 days after the close of the fiscal year. You may report by phone, mail, or a visit to your local SS office.
NOTE: If a due date falls on Saturday, Sunday, legal holiday or Federal non-work day, the due date is the next working day.
If you do not file your annual report of earnings by the deadline (usually April 15 of the following year, see Section 902.3) you will be subject to penalties if you were overpaid during the year in question.
The amount of the penalty is equal to one months benefit if this is the first time you failed to file the annual report on time. If this is the second time, the penalty will be equal to two months benefits. If it is the third time or more, the penalty will be three months benefits. Social Security uses the benefit amount for December of the year involved for the penalty. If the amount of money overpaid for the year is less than the monthly benefit amount for the December benefit, the penalty will be equal to the amount you were overpaid. For example, if you were overpaid only $100.00, the penalty will be $100.00, instead of the monthly benefit amount (minimum of $10.00) but only for the first time you fail to file an annual report.
For a second or later failure, the normal penalty may be less if the amount of your overpayment could have been deducted from a lesser number of months benefits. In that case the penalty will be equal to only the number of months which would have had deductions because of the earnings. For example, a beneficiary with a monthly benefit rate of $400.00 per month has an overpayment of $600.00. This is the third time he has failed to file his annual report. The penalty for failure to file will be equal to only two months of benefits ($800.00) because the $600.00 overpayment would have caused deductions in only two months.
If you were paid the correct amount of benefits for the year being reported, or if money is due for the year being reported, there is no penalty for filing a late report of annual earnings.
If you can establish that you had good cause for not filing timely, there will be no penalty. Generally good cause can be found only if you took all reasonable steps to comply with your responsibility, or you were prevented from filing due to circumstances beyond your control, such as a physical or mental condition.
If you receive spouse's, widow(er)'s or child's benefits you must report any change in your marital status. If you become divorced from the worker, although you may be eligible to continue receiving benefits as a divorced wife/husband, you must report the divorce anyway. If you were married to the worker for ten years and are at least 62, you may still receive benefits (see Section 204.3).
If you receive benefits as a divorced wife/husband or widow(er), you must report a remarriage. Divorced widow(er)s who re-marry after age 60 (or after age 50 is disabled) may continue to receive benefits, the same as non-divorced widow(er)s who remarry after age 60. Widow(er)'s benefits will not be terminated due to remarriage if it occurs after age 60. You should nevertheless report it for the record, to change your name and identification code (Section 1407).
If a person who receives a child's benefit marries, the benefits will usually terminate. This must be reported to Social Security.
If one Social Security beneficiary marries another, (depending on which types of beneficiaries) the benefits may not terminate even though they would if the marriage did not occur between beneficiaries. A chart is located at Appendix 9 which tells you whether or not benefits will terminate due to remarriage.
If you receive child's benefits as a stepchild, you do not have to report the divorce of your natural parent and your stepparent. This will not affect the stepchilds eligibility. Once the stepchild is entitled to benefits on the stepparents account, the benefits will continue despite a divorce.
If you receive benefits only on your own account, you do not have to report any change in your marital status, unless you wish a name change.
As noted in §205.1 and in §409.1, a child may continue to receive child’s benefits after age 18 (but not past age 19) if he is a full time student in elementary or secondary school. If you are receiving benefits on this basis, you must report any change in your full time school status. If you are over age 18 and no longer a full time student your benefits will terminate.
Section 906 - Reporting Child Not in Care
If you receive spouse's or widow(er)'s benefits because you have a child in your care, (see Section 213) your monthly benefit will be suspended for any month you do not have the child in your care. This does not terminate your benefits, it only suspends them (see Section 1008). You must report this to Social Security. Short absences of less than one month do not count. Only if the child is gone for the entire month must it be reported to Social Security. If the child goes away on vacation your benefits will not be suspended if you are still responsible for the childs upbringing and exercising parenting control and supervision. However, if the child goes to live with another parent for more than one month, you must report because it will result in suspension of your benefits for that month.
A penalty may be imposed for failing to report not having a child in your care. The penalty amount is equal to the benefit amount for the first month of a period in which the child is not in your care. The penalty for a second failure is twice the benefit amount. The penalty for a third subsequent failure is three times the benefit amount. The penalty cannot exceed the amount of benefits which should have been suspended.
The death of a Social Security beneficiary should be reported immediately. A check received after the death of a beneficiary cannot be cashed. It must be returned to the Social Security Administration. If you cash a check for a beneficiary who has died, you may be subject to criminal penalties. A benefit is not payable for the month of death. A check received after the death may be due for an earlier month; if so, it must be reissued by Social Security. It cannot be cashed (see Section 1408).
In the case of a husband and wife who receive a combined check, it should be brought to the local Social Security District Office. A service representative or a claim representative will stamp the back of the check with a special endorsement called a "superendorsement" which will make it payable to the surviving beneficiary. You can then cash the check. Social Security will adjust your future benefits to take this into account.
Section 908 - Reporting Changes in Disability Cases
People who receive benefits because they are disabled do not have to file an annual report of earnings because the annual earnings limitations do not apply in disability cases. The earnings test does apply to spouses or children of disabled workers. Any work activity by a disabled beneficiary should be reported immediately to Social Security, regardless of the amount of earnings expected to be earned. The fact that you are working may have an effect on your continued eligibility to receive disability benefits (see Section 504).
If you receive benefits because of disability, you should report any medical improvement in your condition because you may no longer be totally disabled. There is no penalty for failure to report a medical improvement.
You must report to Social Security as soon as you have worked 45 hours or more in one month in a foreign country (see Section 811). You are subject to a penalty for failing to report in the same way as penalties are imposed for failing to report that a child is not in your care (see Supplement Section 906).