Social Security is getting a lot of attention in Washington this year. Many proposals are being discussed and several changes have been made. Some of the changes affect retirees now and others will kick in next year.
Here's a rundown:- EARNINGS LIMITS. The amount of income beneficiaries ages 65 to 69 can earn before their Social Security checks are reduced was raised from $11,520 to $12,500 for 1996 by the Senior Citizens' Right to Work Act. The limit will increase to $13,500 in 1997; $14,500 in 1998; $15,500 in 1999; $17,500 in 2000; $25,000 in 2001 and $30,000 in 2002.
After 2002, the limit will be indexed to the growth in average wages. Benefits will continue to be cut $1 for every $3 earned over the limit. Workers ages 62 through 64 will continue to lose $1 in benefits for every $2 they make over $8,280.
- COLAs. Cost-of-living adjustments in Social Security benefits are based on the consumer price index (CPI). In July, the Bureau of Labor Statistics will change the way it calculates the CPI, but the adjustment will result in only a 0.1 percentage-point decline. Bigger changes continue to be talked about, but Congress is unlikely to make further change in an election year.
- STAGGERED MONTHLY CHECKS. Starting in December, new Social Security recipients whose birthdays fall in the first 10 days of a month will be sent checks on the second Wednesday of the month. Those with birthdays on days 11 through 20 will be paid on the third Wednesday, and days 21 through 31 on the fourth Wednesday.
- INCOME-TAX WITHHOLDING. Starting in January, all Social Security recipients can choose to have income taxes withheld from their benefits. You can choose to have 7 percent, 15 percent, 28 percent or 31 percent of benefits withheld. You'll probably have to make the election in writing with your local Social Security Administration office, and you can cite the dates you want the withholding to start and stop.
- PRIVATIZATION. Proposals have been made to privatize Social Security by either investing part of the fund in stocks or allowing people to invest part of their Social Security taxes in self-directed retirement accounts. Any changes will be made gradually and are not likely to happen soon. The best chance for enactment will be when the entire system is reviewed in a few years.