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Social Security Disability Legal Terms


Actuaries - Professionals who analyze and factor the financial consequences of risk. Social Security actuaries make projections about economic growth, inflation, population, immigration, life expectancy and productivity growth.

Administrative costs - The Administration is known for having administrative costs of well under one percent of total assets. Administrative costs are the costs that are associated with running the program.

AIME - The dollar amount used to calculate your Social Security Benefit Claim, if you have reached the age 62 or have become disabled after the year 1978.

AME - The dollar amount used in calculating your monthly Social Security benefit if you attained age 62 or became disabled (or died) before 1978.

Annual Cost of Living Increase - An adjustment where benefits are increased based on the cost of living and inflation.

Appeal - A claimant has the right to appeal the decision of the Social Security department when a decision is made that affects your benefits.

Base Years - The years for computing Social Security benefits are the years after 1950 up to the year of entitlement. For a survivor's claim, the base years include the year of the worker's death.

Beneficiary - He or she who receives Social Security benefits.

Benefits - Retirement, Disability, Dependents, Survivors and Medicare are the 5 categories within the Social Security system that you may receive benefits under.

Carve out - Redirected payroll taxes that were going into the Social Security system and are now going into private retirement accounts. The money is “carved out” of the Social Security system and not available to pay benefits for current retirees.

Child - May include biological children or any other child who can inherit your personal property under State law or who meets certain specific requirements under the Social Security Act.

Computation Years - Computation years are the years with highest earnings selected from the "base years."

COLA - Cost of Living Adjustment. Social Security benefits and Supplemental Security Income payments are increased each year to keep up with inflation.

CPI - Consumer Price Index. An index prepared by the U. S. Dept. of Labor that charts the rise in costs for selected goods and services. This index is used to compute COLA increase or increases.

Delayed Retirement Credits - Social Security benefits are increased, by a certain percentage depending on a person's date of birth, if retirement is delayed beyond full retirement age. Increases based on delaying retirement no longer apply when people reach age 70, even if they continue to delay taking benefits.

Documents - Forms often requested and submitted by individuals who are applying for benefits. Documents usually include: birth certificates, marriage certificates, W2 forms, tax returns, and deeds. Normally only originals or certified copies are accepted.

Direct Deposit - The standard way to receive Social Security benefits.

Disability Benefits - These benefits are received if you: are under FRA (full retirement age), have enough Social Security credits, and have a severe medical impairment that prevents you from doing substantial work for more than a year, or are expected to die from the impairment.

Disability Insurance - One of three components in the Social Security program. You become eligible for disability benefits when you cannot do the work you did before becoming disabled and the work you did, cannot be adjusted to accommodate your disability. The number of work credits you need to qualify for benefits depends on your age at the time you become disabled.

Early Retirement - You can start getting Social Security retirement benefits as early as age 62, but your benefit amount will be less than you would have gotten at full retirement age. If you take retirement benefits early, your benefit will be permanently reduced, based on the number of months you received checks before you reached full retirement age.

Early Retirement Age - Age 62

Earnings Record - A chronological history of the amount you earn each year during your working lifetime. The credits you earned remain on your Social Security record even when you change jobs or have no earnings

Family Benefits - The following people may be eligible to receive benefits on your record: Spouse if aged 62 or older (unless caring for an entitled child under the age of 16); children, if unmarried and under the age of 18 (or under 19 and still in school); disabled children over the age of 18; and an ex-spouse in some circumstances.

Family Maximum - The maximum amount of benefits payable to an entire family on any one worker's record.

Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) - The formal name of the funding mechanism for Social Security benefits. It is a payroll tax that is deducted from the worker’s paycheck and matched by the employer.

Full Retirement Age - The age at which a person may first become entitled to unreduced retirement benefits. Beginning with year 2000 for workers and spouses born 1938 or later and widows/widowers born 1940 or later, the retirement age increases gradually from age 65 until it reaches age 67 in the year 2022. This increase affects the amount of the reduction for persons who begin receiving reduced benefits.

Inflation-protected benefit - A benefit whose real value does not decline as the cost of living rises. Social Security benefits are adjusted automatically every year to keep pace with the cost of living.

Lawful Alien Status - People admitted to the U.S. who are granted permanent authorization to work by the Immigration and Nationalization Service (INS) or admitted to the U.S. on a temporary basis with INS authorization to work.

Life Expectancy - 1. Life expectancy at birth is a statistical measurement that projects how a society will change over time. It is the statistically determined number of years, at birth, that a person is expected to live. Currently, life expectancy for men in the US is 74.8 years and for women it is 80.1 years. 2. Life expectancy at 65 measures the number of years a person is expected to live once they reach the age of 65. It is different from life expectancy at birth, because by that age many life-threatening challenges have passed. At present, men who reach the age of 65 in this country can expect to live until the age of 81.6 years of age, and women to the age of 84.5.

Lump Sum Death Payment - A one-time payment of $255 paid in addition to any monthly survivors insurance benefits that are due. This benefit is paid to your widow/widower or minor children.

Maximum Earnings - The maximum earnings counted for any calendar year when computing your Social Security benefit.

OASDI - Old Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance. It is the formal name of the Social Security System.

Pension - A regular payment, which a worker receives after retirement. The conditions of the pension are set before the worker retires, in accordance with the worker’s retirement plan. A pension is usually a guaranteed benefit that is not usually portable.

Portable - A benefit that goes with you if you change employers. Most employer-sponsored pension plans are not portable. Social Security is the only guaranteed benefit that is portable.

Representative Payee - If you receive Social Security benefits or Supplemental Security Income and become unable to handle your own financial affairs, a relative, friend, or an interested party is appointed to handle your Social Security matters.

Retirement Age - Full Benefits - Full retirement age was 65 for many years. However, beginning with the year 2000 (for workers and spouses born 1938 or later, or widow and widowers born 1940 or later), the retirement age increases gradually from age 65 until it reaches age 67 in the year 2022.

Retirement Age - Minimum - The minimum age for retirement-age 62 for workers, and age 60 for widows or widowers. You can choose a reduced benefit anytime before you reach full retirement age.

Retroactive Benefits (Back Pay) - Monthly benefits that you may be entitled to before the month you actually file an application, if you meet the entitlement requirements.

Replacement rate - The amount of pre-retirement earnings that Social Security benefits replace. A way to gauge the adequacy of retirement income.

Social Security - While you work, you pay taxes into the Social Security system, and when you retire or become disabled you, your spouse and your dependent children receive monthly benefits that are based on your reported earnings. The system also allows your survivors to collect benefits if you die.

Solvency - The ability to pay off one’s legal debt. The Social Security system is solvent when it can pay 100 percent of scheduled benefits. Social Security uses payroll tax revenues to cover payments; if these fell short, it would draw on the accumulated surpluses in the Social Security Trust Fund.

Spouse - The person whom you were legally married to at the time you applied for benefits.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) - A Federal supplemental income program which helps the aging, blind, and disabled, who have little or no income.

Survivor Benefits - If you die, benefits will be paid to: your spouse age 60 or older (50 or older if a disability rather than death occurs) or at any age if the spouse is caring for a child under the age of 16; children age 18 or younger (19 or younger if still in school); and your parents, if you provide at least half of their financial support.

Treasury bonds - Funds in the Social Security trust fund that are not used for paying current benefits and expenses are required by law to be invested in U.S. Treasury securities. These securities pay market-based interest to the trust funds.

Trust funds - Accounts run by the Treasury Department that take in payments to the Social Security system, pay benefits and administer the program.

Trustees - The board of four government officials and two citizen representatives that manages the Social Security Trust Funds.

Wage Earner - A person who earns Social Security credits while working for wages or self-employment income.

Wages - All payment for services performed for an employer. The cash value of all compensation paid to an employee in any form other than cash is also considered wages (unless the form of payment is specifically not covered under the Social Security Act).

Widow - If you and the person who died were legally married at the time of death, then you are considered that person’s widow/widower.

Wage cap - The maximum amount of a worker’s earnings that are subject to the Social Security payroll tax. The amount taxed increases annually with wages.


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