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Arizona Social Security Disability Blog

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Can Social Security Benefits Be Garnished to Pay Debts?

Did you see the story on 3TV news about the man who is being harassed by debt collectors over a 50 year old student loan? The man claims he paid off his student loans decades ago, but a debt collection company is saying that he still owes $1,938 in interest, fees, and costs.

It isn’t clear whether the man in the story is retired and living on a fixed income, but if he went to college in the 1960s, I’m betting that he is. If that’s the case, he had better hire an attorney to represent him! Student loan debts follow you for life, and if you don’t repay them, the government can take some of your wages, seize your tax refunds, or garnish your Social Security payments until your debt is paid off.

Yes, you read that right, Social Security and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) payments can be garnished to pay off certain debts. In addition to federal student loans, Social Security and SSDI can be taken to pay for back taxes, child support, alimony, victim restitution, and other miscellaneous federal debts.

What about Other Debts?

While the government has taken steps to ensure that it can be repaid debts it is owed, it has limited the ability of other creditors to access your Social Security and SSDI funds.

If a creditor is able to prove to a court that you owe it a debt and that you are not paying it back, the creditor can ask your bank to turn over money from your account to satisfy the judgment. When this happens, your bank must look at your account history to see if you have received any direct deposits from Social Security. (FYI, it must also look for VA benefits.) If you have received benefits via direct deposit, it must protect 2 months worth of benefits from garnishment.

You will have full access to the 2 months worth of benefits, but all other money in the account will be frozen. You will be notified that this has happened, and will have a short period of time to decide what to do next. If you don’t do anything, the other money in your account can be transferred to your creditors. If you don’t think the debt is valid, or you can show that all of the money in the account should be protected from your creditors, you can take your case to a judge, who will then decide what happens next. Whether you will be able to keep your money, or whether it will be given to your creditors, depends largely on where the additional money in your account came from.

It is important to note that banks are only required to protect two months worth of direct deposits. If you are getting a paper check each month that you then deposit into your account, the law protecting that money from being frozen does not apply. Only funds that are directly deposited are eligible for protection.

If You Think Something Fishy Is Going On, Seek Help Immediately

The man in the news who was targeted by the student loan debt collectors did the right thing by reaching out to 3TV’s On Your Side investigators. If he has not spoken to one already, I hope that his next call is to an experienced attorney. When you are living on a fixed income, and particularly if that income is from Social Security, being targeted by creditors is something that should get professional help to deal with right away


Friday, January 22, 2016

A New Year’s Resolution That Is Easy to Keep

Do you know how much money you will get from Social Security if you are injured tomorrow? How about how much you can expect to get when you retire? If you don’t know the answer to these questions, you aren’t alone. Even though the Phoenix area, and really Arizona generally, is full of people who are thinking about retirement, or who have already retired, most of the clients who come to Roeschke Law’s office seeking help with their Social Security issues don’t know this basic information. It’s time to turn this trend around. Let’s resolve to make 2016 the year we all start to keep track of our Social Security benefits online!

It is exciting that a small part of the federal government has awakened and realized we are living in the 21st century, and decided that means they should use technological advances to make their work more transparent and our lives as citizens and taxpayers a little bit easier. The Social Security Administration has developed a simple, easy to use app, called my Social Security, which allows any worker with a Social Security number who is over the age of 18 to track the benefits they have accrued.

After you have set up an account, you can log in at any time to see what type of Social Security Disability benefits you would be eligible for today if you suffered a debilitating accident or illness and were unable to work. You can also check out how much the SSA estimates you would receive on a monthly basis if you retired at various ages: 62, 66,67 (depending on your current age), or 70, based on your current payments into Social Security.

You might remember getting a paper copy of this info each year prior to 2011. In order to cut costs, the government stopped sending out these yearly paper notices, but it still sends them to you every 5 years (at ages 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, 55 and 60)if you haven’t signed up for a my Social Security account online.

Why does the government think it’s important for us to have this information? Two reasons: [1] it’s important to check up on this information so you can be informed as to your disability rights, properly plan for retirement, and  [2] it’s equally important to take a look once a year to make sure that the SSA is properly recording your payments into Social Security. Benefits (both retirement and disability) are based on how much you have paid into the system. You want to make sure that the information they have about you is accurate so you get the proper amount paid out to you in the future. If you see an error, you can usually get it corrected, as long as it happened in the last few years or is really egregious.

According to the SSA, over 22 million people have signed up for my Social Security account. It really is that easy to do. If you have questions about how my Social Securityworks, you can check out this webpage on the Social Security Administration’s website that full of helpful information. If you aren’t tech-savvy, or you have questions that aren’t answered on the SSA’s website, please feel free to give our team of Social Security disability experts at Roeschke Law a call at (800) 975-1866. We can’t set up your my Social Security account for you, but we can help you do it, either over the phone, or at our office in Phoenix. And we can absolutely help you address any errors you find in your account.

Now that you know how easy it is to keep track of your Social Security with SSA’s my Social Security app, spread the word! Let’s make 2016 the year we all resolve to get knowledgeable about our benefits. 


Sunday, December 27, 2015

SSDI Still Needs Fixing

What reforms are needed in the Social Security Disability Insurance program?

 

The recent Budget Act signed by President Obama was approved with bipartisan Congressional support. Leading into the negotiations, there were threats of another government shutdown if Congress refused to raise the debt ceiling while lawmakers argued over the numbers. During this process, many Social Security Disability benefits recipients were concerned over a proposal that would slash their benefits by the fourth quarter of 2016.

 

However, lawmakers created an 11th hour remedy by shifting payroll tax revenue from one Social Security Trust fund to finance the SSDI fund. While this maneuver will prevent some of the nation's most vulnerable citizens from falling into poverty, it is only a stop-gap measure. At the end of the day, the SSDI program still has problems.

 

Problems Plaguing the SSDI Fund

 

It was recently reported that the SSDI program has numerous problems and long-term funding has not been resolved. This is especially dire as more baby boomers are becoming disabled, putting a strain on the system. Not only is there a problem with funding. Long delays in claim approval are causing financial hardship for many people.

                                                                             

Currently, more than 10 million Americans are now on SSDI, and that number is expected to rise. The annual cost is staggering -- about $141.7 billion in 2014. Even worse, the program has been losing money for at least the last decade.

 

Reforming the SSDI Program

 

Some proposed reforms include revamping the administrative law judge system. Because of high caseloads, hundreds of judges have been rubber-stamping approvals and "wrongful decisions" in the last 10 years have cost taxpayers at least $72 billion. The SSDI eligibility standards also need to be updated as they currently rely on data that is 30 years old. In any event, the recent budget deal was only a short-term fix, leaving the financial security of millions of disabled American hanging in the balance.

  

If you have become disabled and are unable to work, a qualified attorney can help you secure disability benefits.

 


Friday, December 25, 2015

The Long Wait for SSDI Benefits

What is causing delays is SSDI benefit approvals?


The Social Security Disability Insurance program is designed to provide financial support to people who are unable to work, providing them with a safety net from poverty. Generally, to qualify for disability, a person must have a physical or mental illness that will prevent the individual from working for at least 1 year or culminate in death. Not only is this is a high bar to cross -- many people are denied benefits -- but the approval process can be quite long. In these cases some may suffer undue physical, emotional and financial hardship.

What is the reason for SSD delays?

There are many reasons for the delays in SSD approval, which in some cases may be as long as 22 months. Even worse, some people have died while they were waiting. However, in this situation, a surviving spouse is entitled to the benefit.

Some attribute the delays to the huge caseloads of "overburdened judges." These caseloads, in turn, are due to the large number of aging baby boomers who are becoming disabled while needed staff additions for the Social Security Administration's were underfunded. Currently the SSD program stands at $126 billion which provides benefits to about 9 million people who are permanently unable to work as well as 8 million low-income people.

The SSA claims that the national average for a decision is about 16 months even though the agency has tried to limit caseloads and may even have pushed administrative judges to approve cases. In fact, an investigation conducted by the House Oversight and Government Reform committee found that hundreds of judges were rubber-stamping approvals, costing taxpayers billions. The Obama administration, however, stated that there was no evidence of rubber-stamping and the approval rates have actually declined by about 10 percent in recent years.

In an effort to address the problem, the SSA has set a goal to reduce the wait to 270 days or less by 2020. In addition, they have put a "pre-hearing triage program" in place, plan on hiring 400 more judges by 2018, and are conducting video hearing to reduce backlogs. In the meantime, countless people are falling into despair as they wait for SSD approval.

If you are disabled and unable to work, an attorney experience with the SSD program can help you qualify for benefits.


Saturday, December 19, 2015

Social Security and Medicare Changes -- Pluses and Minuses

How will the new laws affect those who are receiving, or will receive, Social Security benefits?


In the budget bill President Obama recently signed into law with bipartisan support, some specific changes affecting Medicare and Social Security were included. For those who presently receive benefits from these agencies, or who foresee doing so in the near future, here is a clarification of what these alterations mean.

File and Suspend Option Being Discontinued May 1, 2016


One option being taken off the table is one known as "file and suspend." Currently, the higher wage earner in a couple who has reached full retirement age can file for his or her own Social Security benefits and immediately suspend them.

This means that the higher wage earner can continue to let the Social Security benefits grow 8 percent annually. During this time period, however, the lower wage earner can file for spousal benefits, receiving the lower amount. This results in the couple receiving a Social Security check while their benefits continue to grow. If the higher earning spouse passes away, the surviving spouse eventually receives the higher benefit.

Since file and suspend will be discontinued as of May 1, 2016, anyone interested in taking advantage of this strategy should apply now. Those already receiving benefits under this method will be grandfathered in until age 70.

Restricted Application also Being Phased Out

Restricted application is similar to, but not the same as, file and suspend. Now, individuals eligible for retirement benefits based on their own work record, as well as spousal benefits based on their spouses' work record, can elect to claim only a spousal benefit at full retirement age, leaving them free to collect a higher benefit in the future.

When the new law goes into effect, however, only individuals born on or before January 1, 1954 will continue to be able to use this option. Those younger than this will automatically receive the larger of the two benefits.

New Funds for Social Security Disability Benefits


Those receiving Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits have had a stressful many months due the fact that it was anticipated that millions of disabled Americans were going to have their benefits reduced by 19 percent by the fourth quarter of 2016. Fortunately, that dire circumstance will not come to pass. The new law remedies the problem by shifting payroll tax revenue from one Social Security trust fund to another. Funds will be shifted from the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust fund to the Disability Insurance Trust fund. This change will save some of the country's most vulnerable citizens from falling below the poverty line.

No Increase in Medicare Part B Premiums and Deductibles

Thirty percent of Medicare beneficiaries were expecting a 52 percent increase in their Medicare Part B insurance premiums, as well as in their deductibles. The new law will protect this targeted population, approximately 17 million people, who will soon pay about $119 per month instead of the predicted $159.30 for Part B.

The other 70 percent of Medicare beneficiaries will continue to pay the same premium in 2016 as they did in 2015 -- $104.90. Beneficiaries will, however, have to pay an extra $3 per month to assist in paying down the money loaned to Medicare by the federal government. In addition, the annual deductible for all Part B beneficiaries will increase in 2016 to $166, an increase of about 15 percent.

If you have any questions regarding your present or future benefits, you should be sure to consult with a skilled and knowledgeable disability attorney.

Monday, November 30, 2015

SSA Announces There Will be No Cost-of-Living Increase in 2016

The cost of living is steadily increasing in virtually every zip code in America. From sprawling urban areas to more remote rural areas, consumers are experiencing a relentless increase in the costs of housing, utilities, food and other necessities -- prompting many employers to offer wage raises (though minimal ones) each year to offset the costs associated with daily living.

However, for those relying on the financial support of Supplemental Security Income (SSI), the Social Security Administration (SSA) has recently announced that there will be no cost of living increase in 2016 -- citing an inflation increase too slight to warrant additional benefits. Unfortunately for many, their monthly benefit amount will remain unchanged, while the costs of basic necessities continue to rise.

Since 1975, the SSA has implemented a regular Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) to help beneficiaries keep up with inflation rates and avoid further impoverishment. In years past, SSI recipients have seen increases ranging from a few dollars to a more significant sum, depending on the activity in the American economy. However, 2016 will be just the third year in history in which recipients will receive the same monthly benefit amount as the previous year – a rate currently set at $733.00 for individuals, and $1,100.00 for couples.

Across the United States, approximately 8 million people rely on SSI benefits to survive. Many of them are permanently disabled and unable to secure gainful employment under any circumstances. The percentage of Arizonans receiving benefits is higher than the national average. For these individuals, who currently rely on this income to survive, the lack of COLA in 2016 could result in a significant hardship, particularly in the event of a stark increase in inflation rates mid-year.

If you or a loved one with a disability are facing hardship because of the lack of COLA in the coming year, an experienced disability attorney can help you find the resources you need.


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Process of Applying for Social Security Disability Benefits

What are the steps that must be taken to apply for SSD benefits?

The process of applying for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits can be a daunting one, particularly since it comes at a time when you are at a low ebb due to chronic illness or traumatic injury. This is why it is important to engage the services of a reputable disability attorney to guide you through the process.

Who can apply for disability benefits?

If you have a physical or psychological impairment that affects your ability to work on a full-time basis you can apply for Social Security Disability benefits.  You must be able to show that your severe impairment(s) have lasted for, or can be expected to last for at least 12 months.

At retirement age, the benefits continue, but are reclassified as retirement benefits.

When should you apply for SSD benefits?

It's always best to apply for benefits as soon as you become disabled.  Waiting to apply could cause you to lose out on potential benefits that could be rightfully paid to you. If your conditions prevent you from working, do not unnecessarily delay your application.

What documents are needed to apply for disability benefits?

Before applying for disability benefits, you should have all your ducks in a row, including all of the following documents that pertain in your case:

• Birth certificate or Permanent Resident Card Number
• Marriage and (if applicable) divorce papers
• Names and birth dates of children who became disabled before the age of 22, are under age 18 and unmarried, or are age 18 to19 and attending school full time
• Papers pertaining to military service
• Social Security number
• Name of place  and dates of employment for prior 2 years
• Statement of total earnings
• Bank account numbers for domestic and international accounts
• Bank information for direct deposit
• List of medical conditions
• Names and contact information for all of your doctors
• Complete information about medical tests taken 
• Complete list of prescribed medications
• Information about all completed education and vocational training

As if this weren't enough, applicants for Social Security benefits may be asked to provide additional information after they submit their application.

Once you are approved for disability benefits, will they continue throughout your lifetime?

While some conditions are chronic or progressive, some types of disability may be temporary, although they are long-term. Regular reviews of your condition will be made to determine whether you are still entitled to Social Security benefits.

As is obvious from the above materials, getting SSD benefits is a complex and often overwhelming process, a process during which the assistance of a capable disability attorney is invaluable.


Friday, November 20, 2015

Potential cuts to SSD Benefits Coming in 2016

What do Social Security cuts mean to disability recipients?

Social Security disability benefits could be cut by as much as 20 percent by the end of 2016.

A recently released report found the trust fund will be depleted by the fourth quarter of next year, leaving the Social Security Administration with only enough funds to pay 81 percent of benefits. Congress has presently failed to agree to a compromise funding bill.

However, some experts believe Congress may act at the 11th hour to reform the program by redirecting payroll taxes, but this would only be a short-term fix. Meanwhile, the cuts could impact 10.9 million disability benefit recipients. Moreover, the entire Social Security fund needs to be overhauled or the trust fund used for retirement benefits will be depleted by 2035.

That being said, lawmakers could also devise a short-term fix to increase funding for the disability program, but that would entail changing the benefits. For example, one proposal from the White House would preclude people who receive unemployment benefits from receiving Social Security disability benefits.


But this will only be a band aid as lawmakers still need to come up with a comprehensive plan to stabilize funding for the entire Social Security program. The federal government has not taken significant action to reform Social Security since the Reagan Administration. At that time a bipartisan commission called for hiking the payroll tax, and gradually raising the retirement age.

Today’s Congress, however, seems far less likely to compromise, and this adversely affects Social Security disability benefits. Compounding the problem is the inefficient management of the program by the administration which may have resulted in over payments to some recipients. This may contribute to the trust fund not being able to sufficiently cover present recipients and others who may become disabled.

If you believe you are entitled to disability benefits under the Social Security program, contact an attorney today to protect your rights.


Monday, November 16, 2015

Chronic Back Pain and Social Security Disability

It might seem surprising that the primary cause of Americans being unable to work is related to back pain. 1 in every 10 individuals suffers from a debilitating condition such as degenerative disc disease, herniated/bulging discs, nerve root compression, spinal stenosis, arachnoiditis or paralysis that affects their daily activities, and ultimately their ability to engage in substantial gainful activity.

If you experience debilitating back pain or have suffered a spinal injury, and this has lasted at least 12 months or can be expected to last at least 12 months, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.

Having the appropriate medical documentation of your condition, such as X-rays and MRIs, is essential to building a strong case.  This evidence also helps to demonstrate how much your back pain affects your day-to-day activities. It is very important to communicate all of your symptoms and limitations to your healthcare provider.

When Social Security evaluates your claim, they must determine what you are able to do despite your impairments – this is known as the residual functional capacity assessment (RFC).  This determination involves the capacity for sitting, standing, lifting and walking, and several other factors.

Chronic back pain and spinal injuries can be devastating to an individual’s lifestyle, but Social Security Disability benefits can offer some relief when you’re unable to work.  The Disability Attorneys of Arizona have extensive experience in building strong cases and can handle everything from filing the initial claim to the appeals process. We DO NOT collect a fee unless YOU WIN!

If you believe you may be eligible for SSDI due to severe back pain or injury, contact an experienced Arizona disability lawyer free initial consultation.  Let us help you obtain the money you deserve!


Thursday, November 5, 2015

Rheumatoid Arthritis and Social Security Disability

Over 1.5 million Americans suffer from rheumatoid arthritis.[1]  Signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis may include:

  • Tender, warm, swollen joints

     

  • Morning stiffness that may last for hours

     

  • Firm bumps of tissue under the skin on your arms (rheumatoid nodules)

     

  • Fatigue, fever and weight loss

Early rheumatoid arthritis tends to affect your smaller joints first — particularly the joints that attach your fingers to your hands and your toes to your feet.

As the disease progresses, symptoms often spread to the wrists, knees, ankles, elbows, hips and shoulders. In most cases, symptoms occur in the same joints on both sides of your body.

Rheumatoid arthritis signs and symptoms may vary in severity and may even come and go. Periods of increased disease activity, called flares, alternate with periods of relative remission — when the swelling and pain fade or disappear. Over time, rheumatoid arthritis can cause joints to deform and shift out of place.[2]

These symptoms can be debilitating, and even when individuals receive proper care and medications, they may still find themselves unable to work.  If you have been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and are unable to perform your job, you may qualify for Social Security Disability (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. 

Please contact the Disability Attorneys of Arizona for a free consultation.  You will speak to an experienced Social Security Disability attorney that will walk you through the process and answer any questions that you have.  The Disability Attorneys of Arizona specialize in representing individuals in front of the Social Security Administration and handle cases throughout the entire State of Arizona.  Call 800-975-1866 today to talk to with an Arizona Social Security Lawyer!


Friday, October 23, 2015

DEPRESSION AND SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY

Depression, like many other mental health disorders, does not always reveal itself in shades of black and white.  Some individuals may respond positively to therapy and medications, while others might not have the same response.  In fact, some individuals may never receive appropriate treatment for a variety of reasons – ranging from lack of health insurance to financial constraints.  At times, it might be the very nature of the person’s depressive symptoms that prevents them from leaving their home to pursue adequate treatment.

Individuals with depression experience a variety of symptoms, including: feelings of sadness; anxiety; agitation; sleep disturbance; trouble focusing and concentrating; frequent or recurrent thoughts of death or suicide; feelings of worthlessness or guilt; and loss of interest in activities.[1]

The Huffington Post recently published some eye-opening statistics:

Depression affects over 350,000,000 people worldwide.  To put that figure into perspective, the population of the United States was around 320,000,000 in 2014.[2] 

Depression does not just manifest itself in adults.  Nearly 11% of adolescents will have a depressive disorder by the age of 18.

Women are 70% more likely than man to experience depression in their lifetime.  However, around 16 million men experienced a depressive episode at least once as of 2012. 

30 percent of college students reported depression, which disturbed their school abilities. 

The estimated annual cost of depression in the U.S. due to lost productivity and health care is over $80 million.[3]

If you suffer from depression, or any other health conditions that prevent you from working, you may qualify for Social Security Disability benefits.  Please contact the Disability Attorneys of Arizona for more information regarding Social Security Disability benefits and assistance with filing an application. 

 


[1] See http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/basics/symptoms/con-20032977.

[2] See http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/00000.html.

[3] See http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/20/depression-statistics_n_6480412.html.


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