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Howard Kossover: Social Security survivor benefits could change if widow goes back to work

Q: I am a 30 year old widow receiving Social Security survivor benefits because my young children receive benefits through their father’s work record.  If I returned to work, would it lower my benefits?

A: It might, depending on the amount you earn because of the annual earnings test.

Survivor benefits to a widow or widower of any age can be paid if a child of the deceased, receiving Social Security survivor benefits and under age 16 or disabled, is in her or his care.

When the youngest child reaches age 16, assuming disability is not involved, benefits to the surviving spouse end although the child remains eligible. 

While this survivor benefit is not reduced for age, the annual earnings test still applies. When you are younger than full retirement age, your Social Security benefits may be reduced if your earnings exceed certain limits.

Earnings test limits usually change each year.

In 2013, people under full retirement age for the entire year can earn gross wages or net income from self-employment of $15,120 before benefits are reduced. Benefits are reduced by one dollar for every two earned above the limit. Exceptions exist.

If you return to work, contact Social Security to discuss your benefits and to update your expected earnings for the year.

Call the SSA national toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778), from 7 a.m. to 7 pm., business days, or your local office.

Q: I just reported a new address for my Social Security and was asked questions about the amount of my rent and if anyone lived with me. Why should it matter?

A: This information does not matter for Social Security but matters very much for the very different Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, also administered by Social Security.

Questions about income, financial resources and living arrangements are routine for the need based SSI so you likely receive benefits through the SSI program in addition to, or instead of, Social Security.

If a SSA representative asks questions that you do not understand, ask about them.

Did You Know? Affor-dable Care Act information is at the Health Insurance Marketplace website, By October, people will be able to create accounts, complete an online application, and shop for health plans there.

Social Security employees cannot answer questions about the Affordable Care Act.

Based in Grand Forks, Howard I. Kossover is the Social Security Public Affairs Specialist for North Dakota and western Minnesota. Send general interest questions to him at Read his online articles at