When to Notify the SSA of Changes in Your Life

Young woman rests her feet in her wheelchair while she sits on sofa working on her laptop and smiling at her dog.If you are one of the nearly 70 million people receiving benefits from Social Security Administration (SSA) programs, you must notify the SSA of important changes in your life that could affect your benefits.

Why Do I Need to Notify the SSA?

The SSA administers benefits not only for retirees, but others, too, including people with disabilities, people with limited means, and family members whose spouse or parent has died.

To determine your benefits payouts, the SSA may use information about your personal and family income and assets as well as about where you live or your living arrangements. Updating the SSA about certain life events helps ensure you’ll receive the correct amount under state and federal law. Complying with mandatory reporting also helps you to avoid penalties if the SSA overpays you.

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Reporting life changes can be particularly important for those who rely on Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a public assistance program that offers financial support to low-income seniors and individuals with disabilities. The criteria to qualify for SSI are very strict. Keeping the SSA in the loop about significant changes to your situation can help you avoid jeopardizing these important benefits.

Moving to a New Address

When you move and change your address, you need to update this information with the SSA. While you may receive messages via your My Social Security account, the SSA also sends notices about claims, benefits status, and benefits amount changes via traditional postal mail, unless you have opted out of mailed messages. You want to ensure that you continue to receive any notifications.

If you are moving to a new state, most Social Security retirement, family, or survivor benefits will not change. However, states vary in how they tax these benefits, according to AARP. Also, if you receive SSI, note that your payments could change when you move to a different state, as states differ in how they supplement SSI benefits.

Moving outside the U.S. also requires that you notify the SSA. U.S. citizens can continue receiving benefits if they move outside the country, provided they remain eligible for benefits and live in a country where the SSA can send payments.

How Do I Change My Address With Social Security?

To notify the SSA of a change to your mailing address, access the “My Profile” tab on your online My Social Security account or call the SSA at 800-772-1213 on weekdays between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Changes in Your Living Situation

If you receive SSI each month, be aware that other changes to your living situation – not just a change in address – can similarly affect your benefits. Here are some examples:

  • If you live in another person’s home and do not pay for your food, utilities, or rent (or you pay less than fair market value), the SSA may lower your SSI payouts. (Note that lawmakers have proposed changing SSI’s requirements for reporting food expenses; read more about this proposal.)
  • If you live alone but someone else covers your living expenses, such as your meals, you may see a drop in your SSI benefits.
  • If you spend the month in a hospital and Medicaid pays for most of your care costs, you’ll likely receive less money in that month’s SSI check.

Check out other example scenarios regarding SSI living arrangements.

Death of a Beneficiary

When a family member who has been receiving Social Security benefits in your household passes away, the SSA expects you to give notice of the death as soon as possible. You must return any payments received after the person’s death. You can return direct deposit payments by contacting the bank. For payments received via check, you must return them, un-cashed, as soon as possible.

After the death of your family member, you may be eligible for survivor benefits.

For example, a one-time lump-sum death benefit of $255 is available for surviving spouses (or children if the individual died unmarried). In certain cases, a recipient of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) can receive an increase in their payout when a parent or spouse passes away. To determine whether your particular circumstances apply, be sure to speak with an SSA representative.

Death of an Individual Living in the Beneficiary’s Household

Note, too, that the deaths of any people who were living with a Social Security benefits recipient must also be reported. For example, the size of an SSI recipient’s household (or the earning power of the people in the household) can affect one’s SSI monthly payment.

Reporting a Death to Social Security

You cannot report a death online; you must call 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) or contact your local Social Security office.

Marriage or Divorce

Starting or ending a marriage can affect certain benefits, so it is important to notify the SSA of changes in your marital status. Per the SSA, marital status can impact SSI benefits as well as benefits for survivors, divorced spouses, and children.

Changes in Income or Assets

Update the SSA regarding any significant financial changes in your life. This includes changes to your income, resources, or employment. For instance, if you start working again after unemployment, this could affect your benefits. Married people who receive Social Security benefits must also report changes in their spouses’ finances.

Becoming the beneficiary of a special needs trust is another example of a change to your income or assets that you should report to the SSA. In addition to notifying the SSA, you would typically provide a copy of the trust document.

Other Reasons to Contact the SSA

If you receive disability benefits, notify the SSA if your disability improves, if you return to work, or the number of hours you work changes.

Also consider checking out the SSA’s informative guides specifying how and when recipients of SSDI and SSI should report their life changes:

Additional changes that warrant informing the SSA include the following:

  • Someone moving into or out of your household
  • Entering a nursing home
  • Adoption of a child
  • A dependent of yours is leaving your care
  • Your child is approaching 18 and is a full-time student or has a disability
  • Parenting changes
  • Changing your name
  • Deportation from the country
  • Becoming eligible for a work pension that Social Security does not cover

When to Report Changes

As a benefits recipient, you are responsible for promptly reporting life changes. You should notify the SSA as soon as possible. If you do not report a life change to the SSA by the 10th day of the month after the event took place, you could face a penalty.

So, if you moved in January, you have until February 10 to notify the SSA. But, again, the expectation is that you update your information immediately.

What If You Do Not Notify the SSA?

If you fail to report a change that would lower your benefits, the SSA can garnish your benefits to repay the difference.

Forgetting or waiting too long to inform the SSA of a change can result in a reduction of your payments or, in some cases, loss of benefits altogether.

Deliberately providing false information to the SSA is against the law.

Special Needs Planner

When your life changes, a special needs planner can help you adapt and comply with the SSA’s reporting requirements. The rules for each type of SSA benefits program can be very complex. Contact a qualified special needs planning attorney near you for assistance updating your information. They can help ensure that you are not putting your benefits at risk.

Created date: 02/02/2012


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