You may be tapping into retirement benefits for the first time. You may be house-rich, but cash-poor. Or you may be struggling just to pay your bills in the recent economic downturn. How you make ends meet will depend on your particular circumstances. But in your senior years, it will likely involve new types of income--Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, a pension or maybe a retirement account distribution..
It is a government program that provides regular benefits to eligible workers and their families after the worker retires, becomes severely disabled or dies. Social Security taxes from employees, employers and self-employed workers help fund the program. If you have paid into the program long enough--roughly 10 years--you will be eligible for full benefits sometime between the ages of 65 and 67 (depending on your date of birth). What you receive will be based on your past earnings. You may qualify for reduced benefits at age 62. But such benefits, if taken at that age, will remain at that lower level permanently.
You can put off collecting any benefits until age 70. You will receive delayed retirement credit and wind up with a larger monthly check--as much as 8 percent more for each year beyond your retirement age. To find out how employment income might affect your benefits, see the section entitled Staying on the Job. And for information on the potential impact of your marital status, see Getting Divorced or Remarried.
Traveling or living in most foreign countries will not affect your eligibility for benefits. However, you should contact Social Security if you plan to leave the country for 30 days or longer.
To check your earnings and benefit status, call 800-772-1213 (socialsecurity.gov) for a free personal statement from the Social Security Administration. To find out what other types of benefits might be available to you, you can also check the National Council on Aging's "benefits checkup" website (benefitscheckup.org).
A representative payee is someone who is authorized to receive your Social Security or Supplemental Security Income checks for you. If you have trouble managing your checks, for example, the Social Security Administration might appoint a relative, friend or qualified organization to receive the payments for you. (A power of attorney is not sufficient for cashing such checks.) By law, a representative payee must keep records of how payments are received, spent or paid and can only spend the funds on your needs--they could be convicted of misusing funds if he or she were to do otherwise.
Veterans can contact the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and railroad retirees can contact the Railroad Retirement Board about similar payee programs. (See Resources section.)
SSI is a cash assistance program for U.S. citizens and some non-citizens who are age 65 or older, blind or disabled. Only those with limited resources can qualify for monthly checks in an amount based on the individual's circumstances. In California, the program is administered with additional funding from the State Supplemental Program (SSP). Even if you believe you will not qualify for more than a very small amount of SSI/SSP funding, it may be worth your while to apply for such assistance. As a recipient, you are automatically eligible for free health benefits under Medi-Cal. And you may receive other benefits, such as In-Home Supportive Services, as well. (WIC §§ 12000-12351) You can apply for SSI/SSP at your local Social Security Administration office.
A reverse mortgage allows you, if you are 62 or older, to receive cash advances based on the equity in your home. If you own your home but have little income, this type of loan may assist you in making ends meet. You generally will not have to pay anything back until you sell your home, transfer title, leave your home for an extended period, move out or die. Nor is there any prepayment penalty. You can never owe more than the value of your home. To obtain such a loan, you must use a licensed lender. In addition, you must get counseling regarding such loans before applying for one. (The lender is required to provide information on counseling agencies and cannot accept your application without a certificate showing you underwent counseling.) With so much at stake, you should make sure you understand the legal and financial consequences before you sign such a loan.
You can get more information on reverse mortgages and local non-profit counseling agencies by visiting the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) website at www.hud.gov.
Yes, as a senior, you may be eligible to keep your property tax at the same level if you sell your home and buy another home that is worth the same or less. (See Choosing Where to Live.) TThe future of two other tax relief programs for seniors, however, remains in question. In 2008, funding for a homeowner and renter assistance program that partially reimbursed property tax payments to low-income seniors and the blind and disabled was cut from the state budget. For more information, contact the Franchise Tax Board. (See Resources.)
During a state budget crisis in 2009, legislation suspended a state property tax postponement program. However, in 2011, the state established a new program authorizing California counties to allow low-income seniors and disabled citizens to defer the payment of property tax on their homes or mobile homes until the sale of the property or the settlement of their estate. For updated information on the program's status, contact the State Controller's office (See Resources.)
Homeowners of any age can file a homeowners property tax exemption with their county assessor's office to claim a tax exemption on $7,000 of the market value of their home. To be eligible, a homeowner must live in the home.
If you have very little income, you may qualify for California Alternate Rates for Energy (CARE). This program provides a 20 percent discount on electric and natural gas bills. (PUC § 739.1) For information and an application, contact your energy company.
Find a local nutrition program, which are usually located in senior centers. You and your spouse can get free hot meals as long as one of you is age 60 or older. Your local nutrition program may also provide transportation. If you are homebound, you can have hot meals delivered to you. Your county's Area Agency on Aging can provide you with information on local nutrition sites (See Resources.) and food banks. Counties also offer food stamp programs (CalFresh) to help cover grocery bills. If you are on SSI/SSP, however, you would not qualify for such assistance. For more information on eligibility, call 800-952-5253 (choose Public Social Services Programs from the automated selection) or go to the Department of Social Services website at www.dss.cahwnet.gov/foodstamps/ or call your local county social services or human services agency.
Counties also offer food stamp programs to supplement or cover the grocery bills of those in need. If you are on SSI/SSP, however, you would not qualify for such assistance. For more information on eligibility, call 1-800-952-5253 (choose Public Social Services Programs from the automated selection) or go to the Department of Social Services Web site at www.dss.cahwnet.gov/foodstamps/. Or call your local county social services or human services agency.
Yes. California's Cash Assistance Program for Immigrants (CAPI) is for seniors who meet all the criteria for SSI/SSP cash assistance but have been turned down because of their immigration status. Such seniors may be able to get almost the same amount of cash as they would have received through SSI/SSP.
If the senior entered this country before Aug. 22, 1996, he or she is probably eligible for CAPI. If he or she did not get a green card until after that date, however, the situation is more complicated. If the senior arrived here more recently, there may be additional hurdles, depending on the senior's circumstances, sponsor and resources.
If you are a senior immigrant who is not eligible for CAPI, however, you may qualify for another type of assistance. If you have very little income, for example, you may be able to get help through General Assistance (GA) or General Relief (GR). If you are a recent refugee, you may be able to get Refugee Cash Assistance (RCA). If you are raising a grandchild or other young relative, you may qualify for another benefit. (See Raising Your Grandchildren.)
For more information on CAPI, GA/GR or RCA, contact your local human services agency or Area Agency on Aging.
To next Section Choosing Where to Live. Or back to Table of Contents.