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Social Security: America’s life insurance

By: Angelo Bottoni, Social Security district manager in Roseville
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You might worry about how to protect your family if something suddenly happens to you. But you probably have life insurance you haven't even thought about. If you are working and paying into Social Security, your family may qualify for Social Security benefits if you die. You see, some of the Social Security taxes you pay go toward survivors insurance. In fact, its value may be more than the value of any other life insurance you may have. If you die, your family could be eligible for monthly benefits based on your earnings. Your family members who might qualify include your minor children and your spouse. Similarly, if your spouse is working and dies, you and your children may qualify for benefits on your spouse's record. More than six million people currently receive Social Security survivors benefits. How it works: You can earn up to four Social Security credits each year. In 2008, for example, you earn one credit for each $1,050 of wages or self-employment income. When you have earned $4,200, you have earned your four credits for the year. The number of credits you need to have earned for your survivors to receive benefits depends on how recently you worked at the time of death. For example, if you have worked for only one and a half years in the three years prior to death, benefits can be paid to your minor children and your spouse who is caring for them. No one needs more than 40 credits (10 years of work) to be eligible for any Social Security benefit. The benefit may be more than you think. In 2008, the average survivors benefit for a widowed parent and two children is $2,243 per month. The best way to put a dollar figure on what the estimated benefit amount would be for your family is to go online. At www.socialsecurity.gov/survivorplan you will find three different calculators that will help you estimate how much your family might be eligible to receive. You also will find a detailed explanation of survivors benefits. To learn more, visit www.social-security.gov.