Social Security recipients will get slightly bigger checks in 2013. The Social Security Administration announced several ways the program will be changed in the coming year. Here are a few Social Security changes workers and retirees can expect in 2013:
Bigger monthly payments.
Social Security payments will increase by 1.7 percent in 2013. That’s considerably less than the 3.6 percent cost of living adjustment (COLA) retirees received in 2012. Social Security payments are adjusted each year to reflect inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers. Previous inflation adjustments have ranged from zero in 2010 and 2011 to 14.3 percent in 1980. The average Social Security check is expected to increase by $21 as a result of the change from $1,240 before the COLA to $1,261 after. Couples will see their benefit payments grow from an average of $2,014 to $2,048.
Payroll tax cut scheduled to expire.
Workers will pay 6.2 percent of their income into the Social Security system in 2013, up from 4.2 percent in 2012. The temporary payroll tax cut expires at the end of December 2012 under current law.
Higher Social Security tax cap.
The maximum amount of earnings subject to Social Security taxes will be $113,700 in 2013, up from $110,100 in 2012. Approximately 10 million people will pay higher taxes as a result of the increase in the taxable maximum.
Increased earnings limit.
Retirees who work and collect Social Security benefits at the same time will be able to earn $480 more next year before any portion of their Social Security payment will be withheld. Social Security recipients who are younger than their full retirement age (66 for those born between 1943 and 1954) can earn up to $15,120 in 2013, after which $1 of every $2 earned will be temporarily withheld from their Social Security payments. For retirees who turn 66 in 2013, the limit will be $40,080, after which $1 of every $3 earned will be withheld. Once you turn your full retirement age you can earn any amount without penalty and collect Social Security benefits at the same time. At your full retirement age your monthly payments will also be adjusted to reflect any benefits that were withheld and your continued earnings.
Maximum possible benefit grows.
The maximum possible Social Security benefit for a worker who begins collecting benefits at their full retirement age will be $2,533 in 2013, up from $2,513 per month in 2012.
Paper checks will end.
The U.S. Treasury will stop mailing paper checks to Social Security beneficiaries on March 1, 2013. All federal benefit recipients must then receive their payments via direct deposit to a bank or credit union account or loaded onto a Direct Express Debit MasterCard. Retirees who do not choose an electronic payment option by March 1 will receive their payments loaded onto a pre-paid debit card. Most people already receive their benefit payments electronically, and new Social Security recipients have been required to choose an electronic payment option since 2011.
More than 56 million Social Security recipients will see their monthly payments go up by 1.7 percent next year.
The increase, which starts in January, is tied to a measure of inflation released Tuesday. It shows that inflation has been relatively low over the past year, despite the recent surge in gas prices, resulting in one of the smallest increases in Social Security payments since automatic adjustments were adopted in 1975.
Social Security payments for retired workers average $1,237 a month, or about $14,800 a year. A 1.7 percent increase will amount to about $21 a month, or $252 a year, on average.
Social Security recipients received a 3.6 percent increase in benefits this year after getting none the previous two years.
About 8 million people who receive Supplemental Security Income will also receive the cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, meaning the announcement will affect about 1 in 5 U.S. residents.
Social Security also provides benefits to millions of disabled workers, spouses, widows, widowers and children.
“The annual COLA is critically important to the financial security of the (56) million Americans receiving Social Security benefits today,” said Nancy LeaMond, AARP’s executive vice president. “Amid rising costs for food, utilities and health care and continued economic uncertainty, the COLA helps millions of older Americans maintain their standard of living, keeping many out of poverty.”
The amount of wages subjected to Social Security taxes is going up, too. Social Security is supported by a 12.4 percent tax on wages up to $110,100. That threshold will increase to $113,700 next year, resulting in higher taxes for nearly 10 million workers and their employers, according to the Social Security Administration.
Half the tax is paid by workers and the other half is paid by employers. Congress and President Barack Obama reduced the share paid by workers from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent for 2011 and 2012. The temporary cut, however, is due to expire at the end of the year.
Some of next year’s COLA could be wiped out by higher Medicare premiums, which are deducted from Social Security payments. The Medicare Part B premium, which covers doctor visits, is expected to rise by about $7 per month for 2013, according to government projections.
The premium is currently $99.90 a month for most seniors. Medicare is expected to announce the premium for 2013 in the coming weeks.
“If seniors are getting a low COLA, much of their increase will go to pay off their Medicare Part B premium,” said Mary Johnson, a policy analyst at The Senior Citizens League.
By law, the increase in benefits is based on the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers, or CPI-W, a broad measure of consumer prices generated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It measures price changes for food, housing, clothing, transportation, energy, medical care, recreation and education.
Over the past year, housing costs have gone up 1.4 percent but home energy costs have dropped by 3.8 percent, according to the CPI-W. Medical costs, which tend to hit seniors harder than younger adults, have increased by 4.4 percent.
Gasoline prices have climbed by 6.8 percent, but much of that increase happened in the past month, so it is not fully reflected in the COLA for Social Security.
To calculate the COLA, the Social Security Administration compares the average price index for July, August and September with the price index for the same three months in the previous year. The price index for September — the final piece of the puzzle — was released Tuesday.
If consumer prices increase from year to year, Social Security recipients automatically get higher payments, starting the following January. If prices drop, the payments stay the same, as they did in 2010 and 2011.
Since 1975, the annual COLA has averaged 4.2 percent. Only five times has it been below 2 percent, including the two times it was zero. Before 1975, it took an act of Congress to increase Social Security payments.
Most older Americans rely on Social Security for a majority of their incomes, according to the Social Security Administration. Over the past decade, the COLA has helped increase incomes for seniors, even as incomes have dropped for younger workers.
From 2001 to 2011, the median income for all U.S. households fell by 6.6 percent, when inflation was taken into account, according to census data. But the median income for households headed by someone 65 or older rose by 13 percent.