By Sharon Frankenberg,
Attorney at Law

The Social Security Administration has announced a 1.7 percent increase in benefits for 2015.  This is to adjust for an increase in the annual cost of living.  Nearly 64 million Social Security beneficiaries should have received their increased benefit last month.  More than 8 million of these recipients are Supplemental Security Income (SSI) beneficiaries who received their increased payments on December 31, 2014.  Medicare premiums will stay the same as last year at 1.45 percent of all earnings unless you had an earned income of more than $200,000 as an individual or more than $250,000 for a married couple.  These higher earners will now pay an additional 0.9 percent in Medicare taxes bringing their combined Social Security and Medicare tax rate to 8.55 percent for employees and 16.2 percent the self-employed.  The maximum taxable earnings subject to Social Security taxes in 2015 is $118,500, up $1,500 from last year.

In 2015, the average monthly Social Security benefits payable to all retired workers is $1,328.  The maximum Social Security benefit for a worker retiring at his or her full retirement age is $2,663 per month.  The average monthly benefit to a widowed mother with two children is $2,680.  The average monthly benefit to a disabled worker is $1,165.  The federal standard payment to a disabled individual under SSI is $733 per month.

The Social Security Administration defines “disability” in an individual where he or she is not able to engage in any substantial gainful activity because of a medically-determinable physical or mental impairment that is expected to result in death or that has lasted or is expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12 months.  “Substantial gainful activity” describes a certain  level of work activity and earnings.  One way this is measured is by looking at your monthly earnings.  If your impairment is anything other than blindness, earnings averaging over $1,090 per month (for the year 2015) generally demonstrate substantial gainful activity.  If you suffer from blindness, your earnings must exceed $1,820 a month before you generally demonstrate substantial gainful activity.

If you have applied for Social Security Disability benefits and your application was denied, you can continue on your own or you can hire an attorney or a claims representative to help you appeal the denial.  With certain exceptions, the fee that you will have to pay is limited by law to no more than 25% of your disability award or $6,000 whichever is lower.  The appeals process can take many months or even years to complete but many people do eventually receive benefits so do not give up.