Helpful Resources for Seniors Surviving on Social Security
|Written by Chris Hawkins|
SeniorLiving.Org Expert on Senior Care & Assisted Living
THE GOLDEN YEARS MIRAGE
For many seniors, the “Golden Years” is just a mirage. In your working life, the idea of retiring, living comfortably and enjoying yourself always appeared on the horizon like an oasis in the desert. Once you got there, however, you found only struggle.
Inflation, low-wage jobs, health issues, improper planning, the recent financial crisis or dozens of other reasons now find you just scratching by rather than savoring this time comfortably.
Like many seniors in this country, you are in survival mode. Some of you have been barely surviving for years. Others, like the 10,000 Americans who turn 65 every day, are just now facing the reality.
Many of you are surviving on only Social Security month-to-month.
THE RETIREMENT REALITY
Let’s be clear: many retirees or soon-to-be retirees are in fine shape. They’ve worked at good-paying jobs for decades, saved through 401Ks, and have their homes paid off.
But there’s another group in a much different situation. Consider that nine out of ten Americans 65 and older are receiving Social Security. And the average monthly Social Security benefit for those 65 and older is $1,262. Many receive much less than that.
According to the Social Security Administration, 53% of married couples and 74% of those unmarried receive 50% or more of their income from Social Security.
Further, 23% of married couples and about 46% of unmarried seniors rely on Social Security for 90% or more of their income.
The median income for seniors 65-74 is $36,320; if you’re over 74 that drops to $25,417 according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And 12% of those 65 and older are living at the poverty level.
Here are some other eye-openers from the latest Employee Benefit Research Institute Retirement Confidence Survey, which surveys both workers and retirees:
- Only 66% of workers have saved for retirement, down from 75% in 2009
- Nearly 40% of retirees have a problem with their level of debt. As an example, only 52% said they could come up with $2,000 for an unexpected emergency within a month
- 28% of workers who responded said they had less than $1,000 saved for retirement
HOW SENIORS SPEND THEIR MONEY
How does your spending compare with these numbers?
According to The Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics, those 65 and older spend their total household income as follows:
- Personal Insurance and Pensions: 5.1%
- Healthcare: 13.2%
- Transportation: 14.2%
- Housing: 35.4%
- Food: 12.4%
- Other: 19.7%
If you are living on government benefits alone, your housing is likely 40% or more of your total income.
In the following sections, we’ll show you literally thousands of programs around the country that assist seniors with housing, heating, healthcare, food, taxes, transportation, and much more.
SUPPLEMENTAL SECURITY INCOME (SSI)
If you are receiving Social Security alone, consider applying for SSI. This federal benefit is available to those 65 and older, the disabled and the blind who have limited income and resources.
The average monthly benefit for an individual is $710 (2013) and $1,066 for a couple. Some states add an additional small supplement to these amounts.
You can find the specific requirements here. To schedule an application appointment, call 1-800-772-1213.
You probably wouldn’t be reading this article if your house was paid off, or you didn’t have a rent payment. Bottom line: Housing is your biggest expense. And not only is it a big expense, it’s also a crushing burden for many seniors.
The most prevalent house burden is cost as 40% of senior households had housing costs exceeding 30% of household income. The other housing issues are physically inadequate housing such as overcrowding, major upkeep problems, and a lack complete plumbing.
Many of the senior living options available to retirees can be expensive depending on your needs and where you plan to live. For example, if you are mostly independent but need help with some activities of daily living (ADLs), an assisted living facility is an option. The monthly national average for a stay here: $3,550.
Options for independent seniors abound. These are primarily 55+ communities that offer a number of amenities and living choices from mobile homes to condos to single family homes. At prices ranging from $1,500 to $5,000 a month, these aren’t always options from seniors living solely on Social Security.
Affordable Senior Housing
Finding affordable senior housing may be one of the biggest challenges facing seniors and their loved ones. The largest provider of affordable housing in the country is the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
HUD provides nearly 1 million seniors with housing through its programs including: public housing, multifamily subsidized housing and housing vouchers.
Housing vouchers (formerly known as Section 8) provides rental assistance in the private housing market. These vouchers are linked to specific properties run by local Public Housing Agencies (PHAs).
Multifamily subsidized houses are private homes subsidized by HUD and offered to low income individuals and families for rent. The Section 202 program is provided specifically for the elderly and disabled to enable them to live as independently as possible. These communities typically include services such as housekeeping, transportation, and counseling.
Public housing is rental housing for low income families, seniors and the disabled. Local PHAs manage these properties.
Because of the great demand for these properties, there is often a long waiting list (2-5 years), particularly in urban areas.
Click here for a list of contacts by state for these programs.
You can also search HUD’s Multifamily Inventory of Units for the Elderly and Persons with Disabilities here: Keep in mind that this list was last updated in 2010. It will not reflect the most up-to-date availability.
To learn more about these and other HUD programs, as well as qualifications and application instructions, visit "HUD-Sponsored Senior Housing Programs."
In addition to HUD-sponsored senior housing, some communities have created their own senior residences funded locally. The best way to learn about these housing options is to contact your local AAA.
About 40 million seniors receive help from the nation’s largest health insurance program, Medicare. If you are at least 64 years and 9 months old, you can apply online for Medicare benefits with this online application. You can also apply in person at your local Social Security office or call 1-800-772-1213.
Because Medicare only pays for the first 80% of medical costs, many seniors need additional help paying the remaining 20%, copayments, deductibles or even the Medicare premium itself.
In addition to Medicare, qualifying people 65 and older with limited resources can receive Medicaid. It provides coverage for inpatient and outpatient care, including costs that Medicare does not cover such as nursing home care and personal care services.
Medicaid, however, does not cover prescription drugs, eyeglasses or preventative care. But it can pay Medicare deductibles, the Medicare premium and the charges not by Medicare.
Each state’s Medicaid program is different. To apply, contact your state’s Medicaid program.
The following programs offer a number of ways for seniors to save thousands every year on healthcare costs.
Medicare Savings Program
If you need help paying your Medicare premiums, you may qualify for one of four Medicare Savings Programs.
1) Qualified Medicare Beneficiary (QMB) Program
2) Specified Low-Income Medicare Beneficiary (SLMB) Program
3) Qualifying Individual (QI) Program
4) Qualified Disabled and Working Individuals (QDWI) Program
If you meet certain conditions, these programs may also pay Medicare Part A and Part B deductibles and copayments. And if you qualify for a QI, SLMB or QMB program, you are automatically entitled to Extra Help (see below).
To see income and resource limits and find out how to apply, go to the Medicare Savings Program page.
If you, like many seniors, need help paying monthly premiums, annual deductibles, and prescription drug co-payments, Social Security’s Extra Help program may be able to assist.
The program for Medicare recipients can be worth an extra $4,000 a year if you meet certain requirements. You will pay no premiums, no deductibles, and no more than $6.60 for each drug your plan covers.
Annual income for an individual cannot exceed $17,235 or $23,265 for a married couple. Even if your income exceeds these thresholds, you still may be able to get some help.
Apply online at Extra Help or call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213
The Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) is a Medicare and Medicaid program that provides care to seniors in the home. Some of the services PACE provides include:
- Adult day primary care (including doctor and recreational therapy nursing services)
- Emergency services
- Home care
- Hospital care
- Laboratory/x-ray services
- Medical specialty services
- Nursing home care
- Nutritional counseling
- Prescription drugs
For more information, go to Medicare’s PACE page.
State and Local Programs
In addition to the above, many health-related programs exist at the state and local level. These programs are often funded through the Department of Health and Human Services and the Older Americans Act. Though some programs exist through local funding.
Arizona’s AAA in Maricopa County offers the SAIL (Senior Adult Independent Living) program. SAIL provides services such as home health aides, home delivered meals, home nursing, homemaking services, etc.
Many such state and local programs exist for qualifying seniors. Your local Area Agency on Aging can help you find these services. Click here for an AAA in your community.
Health Insurance Counseling
Another big issue for seniors across all socioeconomic levels is resolving health insurance claims, understanding bills, and simply filing for benefits. It’s complicated and bewildering.
To help seniors, the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) offers local counseling and assistance to people with Medicare. Each state has its own counseling program, often listed under a different name. For example, the Old Dominion state has the Virginia Insurance Counseling and Assistance Program (VICAP).
“That’s [VICAP] one of our most popular services,” says Elyse Thierry, publicist for the Jefferson Area Board for Aging, which serves Charlottesville, VA along with a number of outlying rural areas. “It’s not just for people who can’t afford help. We’ve had doctors come in confused about their medical bills.”
Trained VICAP volunteers assist seniors with billing statements, resolving claims and selecting the right health insurance coverage. “People walk in with file folders and looks on their faces of sheer panic. And they walk out with little smiles,” says Thierry.
To find health insurance counselors in your area, search SHIP’s database.
Closing the Prescription Drug Gap
With Obamacare, the prescription drug “donut hole”—the gap in coverage when your total drug costs reach the coverage limit—is gradually being closed. You can see a breakdown and learn more about prescription drugs reading “Medicare, Prescription Drugs & the Healthcare Law.”
If you’ve ever had a toothache, you know what an unbelievably miserable experience it is. Unfortunately for seniors on Medicare, their options for dental care are limited unless enrolled in an Advantage Plan. So it’s not surprising that dental care is a large unmet need for low income seniors.
“Dental care is huge. It’s just a big, big problem,” says Kristin Durso, of Boulder County’s (CO) Aging Services Division. “Dental care is extremely expensive and it’s really tough for seniors to go in and pay for dental care.” Durso cites dental care as one of the county’s biggest unmet needs for seniors.
Seniors do, however, have options thanks to the generosity of dental professionals across the country. The following organizations provide a network of dental services from volunteer dentists, hygienists and labs.
The Dental Lifeline Network (formerly the National Foundation of Dentistry for the Handicapped) provides “access to comprehensive dental services for people with disabilities or who are elderly or medically at-risk.” The national network has 15,000 volunteer dentists and 3,200 volunteer labs. Call 1.888.471.6334.
Dentistry From The Heart (DFTH) is nonprofit that provides “free dental care to those in need.” Every year volunteer dentists and hygienists donate their time for events around the country. Click here to see if there’s an event near you.
Another resource for finding free or inexpensive dental (and medical) care is Freemedicalcamps.com.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
There are nearly 48 million Americans on food stamps also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). It is the country’s largest food safety net.
Nine percent of SNAP benefits go to seniors. But only one-third of eligible seniors are receiving benefits according to The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC). There are several reasons for this.
Some seniors have mobility and technological barriers, while for others, there is a stigma (76% of seniors surveyed) attached to receiving benefits. Some mistakenly believe that the benefit amount is too small to bother with. But in fact in 2009, the average monthly benefit for those 60 and older was $102, according to FRAC.
To find out if you may be eligible, go to SNAP’s prescreening tool, an easy-to-use online resource. You can also see the eligibility requirements as well as how much you may receive in benefits, here.
A good starting place to find food assistance programs in your state is at Benefitscheckup.org, a free service of the National Council on Aging. Here you’ll find more than 1,650 public and private benefits programs around the country.
For example, if you’re a California resident, you’d find information on the CalFresh Program, which helps qualifying individuals and families buy food at grocery stores, senior centers and with services such as Meals on Wheels.
Other Food Programs
Other food assistance programs include The Commodity Supplemental Food Programs (CSFP), and the Seniors Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP). The CSFP provides qualifying seniors a monthly food package. Call 1-866-348-6479 to see if your state participates.
The SFMNP provides food coupons for use at farmers’ markets, roadside stands and community programs that grow fruits. Information on your state’s SFMNP program (if they participate) can be found here.
The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) is a federal program that provides low income seniors emergency food and nutrition assistance at no cost. You can pick up foods local food pantries or soup kitchens. To find contacts for your state, go to the Food Distribution Programs page.
Finally, you can call The National Hunger Hotline (1-866-348-6479) to help you find food where you live. They also have a search tool to help you find food options in your area.
Getting to the doctor, the grocery store and other necessities is crucial for seniors to remain independent. But maintaining a car is not a possibility for many whether due to cost or physical disability. Transportation is particularly acute for rural residents who may live miles from the nearest store, doctor, or pharmacy.
In addition to public options (bus, metro, etc.), many communities provide free or reduced rate transportation options to seniors and the disabled. Local senior centers, Area Agencies on Aging, and faith-based volunteer driver programs are just some of the sources of senior transportation.
For help finding transportation resources in your area, call 800-677-1116 or click on Eldercare Locator.
To find public transportation options in your area, go to the American Public Transportation Association.
OTHER WAYS TO LOWER YOUR EXPENSES
Learning how to get control of your bills with a budget is one of the best things you can do for yourself financially. Daily Money Management (DMM) programs provide financial assistance to seniors who need help with:
- Paying bills
- Negotiating with creditors
- Balancing a checkbook
- Avoiding scams and fraud
There are a number of DMM providers, some for-profit and some non-profit such as the AARP Money Management Program. This programs “offers daily money management service to help low-income older or disabled people who have difficulty budgeting, paying routine bills, and keeping track of financial matters.”
Right now, the program is only in a limited number of communities. Click here to see if there’s an AARP program in your area.
Your local Area Agency on Aging can also help you find a money manager.
You may eligible to receive a lower cost on either home or mobile service. The Lifeline Program partners with nearly 2,000 telecommunications companies across the country to offer discounts directly to consumers. Go to Lifelinesupport.org and/or FCC.gov for more information.
Other inexpensive cell phone options to consider include Consumer Cellular and TracFone.
Tax Preparation Assistance
Did you know there’s a tax credit for the elderly? That you can deduct some of your medical expenses? That you can you deduct assisted living expenses? If you don’t know the answers, the IRS certainly does. And they’re here to help…no really!
IRS-certified volunteers provide free tax help to qualifying seniors with the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) Programs.
VITA volunteers “provide free basic income tax return preparation with electronic filing to qualified individuals [those making $51,000 or less] in local communities.” TCE offers free tax help, specializing in those 60 and older.
For more information on these programs and others, visit the IRS.
The AARP offers a Tax-Aide counseling program. For more information, visit the AARP's website or call 1-888-227-7669.
Property Tax Exemptions
If you are a senior homeowner, you may be entitled to a property tax exemption or a reduction in the tax assessed value of your home.
For example in Colorado, those 65 and older can exempt 50% of the first $200,000 of actual value of the residence. The state also has a property tax deferment that allows seniors to defer property taxes until the property is sold, rented or the owner dies.
These exemptions vary by state and community. Contact your state or county tax division to find out the details.
Home Heating and Cooling Help
The Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIEAP) is federally-funded program to help low income households with their energy bills. The program operates in all 50 states, the District of Colombia, Indian tribes and all U.S. territories. LIEAP provides assistance in the following ways:
- Bill payment help
- Energy crisis help
- Weatherization and energy-related home repairs
Families who have received weatherization services have reduced their annual energy bills by an average of $437.
To find out more information on your state’s LIEAP program, go here. You can also call 1-866-674-6327.
Another program is the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP). This “enables low-income families to permanently reduce their energy bills by making their homes more energy efficient.” The weatherization improvements provided add up to an average energy bill savings of $437 a year.
Apply for weatherization assistance here.
Many communities across the country have free or low cost legal service providers to assist seniors and those with low income. The services provided vary by organization but may include help with:
- Problems with Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, SSI, and other government benefits
- Living wills and power of attorney
- Consumer debt problems including bankruptcy, collections, and repossession
- Housing issues such as foreclosures, landlord/tenant issues, etc.
- Family law
Click here for the National Legal Resource Center’s listing of non-profit legal service providers by state.
Legalhotlines.org also has a listing of senior legal resources by state.
Updated: May 17, 2013
Comments Comments... Read them below.
|Joe Loomis On Jan 24, 2015
My name is Joe Loomis I've investigated many avenues and resources but have not found all the answers to how and if the state or federal goverment pick up any expense. Can you help me with this investigation, thanks Joe Loomis.
|carmen logan On Jan 15, 2015
nice page. I live in Germany now. I had cancer 2001. My son and grandkids are still in the USA. I save every penny to see my grandkids 5 and 6. Is there any financial help I can get, while I visit, to keep the cost reasonable?
|Concerned Daughter On Jan 14, 2015
My parents are NC residents, both over 65 living on SS income. Their total combined monthly income is 2401. They spend 845 per month on medical expenses (Medicare, medicine, supplement ins) leaving 1556 for EVERYTHING else. I have not found any programs that will help them because they all consider their gross income not their actual income after their medical is paid. I am doing everything I possibly can to help supplement their food supply and pay for car repairs, etc... I just refuse to believe that they can't get some type of help... They worked all their lives and would have been fine if they had not lost all their savings after the market crashed post 9/11. Open for any suggestions on ways I can get them help to improve their quality of life.
|Edward On Jan 10, 2015
$104 raise? If you qualify for food stamps or Trail Card, inquire if your state will subsidize your Part B Medicare. Oregon does it. Used to be it had to be paid back from estate, but that's been rescinded. If you don't check it out, you don't get any help.
|Gloria On Dec 30, 2014
I say the "government" should just write us a check for SS in one lump sum and this way we don't have to share our hard earned money with those who have never worked! I have worked the last 40 years of my life so that I can finally live. I didn't live just to be able to work! I should be able to live the rest of my life without having someone tell me how much a month I should get. It's my money.
|angelfire1712 On Dec 19, 2014
when you retire..all hell breaks loose. It's suppose to be easier but look at the above article. Look at all of the hoops and loops, reams of paper and documentation, income limits, exceptions to the rules...my god, it would make an average 35 year old run screaming from the room but this is how we treat the elderly in this country and come election time...we pat the reitirees on the head and tell them how good they have it. I really wished I had been born in Denmark...golden years my eye. And after this recession...and the low paying wages in this country take hold...more nightmares will appear down the road. Highschool and college courses should include a lesson on what they have to expect once they reach 65...it ain't pretty. Aarp...that's just rich people displaying their American dream...it's not the average guy. Sure they keep shouting NO to taking their medicare away from them...but they're the elite with no qualms on affording an 80/20 program...and they're running the show. Thanks Aarp (I'm being sarcastic).
|jodee Thelen On Dec 9, 2014
Thank you for listing all this resources. The blog is helpful to!
|Sherry On Nov 28, 2014
Any able-bodied ladies on here on gov't income, relocatable to a warm climate in USA with a good driving record? Family of 3 senior adults (2 women, one man) needs able-bodied woman with gov't income to do 15 hrs weekly of household-related work in exchange for private room (shared bath). We are currently in PA but soon relocating to Myrtle Beach. No obligation. Hopefully we can help each other.
|Michelle On Nov 14, 2014
My mother is 74 and lives off her social security. Ites after the first and her rent is always late and she has to pay a late fee. Is there any laws here in Florida where she would not have to pay this. She lives in a trailer park?
|Dorothy ripton On Oct 29, 2014
I would like for Seniors on Social Security, be able to pay their rent from their Social Security without being charged a late fee. How to make this a law?
|Elizabeth Torres On Sep 17, 2014
Your articles sound great but! i did try one and it didn't work. I am 68 and trying to keep healthy , i work and i am very active what i don't understand about paying premium for SS as we retired, what was taken out of our pay checks and had accumulated interest over the years do we not received the interest earn. and why do we have to pay for any of the Premium fees that are deducted from our SS check.? I JUST DON'T UNDERSTAND THIS...
|Mirna On Sep 13, 2014
I'm 61 & moved to mainland after living in Hawaii for 14 yrs, the results of a devastating divorce, worked very hard to make it there but economically life is too expensive for low ie people to survive. I just started researching & I find your article very informative and realistic of the situation for us getting older. I would like to find an alternativemunity where I can have my own garden, a pool, gym, Is there such a thing out there? Thank you & Aloha
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|Mary Crelia On May 29, 2014
Sold my house for $30,000 do I pay IRS any taxes on the sale ... Live on SS MONTHLY ...Do not ie taxes ... 70 years old
|Connie On May 1, 2014
living on social security after having been cheated out of ex husbands military retirement at his passing even thou he paid the premiums for me to have because we did not say we were divorced. Up to my arse in bills and got a whole 15.00 per month from snap...gee maybe I can make a lb of bacon, a few tomatoes and a loaf of bread last a month
|Mildred Connolly On Feb 4, 2014
I am a retired senior on social security & Medicare with multiple medical issues. For those reasons I need to move from my apartment in Nevada to be near my son in Vermont. Are there any resources available to help defray the moving costs, such as a loan or other? My son is financially unable to help. Thanks, Milly
|lynda On Aug 19, 2013
Well, that didn't help at all. Not what I was looking for.