Unemployment and Social Security? Maybe, Maybe Not!

By Tom Margenau Published: January 27, 2010
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Q: Can I get unemployment benefits and collect Social Security checks at the same time?

A: From the Social Security perspective: sure, why not! From the unemployment compensation perspective: maybe not!

There is no federal Social Security law that prevents you from collecting unemployment insurance and Social Security retirement benefits at the same time. But I'm not so sure what the unemployment folks would tell you. Unemployment laws vary from one state to another. I can tell you that I've gotten e-mails from other readers about this issue in the past. Some have told me their unemployment compensation was reduced when they went on Social Security. And others told me their unemployment benefits were cut off when their Social Security checks kicked in. So, you'll have to check with someone at your local unemployment office to learn about your state's rules.

And here is one other note about Social Security and unemployment compensation. I was assuming you were talking about Social Security retirement benefits. If you were asking about collecting unemployment insurance and Social Security disability benefits — that's a different story. Once again, I'm not aware of any laws that specifically prohibit you from getting unemployment while you're getting disability payments. But I can tell you that Social Security officials are going to seriously review your disability claim — because you're obviously lying to one agency or the other. Think of it this way. To get unemployment, you are telling the state that you are actively looking for work. And to get Social Security disability benefits, you are telling the federal government that you are unable to work because of some physical or mental impairment.

Q: I recently moved to London where I am working for an American corporation. I also do some part-time work for a British company. Prior to this, I spent many years living and working in the United States. I'm concerned about paying taxes in two different government retirement systems. And I'm also concerned about qualifying for benefits someday from the British and/or American Social Security systems. My mom sent some clippings from a past column where you mentioned Social Security tax treaties between countries. Can you elaborate on that?

A: Over the years, the U.S. government has signed Social Security treaties with about 25 foreign governments. Each treaty is different, but essentially all of them are designed to help people like you.

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