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FICA-able employment status when NRA?

FICA-able employment status when NRA?

Old Jan 18th 2014, 10:50 am
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Default FICA-able employment status when NRA?

I just managed to create an online account with SSA to check my SS record. It allowed me to download an up to date social security statement. I was quite surprised because it was different than I expected. Luckily, I just, by a hare's breadth, had 40 quarters. However, some years I worked are not showing. I am wondering whether this is because during those years I was non-FICA status? Details below:

Summer 1990- Summer 1996 I was on F-1 status (grad student).

Between 1992 and 1996 I was earning an assistantship, and in the summers worked full-time as a pool manager. The latter was somehow managed via some loophole that allowed int'l students to work off-campus due to financial need.

Summer 1996 - summer 1997 working F-T via EAD/Optional Practical Training (I graduated summer 1996)

Summer 1997 onwards working F-T on H-1B

What is confusing me is that my earnings record on my SS statement starts in 1997.

Is that because until 1997 I was working on a student-related status (my first year of employment on OPT was looked at as a student internship)?

My tax status during this time was non-resident alien, eventually switching to resident alien ("resident" for tax purposes, not immigration "resident")

There are one or two other details that may be relevant but I don't want to make this too long.

Does anyone have any clues?
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Old Jan 18th 2014, 11:07 am
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Default Re: FICA-able employment status when NRA?

Originally Posted by dunroving View Post
I just managed to create an online account with SSA to check my SS record. It allowed me to download an up to date social security statement. I was quite surprised because it was different than I expected. Luckily, I just, by a hare's breadth, had 40 quarters. However, some years I worked are not showing. I am wondering whether this is because during those years I was non-FICA status? Details below:

Summer 1990- Summer 1996 I was on F-1 status (grad student).

Between 1992 and 1996 I was earning an assistantship, and in the summers worked full-time as a pool manager. The latter was somehow managed via some loophole that allowed int'l students to work off-campus due to financial need.

Summer 1996 - summer 1997 working F-T via EAD/Optional Practical Training (I graduated summer 1996)

Summer 1997 onwards working F-T on H-1B

What is confusing me is that my earnings record on my SS statement starts in 1997.

Is that because until 1997 I was working on a student-related status (my first year of employment on OPT was looked at as a student internship)?

My tax status during this time was non-resident alien, eventually switching to resident alien ("resident" for tax purposes, not immigration "resident")

There are one or two other details that may be relevant but I don't want to make this too long.

Does anyone have any clues?
Social Security is based only on the quarters that you paid FICA. If you were exempt from FICA, those years won't be used towards social security benefits even if you paid income tax. I would have thought that when you were a pool manager, FICA should have been withheld but maybe that wasn't the case.

Last edited by Michael; Jan 18th 2014 at 11:10 am.
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Old Jan 18th 2014, 11:23 am
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Default Re: FICA-able employment status when NRA?

Originally Posted by Michael View Post
Social Security is based only on the quarters that you paid FICA. If you were exempt from FICA, those years won't be used towards social security benefits even if you paid income tax. I would have thought that when you were a pool manager, FICA should have been withheld but maybe that wasn't the case.
That's what I was thinking (all of it).

My understanding is that student on-campus employment is FICA-exempt (for USCs as well as internationals). So my assistantship would have been FICA-exempt.

Also, people on F-1 and J-1 visas are FICA-exempt.

FICA-exemption does "expire" for F-1 students after a period of time (I think the SSA wording is to do with if you are in the US "for too long" or something similar). I doubt if that applied to me as I graduated within time.

My thinking, like you, is that my pool job (15 weeks F-T every summer) should have been subject to FICA/SS - though the fact it was arranged via some adaptation of the OPT rules may have made it FICA-exempt. I vaguely recall that I did not pay FICA/SS. If I didn't, but I should have, what would be the situation? (I didn't make any false statements, everything was above board and dealt with between my off-campus employer and the university international office).

My biggest confusion is for 1996. Following graduation, I was working F-T from August as a university prof, using the OPT/EAD route.

I remember in about 1997 or 1998, the payroll office at my university "realised I should have been paying FICA". For almost 12 months I paid higher rates of FICA/SS in order to make up for what I should have been paying. I am wondering whether this has resulted in me only getting credit for that year, and not the year I was "back-paying" for (1996)?

I will be in NC again in May and plan to visit the SSA office but wanted to get as much information as possible as I likely will only be able to go into the office on one occasion.
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Old Jan 18th 2014, 4:43 pm
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Default Re: FICA-able employment status when NRA?

Originally Posted by dunroving View Post
FICA-exemption does "expire" for F-1 students after a period of time (I think the SSA wording is to do with if you are in the US "for too long" or something similar). I doubt if that applied to me as I graduated within time.
5 years, IIRC. At that point you also become resident for taxes, even on F-1 status.
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Old Jan 18th 2014, 9:33 pm
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Default Re: FICA-able employment status when NRA?

Originally Posted by dunroving View Post
That's what I was thinking (all of it).

My understanding is that student on-campus employment is FICA-exempt (for USCs as well as internationals). So my assistantship would have been FICA-exempt.

Also, people on F-1 and J-1 visas are FICA-exempt.

FICA-exemption does "expire" for F-1 students after a period of time (I think the SSA wording is to do with if you are in the US "for too long" or something similar). I doubt if that applied to me as I graduated within time.

My thinking, like you, is that my pool job (15 weeks F-T every summer) should have been subject to FICA/SS - though the fact it was arranged via some adaptation of the OPT rules may have made it FICA-exempt. I vaguely recall that I did not pay FICA/SS. If I didn't, but I should have, what would be the situation? (I didn't make any false statements, everything was above board and dealt with between my off-campus employer and the university international office).

My biggest confusion is for 1996. Following graduation, I was working F-T from August as a university prof, using the OPT/EAD route.

I remember in about 1997 or 1998, the payroll office at my university "realised I should have been paying FICA". For almost 12 months I paid higher rates of FICA/SS in order to make up for what I should have been paying. I am wondering whether this has resulted in me only getting credit for that year, and not the year I was "back-paying" for (1996)?

I will be in NC again in May and plan to visit the SSA office but wanted to get as much information as possible as I likely will only be able to go into the office on one occasion.
Since you got your 40 quarters of credit, I don't think it makes any difference since I believe that benefits are calculated based on the average FICA taxes paid for quarters worked. You'd have 4 quarters less which in theory would reduce your benefits but the 40 quarters that you paid benefits will have a higher average which should increases benefits so it should be a wash.

When you visit the social security office, he'll probably look through each of the years looking to see if you paid more in one year than the maximum amount for that year and if that is the case, I believe he can reallocate the excess to another year if it was allocated for the wrong year. So unless your income exceeded the maximum FICA contributions for the year, I don't think it makes any difference.
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Old Jan 19th 2014, 9:15 am
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Default Re: FICA-able employment status when NRA?

I'm actually surprised they did it correctly in your job, it's really common for employers to do FICA withholding when you're exempt.

Bear in mind that if you are filing as a NRA that means you're still resident where you came from, so you should have been declaring that income to the tax authorities where you came from and paying tax on it there. And claiming a foreign tax credit for the US income tax.

The idea is that you're supposed to file an 8843 with your 1040NR, if there is any FICA withholding you file 843 to get it refunded. The logic behind it is if you get money abroad to pay for your education, e.g. from your parents, it could be subject to income tax so 1040NR/8843 exempts you from income tax basically as you are then only subject to income tax on your US-source income.
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Old Jan 19th 2014, 12:21 pm
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Default Re: FICA-able employment status when NRA?

Originally Posted by Steve_ View Post
I'm actually surprised they did it correctly in your job, it's really common for employers to do FICA withholding when you're exempt.

Bear in mind that if you are filing as a NRA that means you're still resident where you came from, so you should have been declaring that income to the tax authorities where you came from and paying tax on it there. And claiming a foreign tax credit for the US income tax.

The idea is that you're supposed to file an 8843 with your 1040NR, if there is any FICA withholding you file 843 to get it refunded. The logic behind it is if you get money abroad to pay for your education, e.g. from your parents, it could be subject to income tax so 1040NR/8843 exempts you from income tax basically as you are then only subject to income tax on your US-source income.
That's interesting ... I came from the Bahamas, where I worked 1983-1990 which was tax-free, but I am British. All I can (vaguely) recall is that everything I earned in the US from Day 1 went through a university payroll office (and the pool job wages were paid through the payroll office for that employer, nothing "off-record"), and that I paid tax on my wages. I didn't get any income from the UK at that time (I used personal savings, scholarships, assistantships and work to pay my way through college).

I doubt I have any personal record of what my wages and withholdings were back then so I wouldn't be able to check and/or rectify the situation now, even if it did need rectifying. My gut feeling is that I wouldn't end up owing anybody any tax as I paid plenty. If I should have had any sort of refund, then that's too bad for me.
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Old Jan 19th 2014, 12:31 pm
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Default Re: FICA-able employment status when NRA?

Originally Posted by Michael View Post
Since you got your 40 quarters of credit, I don't think it makes any difference since I believe that benefits are calculated based on the average FICA taxes paid for quarters worked. You'd have 4 quarters less which in theory would reduce your benefits but the 40 quarters that you paid benefits will have a higher average which should increases benefits so it should be a wash.

When you visit the social security office, he'll probably look through each of the years looking to see if you paid more in one year than the maximum amount for that year and if that is the case, I believe he can reallocate the excess to another year if it was allocated for the wrong year. So unless your income exceeded the maximum FICA contributions for the year, I don't think it makes any difference.
According to the SSA site (I can't find the link to the exact page at the moment), it's based on earnings not FICA contributions. I guess these will be somewhat related but not exactly. And I also assume it is only based on earnings that were subject to FICA deductions (so not based on any FICA-exempt earnings, because you wouldn't meet the minimum FICA amount to earn a quarter/credit).

I did muck about with the calculator the other day to check the scenario of including the missing year, and the additional year would not make a huge difference (it would be higher, but I think it was only by about $30 a month).

I'm dragged down by the one year where my earnings were < $4k, but if it weren't for that year (assuming I couldn't get credit for the "missing year"), I wouldn't have 40 credits so would have no SS pension at all. So I guess I should be grateful for small mercies.
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Old Jan 19th 2014, 4:16 pm
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Default Re: FICA-able employment status when NRA?

Originally Posted by dunroving View Post
According to the SSA site (I can't find the link to the exact page at the moment), it's based on earnings not FICA contributions. I guess these will be somewhat related but not exactly. And I also assume it is only based on earnings that were subject to FICA deductions (so not based on any FICA-exempt earnings, because you wouldn't meet the minimum FICA amount to earn a quarter/credit).

I did muck about with the calculator the other day to check the scenario of including the missing year, and the additional year would not make a huge difference (it would be higher, but I think it was only by about $30 a month).

I'm dragged down by the one year where my earnings were < $4k, but if it weren't for that year (assuming I couldn't get credit for the "missing year"), I wouldn't have 40 credits so would have no SS pension at all. So I guess I should be grateful for small mercies.
I'm surprised it would be that much. Was that after you moved the back FICA taxes paid from one year to the other or just adding the back FICA taxes paid to the additional year?

If it was after moving it, then it would be worth the effort to see if social security can correct it even if it is only $30 per month.
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Old Jan 19th 2014, 4:49 pm
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Default Re: FICA-able employment status when NRA?

Originally Posted by Michael View Post
I'm surprised it would be that much. Was that after you moved the back FICA taxes paid from one year to the other or just adding the back FICA taxes paid to the additional year?

If it was after moving it, then it would be worth the effort to see if social security can correct it even if it is only $30 per month.
The calculator doesn't calculate based on FICA taxes but on earnings, so there is no moving of FICA taxes to be done in the calculator. If my hunch about the situation is correct:

[Setting aside the 4 years of 15 wks F-T pool management in 1992-1996, which may or may not have been FICA-exempt]

In 1996 I worked at a university F-T for half the year but no FICA was deducted. At some point in 1997 they (HR/payroll) twigged they had screwed up and asked me to come in. From that point they not only started deducting FICA, they bumped my FICA deductions above what would have been the correct amount, until I had paid up the shortfall, so to speak.

In other words, in 1997 I worked F-T and in that year and/or part of 1998, additional FICA was deducted to make up for what should have been deducted in 1996.

Earnings for 1996 are not showing on my SS statement at all (I believe because the system isn't recognising me as having paid FICA that year - I paid my 1996 FICA in 1997 ...). My earnings for 1997 and 1998 are not greater than I actually earned (so in your scenario, the fact I was paying double-FICA doesn't show as an earnings spike in 1997/1998).

When I used the calculator, I therefore simply added my (approximate) earnings to 1996. I didn't change the earnings for 1997 or 1998 because they were my correct earnings.
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Old Jan 19th 2014, 5:07 pm
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Default Re: FICA-able employment status when NRA?

Originally Posted by dunroving View Post
The calculator doesn't calculate based on FICA taxes but on earnings, so there is no moving of FICA taxes to be done in the calculator. If my hunch about the situation is correct:

[Setting aside the 4 years of 15 wks F-T pool management in 1992-1996, which may or may not have been FICA-exempt]

In 1996 I worked at a university F-T for half the year but no FICA was deducted. At some point in 1997 they (HR/payroll) twigged they had screwed up and asked me to come in. From that point they not only started deducting FICA, they bumped my FICA deductions above what would have been the correct amount, until I had paid up the shortfall, so to speak.

In other words, in 1997 I worked F-T and in that year and/or part of 1998, additional FICA was deducted to make up for what should have been deducted in 1996.

Earnings for 1996 are not showing on my SS statement at all (I believe because the system isn't recognising me as having paid FICA that year - I paid my 1996 FICA in 1997 ...). My earnings for 1997 and 1998 are not greater than I actually earned (so in your scenario, the fact I was paying double-FICA doesn't show as an earnings spike in 1997/1998).

When I used the calculator, I therefore simply added my (approximate) earnings to 1996. I didn't change the earnings for 1997 or 1998 because they were my correct earnings.
Although I agree it is based on earnings, it is based on earnings only that are eligible for FICA deductions. For example, if you earned $200,000 during the year from one employer, $200,000 will not be shown as earnings but a lower amount will be shown which will be the maximum earnings that is FICA taxable.

The question is, did they increase your earnings in 1997 to reflect the back FICA taxes paid? If not, then either those earnings should be increased to reflect the back FICA payment or the earnings should be allocated to 1996.

Usually the SS officer can spot when too much SS is paid during a year when someone changes employers and overpays the maximum and never asked for a refund.

Last edited by Michael; Jan 19th 2014 at 5:12 pm.
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Old Jan 19th 2014, 5:23 pm
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Default Re: FICA-able employment status when NRA?

Originally Posted by Michael View Post
Although I agree it is based on earnings, it is based on earnings only that are eligible for FICA deductions. For example, if you earned $200,000 during the year from one employer, $200,000 will not be shown as earnings but a lower amount will be shown which will be the maximum earnings that is FICA taxable.

The question is, did they increase your earnings in 1997 to reflect the back FICA taxes paid? If not, then either those earnings should be increased to reflect the back FICA payment or the earnings should be allocated to 1996.

Usually the SS officer can spot when too much SS is paid during a year when someone changes employers and overpays the maximum and never asked for a refund.
If I earned $200,000 in one year, I wouldn't be worrying too much about the situation.

My earnings for 1997 were not increased (neither in actuality - my salary wasn't increased - nor in the SS record). That was what I was trying to say in my last post; there is no "spike" in my 1997 and 1998 earnings compared to other years.

What I believe has happened is that payroll deducted additional FICA withholdings during 1997 (possibly also 1998), but my earnings for 1997 and 1998 are the same on my SS record as they'd be if I'd been paying correct FICA (rather than additional FICA).

And my record is showing no earnings for 1996 because the FICA for that year was paid in a later year.

In other words, I'm pretty sure someone has screwed up and that all that additional FICA that was deducted by payroll in 1997/1998 isn't showing in my earnings for any year (not 1996, when I should have paid it but didn't, or 1997/1998, when I did pay it).
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Old Jan 19th 2014, 5:40 pm
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Default Re: FICA-able employment status when NRA?

Originally Posted by dunroving View Post
If I earned $200,000 in one year, I wouldn't be worrying too much about the situation.

My earnings for 1997 were not increased (neither in actuality - my salary wasn't increased - nor in the SS record). That was what I was trying to say in my last post; there is no "spike" in my 1997 and 1998 earnings compared to other years.

What I believe has happened is that payroll deducted additional FICA withholdings during 1997 (possibly also 1998), but my earnings for 1997 and 1998 are the same on my SS record as they'd be if I'd been paying correct FICA (rather than additional FICA).

And my record is showing no earnings for 1996 because the FICA for that year was paid in a later year.

In other words, I'm pretty sure someone has screwed up and that all that additional FICA that was deducted by payroll in 1997/1998 isn't showing in my earnings for any year (not 1996, when I should have paid it but didn't, or 1997/1998, when I did pay it).
It sounds like they screwed up and they should be able to correct it if there is enough documentation either from you or at the social security office.
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Old Jan 20th 2014, 7:59 pm
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Default Re: FICA-able employment status when NRA?

Originally Posted by dunroving View Post
That's interesting ... I came from the Bahamas, where I worked 1983-1990 which was tax-free, but I am British.
If you came from The Bahamas it doesn't matter as there are no income taxes there and the payroll taxes only apply to work physically done in The Bahamas.
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