Q. Our Social Security checks are deposited the 3rd of the month. Are they for the month of deposit, or the previous month?
A. Social Security benefits are always received in the month following the month for which they are due. For example, the benefit you will receive in July is for the month of June.
Q. Your “Social Security Primer” reads: “What workers may not realize is that their payroll taxes entitle their families to survivor’s benefits, providing life insurance protection worth over $400,000.” Can you please explain this?
A. Since 1940, the Social Security Act has provided survivor benefits to widows and young children upon the death of a wage earner. Benefits also are provided to retirement age widows. Since Social Security is gender neutral, widowers also are protected. Dependent children receive Social Security survivor benefits until the child reaches age 18, age 19 if still in high school. A widow (or widower) caring for a dependent child receives a benefit until the youngest child reaches age 16. In 2011, the average Social Security survivor benefit to a widow with two dependent children was $2,403 per month. The value of this survivor protection is estimated as equivalent to a $433,000 life insurance policy. You can read about the full extent of survivor benefit protection at http://www.ssa.gov/pubs/10035.html#family.
Q. Do you have a formula to help my wife and I determine when is the best time to start collecting Social Security benefits?
A. Timing of retirement is a very personal decision. What is important is that it is an informed decision. Early retirement reductions and delayed retirement credits are roughly actuarially fair. That is, over an average lifetime the same value in Social Security dollars is paid whether benefits begin at 62, 70 or any month in between. In making your decision as to when to begin a Social Security benefit, you should consider the Social Security dollars you will need in combination with anticipated retirement income from other savings and assets. An important consideration is whether it is important to you to maximize the amount of your Social Security benefit, especially later in life. For example, if you start receiving your benefits at age 62 and your full retirement age is 67, your benefit will be 30% less than what you would receive if you waited until Full Retirement Age (FRA). And if you wait until you are 70, your benefit will be 32% greater than you would receive at age 66. Another consideration is whether you are single, married or widowed. The survivor of a married couple receives whichever of their two benefits is the larger (reduced if the survivor benefit begins before full retirement age). The decision you make as to when to begin benefits could affect the benefit payable to your surviving spouse. Researchers tell us the odds are 60% that one member of a 65-year-old couple will live to age 90.
Q. I turned 65 and my Social Security check was reduced $144.60 for Medicare coverage. Will my next COLA increase be based on the amount of money I was receiving prior to the Medicare reduction or the amount after the reduction?
A. Social Security Cost-of-Living Adjustments (COLAs) are based on the full Social Security monthly entitlement before the Medicare premium is withheld.
Q. I am still working full time and have not yet applied for Social Security. I would like to know how my continued employment will affect my Social Security benefits. By how much will my benefit be increased for each year I work beyond my full retirement age of 66?
A. First, for each year after your full retirement age that you defer receiving Social Security and up to age 70, your benefit will increase by eight percent. For example, if you wait until you reach age 70 to start Social Security, your monthly benefit would be 32 percent higher than if you had started receiving benefits at age 66. Your benefit also might be higher when your wages for years after age 66 are added to your Social Security earnings record. When you apply for benefits, the Social Security Administration will calculate your initial monthly Social Security benefit based on your highest 35 years of earnings. If your earnings in any of the years you work after age 66 are high enough, these new earnings may increase your benefit as well.
Q. I am 61, in excellent health, make a substantial salary and plan to keep working for 10 (+ or -) years. At what age should I file for my Social Security benefits to obtain the most income over the years from those payments?
A. While this is a difficult question to answer on an individual basis, in general, you may want to consider claiming your Social Security retirement benefit no later than the month you reach age 70. That is the month your benefit reaches its maximum. Delayed retirement credits of 8 percent per year will increase your benefit from the month you reach full retirement age through the last month you are age 69. If you claim benefits at an earlier date, you will receive a smaller payment than if you delay claiming until 70. Delayed retirement credits are the opposite of early retirement reductions. Early retirement benefit reductions and delayed retirement credits are roughly actuarially fair based on average life expectancy. In effect, considering the time value of money, the same dollar value is received whether benefits begin at age 62, at age 70, or any month in between. Earnings over the annual Social Security earnings limitation would limit your option to begin reduced, early retirement benefits. There is no limit on earnings once full retirement age is reached. You may want to begin benefits when you reach full retirement age if you are married and your spouse could be entitled to a benefit based on your Social Security earnings record.
Q. I receive my Social Security payment at the most ill-timed part of the month. Is there any way I am able to possibly change the time I receive my monthly payment to the first of the month, as opposed to the last of the month? It causes a great deal of inconvenience in having to move money around to pay monthly bills.
A. Unfortunately, the huge volume of Social Security payments made each month required the Social Security Administration to establish four payment dates. Policymakers who decided on the current system expected that once regular payments began, beneficiaries would be able to adjust to the schedule. If you are experiencing difficulty, you might wish to see if some of your creditors are willing to alter their billing dates.
Q. Hi, I am a widow. Can I receive my own Social Security benefit before full retirement age (FRA) and then switch to my late husband’s benefit at FRA and receive his full benefit?
A. The answer to each of your questions is yes. As a widow, you have the choice of which benefit to begin first — your own Social Security benefit or your widow benefit. You may switch from one to the other when it is most advantageous for you to do so.
Before applying for benefits, you will want to contact the Social Security Administration and obtain up-to-date estimates of the benefits payable on your own and on your deceased husband’s earnings record. Ask for estimates at age 60, 62, full retirement age and age 70. That information will help you make the decision that is in your long-term best interest.
If you are in the work force, you may begin benefits while continuing to work, but Social Security beneficiaries who are less than full retirement age are subject to an annual earnings limitation. In 2020 the limitation will increase to $18,240. The Social Security Administration must withhold $1 in benefits for each $2 of excess earnings.