Questions & Answers on Social Security Retirement Benefits
July 24, 2014 by Stephanie Potash
At Gordon Advisors, P.C. we answer a lot of questions about Social Security Retirement Benefits and we put together some of the most common questions we receive. If you have further questions or a unique situation, please contact us at 248 952 0200.
1. How far in advance can I apply for Social Security retirement benefits? You can apply for Social Security retirement benefits when you are at least 61 years and 9 months of age and want your benefits to start in the next three months. Even if you are not ready to retire, you still should sign up for Medicare three months before your 65th birthday.
2. At what age can I begin receiving full retirement benefits? Full retirement age (FRA) was 65 for many years. However, beginning with people born in 1938 or later, that age gradually increases until it reaches 67 for people born after 1959.
3. How can I use the retirement estimator and apply for my Social Security retirement benefits online? To Estimate Retirement Benefits: Use the SSA’s online Retirement Estimator – http://www.socialsecurity.gov/estimator/
To Apply for Retirement Benefits: Use the SSA’s online application. https://secure.ssa.gov/iClaim/rib
4. Both my spouse and I work and pay Social Security taxes. Whose record will my benefits be based on? You will receive benefits based on your work record if you have worked long enough under Social Security (usually 10 years) to be entitled to benefits. However, if the benefit you can receive as a spouse is higher than your own Social Security benefit, you will receive a combination of benefits equaling the higher spouse benefit.
5. If I start my retirement benefits at age 63, is the amount I would get the same as at age 62? Your benefit amount increases as you get closer to full retirement age. The following examples show the percentage your benefit is reduced if you retire at different ages before your full retirement age.
6. What month do retirement benefits begin? If you meet all requirements for entitlement, you can receive reduced benefits beginning with the first full month you reach age 62. Thus, benefits are not paid for the month you reach age 62 unless your birthday is on the first or second day of the month. The SSA will pay benefits in the month following the month they are due. For example, if you turn 62 on July 15, your first month of entitlement is August, and you would receive your first check in September. However, if your birthday is May 1st, then your first month of entitlement is May and you would receive your first check in June.
7. Will my benefit be reduced if I return to work part time and pay less into Social Security? If you are currently receiving benefits and you work, your benefit amount may be lower than it would if you had continued in your previous job paying the maximum. But remember, the SSA will calculate your benefit based on the highest 35 years of earnings. If you do not have 35 years of earnings, they will use all of the earnings on your record. The SSA will factor in an annual earnings total of $0.00 for each remaining year. Therefore, higher lifetime earnings result in higher benefits. If you do not currently receive Social Security benefits and begin receiving benefits at age 62, the earliest possible age you can receive retirement benefits, your benefit amount will always be lower than it would if you had waited until full retirement age.
8. Do I receive credit if I continue to work and elect not to receive benefits? After workers reach full retirement age, they receive special credit–referred to as a delayed retirement credit (DRC)–for each full month before age 70 in which they are eligible for, but do not receive Social Security benefits. Any DRC that a worker earns also applies to the benefits of the worker’s widow or widower. The rate of this DRC varies according to the worker’s year of birth.
9. Can I receive Social Security benefits and unemployment insurance benefits at the same time? Unemployment insurance benefits are not counted under the Social Security annual earnings test and therefore do not affect your receipt of Social Security benefits. However, the unemployment benefit amount of an individual may be reduced by the receipt of a pension or other retirement income, including Social Security and Railroad Retirement benefits.
10. What income counts toward the earnings test limit? Gross wages and net earnings from self-employment count toward the earnings test limit. Gross wages are the amount you earn before any payroll deductions for income tax, Social Security tax, dues, insurance or other employer deductions. If you earn wages and are self-employed, a net loss from self-employment will reduce the income counted towards your earnings test limit. After you retire, you may receive payments for work you did before you started getting Social Security benefits. These special payments may not count toward the earnings test limit.
11. Is there a maximum benefit for families under Social Security? Does this mean once we reach the family maximum, some family members will not get benefits? If you have reached the family maximum benefit, the SSA will divide your maximum family benefit by the number of family members. Thus, each individual gets a benefit. Generally, the maximum family benefit is 150-to-180 percent of your full retirement benefit. Benefits paid to family members, however, will not lower the wage earner’s benefits.
12. If I withdraw money from my Individual Retirement Account (IRA), will it count towards the Social Security earnings limit? Only income you earn from work counts towards the earnings limit. This includes wages or net profit from self-employment. It does not include IRA withdrawals.
13. Can noncitizens receive Social Security benefits? In certain cases, yes.
To qualify for benefits, all noncitizens first must meet the same eligibility requirements as United States citizens. Additionally, a noncitizen or alien worker assigned a Social Security number (SSN) on or after January 1, 2004 must meet additional eligibility requirements. If you are subject to this provision, neither you nor your dependents can qualify for benefits based on your earnings unless you meet one of the following:
• You were assigned an SSN based on your authorization to work in the United States at any time on or after January 1, 2004, or
• You were admitted to the United States at any time as a nonimmigrant visitor for business (B-1) or as an alien crewman (D-1 or D-2).
Once an alien worker has met eligibility criteria, the SSA must have evidence of the lawful presence of the beneficiary. That means before they can pay out benefits for any given month, the SSA must have evidence during that month the beneficiary was either:
• A United States citizen;
• A United States national; or
• An alien lawfully present in the United States.
14. What is the earliest age I can get retirement and Medicare benefits? The earliest age you can get retirement benefits is 62. If you choose to get benefits before full retirement age, they will be reduced. Usually, the earliest age you can get Medicare is 65. You can, however, get it before that if you get Social Security disability benefits.
15. How will my military retirement affect my Social Security benefits? You can get both Social Security benefits and military retirement. Generally, there is no offset of Social Security benefits because of your military retirement. You will receive your full Social Security benefits based on your earnings. However, your Social Security benefit may be reduced if you also receive a government pension based on a job in which you did not pay Social Security taxes.
16. What should I consider when deciding when to retire? Monthly benefit amounts can differ greatly based on retirement age. Factors you should consider include:
• Your current cash needs;
• Your health and family longevity;
• Whether you plan to work in retirement;
• Whether you have other retirement income sources;
• Your anticipated future financial needs and obligations; and,
• The amount of your future Social Security benefits.
17. If my full retirement age is 65 and 10 months, do I have to wait until age 62 and 10 months to start getting reduced retirement benefits?
No matter what your full retirement age is, you can still start your benefits at a reduced rate as early as age 62.