Social Security is a vital program in our society. It supports people with qualifying disabilities and supplements income for retired persons. There are, however, challenging concepts and subtle nuances about Social Security that make it difficult to understand. Here are answers to some frequently asked questions.
How do I qualify?
You qualify for Social Security by earning a certain number of credits. A credit is earned by making $1,260, as of 2016. The amount needed to earn a credit could increase as wages increase. The number of credits needed to qualify for benefits changes by benefit type, but no more than four credits can be earned in one year.
Disability, survivor and retirement benefits all need a different amount of credits. No program needs more than 40 credits in order to qualify.
How is it calculated?
Your 35 highest earning years are taken into account when calculating your Social Security Retirement benefit. If you worked for 35 years but were laid off for two of those years, I recommend working two more if you are able.
If you stay with 2 of 35 years with no income, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will count those years as zeros. This will lower your average earnings. For example, if you earned $60,000 for 35 years, but $0 for those two, your average earnings are lowered to $56,570. That’s a huge difference.
How do I apply/begin benefits?
There are three ways you can apply for benefits: online, in person, or over the phone. You have to wait until three months before your 62nd birthday to apply for benefits (if you plan on receiving benefits starting at 62). You shouldn’t apply for benefits more than four months prior to when you start receiving benefits.
Can my spouse receive my benefits?
If you haven’t worked, haven’t earned enough credits to qualify, or your spouse earned more than you, you are eligible to receive benefits on their earnings record. There are only two requirements – you must be at least 62 years of age and your spouse needs to be collecting retirement or disability benefits.
If you are under 62, you can receive benefits using your spouse’s record if a child dependent also qualifies.
Can I withdraw my application and reapply later?
You can withdraw your application for benefits. However, you have to do so within 12 months of that you began receiving benefits, and you also have to pay back every cent you received in benefits up to that point.
How do my benefits change by my age?
Your retirement benefit changes dramatically, depending on when you start receiving in reference to your full retirement age. Your full retirement age is broken down into the corresponding chart. For example, if your full retirement age is 67 (born after 1964) and you start receiving benefits at 62, you will see a 30% reduction in benefits.
It’s simple. If you begin receiving benefits before your full retirement age, you will not receive your full monthly benefit. However, if you wait until after your full retirement age, you will see an increase in your monthly benefit. For every year you delay after full retirement age, you receive an increase of 5.5% to 8% per year, depending on when you were born.
Social Security can be very confusing. With this program playing such an important role in people’s retirement, it is important to know how it works. Hopefully, after reading this post, you now have a better idea of how Social Security functions, and when receiving benefits may be appropriate for your own situation.
Note: This article is for informational purposes only. Please consult with a financial professional for advice and guidance on your personal situation.