How Do You Apply
You can apply online by using our Social Security Retirement/Medicare Benefit Application to apply for retirement, spouse’s, divorced spouse’s or Medicare benefits.
If you and your spouse apply online for retirement benefits at the same time, or if your spouse applies online after you start receiving benefits, we will check their eligibility for benefits as a spouse. If they are qualified, the online application will automatically include a request for spousal benefits on your record.
If your spouse applies for benefits, they need to be ready to supply the information we need to approve their application for these benefits:
When A Family Member Dies
We should be notified as soon as possible when a person dies. However, you cannot report a death or apply for survivors benefits online.
If you need to report a death or apply for benefits, call 1-800-772-1213 . You can speak to one of our representatives between 8:00 am 7:00 pm. Monday through Friday. You can also contact your local Social Security office.
Wait Until At Least Full Retirement Age
As you can see from the maximum levels above, you can retire as young as 62 and collect Social Security, but your benefits will be reduced by 25% to 30%. For everyone born after 1942, the full retirement age is 66, with two months added for each year after 1954. For those born in 1960 and after, it is age 67.
Its wise to wait until the full retirement age to start collecting to get the highest amount youre eligible to receive. If it makes sense for your life situation, you can wait even longer and become eligible for delayed retirement credits that increase your monthly payment.
If you wait until you’re 70 instead of 62 to collect benefits, you’ll get an extra 8% a year. When you reach 70, the increases stop.
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How Do Benefits Work And How Can I Qualify
While you work, you pay Social Security taxes. This tax money goes into a trust fund that pays benefits to:
Those who are currently retired
People with disabilities
The surviving spouses and children of workers who have died
Each year you work, youll get credits to help you become eligible for benefits when its time for you to retire. Find all the benefits the Social Security Administration offers.
There are four main types of benefits that the SSA offers:
Learn about earning limits if you plan to work while receiving Social Security benefits
Lost Or Stolen Federal Payments
Report your lost, missing, or stolen federal check to the agency that issued the payment. It’s usually one of these paying agencies. If your documentation indicates it’s a different agency, and you need its contact information, look in the A-Z Index of U.S. Government Departments and Agencies.
To get an update on your claim, contact the Treasury Department Philadelphia Financial Center at 1-855-868-0151, option 1.
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Beware The Social Security Earnings Test
Bringing in too much money in earned income can cost you if you continue to work after claiming Social Security benefits early. With what is commonly known as the Social Security earnings test for annual income, you will forfeit $1 in benefits for every $2 you make over the earnings limit, which in 2022 is $19,560. Once you are past full retirement age, the earnings test no longer applies, and you can make as much money as you want with no impact on benefits.
Any Social Security benefits forfeited to the earnings test are not lost forever. At your full retirement age, the Social Security Administration will recalculate your benefits to take into account benefits lost to the test. For example, if you claim benefits at 62 and over the next four years lose one full years worth of benefits to the earnings test, at a full retirement age of 66 your benefits will be recomputed and increased as if you had taken benefits three years early, instead of four. That basically means the lifetime reduction in benefits would be 20% rather than 25%.
Fact #: Social Security Is Particularly Important For People Of Color
Social Security is a particularly important source of income for groups with low earnings and less opportunity to save and earn pensions, including Black and Latino workers and their families, who face higher poverty rates during their working lives and in old age. The poverty rate among Black and Latino older adults is roughly 2.5 times as high as for white seniors. There is a significant racial retirement wealth gap, leading older adults of color to face more retirement insecurity than their white counterparts. Black and Latino workers are less likely to be offered workplace retirement plans, and they are likelier to work in low-wage jobs with little margin for savings. Social Security helps reduce the economic disparities between older white adults and older adults of color.
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How Inflation Should Factor Into Retirement Planning According To Experts
High inflation is something that Americans who are either currently retired or preparing to retire in the next five years need to watch, one retirement adviser said.
“For over a decade, we’ve seen very tame inflation and while social security payments will continue to adjust to meet increased inflation, that alone may not be enough,” Scott Sturgeon, a senior wealth adviser and the founder of Oread Wealth Partners, said. “It opens the door to more planning opportunities and ensuring that as you prepare for retirement, you’re factoring in a variety of different outcomes and making sure you’re prepared for whatever gets thrown at you.”
Here are some expert tips to help protect your retirement plans from the impact of inflation:
No : Delay Starting To Collect Your Benefits
Another way to increase your Social Security benefits is to delay starting to collect them. You can start as early as age 62 and delay up to age 70. Each of us has a “full” retirement age , and for every year beyond that that you delay, your benefits will grow by about 8%. Delay from age 67 to 70 and you’ll get benefits 24% bigger. The table below shows the effect of starting to collect early or late. For example, if your full retirement age is 67 and you start collecting benefits at 64, your checks will be 80% of what they would have been had you started collecting at 67.
Social Security benefits table
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When A Spouse Dies
When one spouse dies, the surviving spouse is entitled to receive the higher of their own benefit or their deceased spouses benefit. Thats why financial planners often advise the higher-earning spouse to delay claiming. If the higher-earning spouse dies first, then the surviving, lower-earning spouse will receive a larger Social Security check for life.
When the surviving spouse hasnt reached their FRA, they will be entitled to prorated amounts starting at age 60. Once at their FRA, the surviving spouse is entitled to 100% of the deceased spouses benefit or their own benefit, whichever is higher.
Fact #: Social Security Benefits Are Modest
Social Security benefits are much more modest than many people realize the average Social Security retirement benefit in January 2022 was about $1,614 per month, or about $19,370 per year. For someone who worked all of their adult life at average earnings and retires at age 65 in 2022, Social Security benefits replace about 37 percent of past earnings. Social Securitys replacement rate fell as the programs full retirement age gradually rose from 65 in 2000 to 67 in 2022.
Most retirees enroll in Medicares Supplementary Medical Insurance and have Part B premiums deducted from their Social Security checks. As health care costs continue to outpace general inflation, those premiums will take a bigger bite out of their checks.
Social Security benefits are also modest by international standards. The U.S. ranks just outside the bottom third of developed countries in the percentage of an average workers earnings replaced by the public pension system.
Social Security is important for children and their families as well as for older adults. Over 6.5 million children under age 18 lived in families who received income from Social Security in 2019. That number included nearly 2.8 million children who received their benefits as dependents of retired, disabled, or deceased workers, as well as others who lived with parents or relatives who received Social Security benefits.
Social Security lifted 1.1 million children above the poverty line in 2020, as the chart shows.
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Strategies To Boost Your Benefits
There are steps that you can take that will go a long way toward helping you maximize your Social Security retirement benefits. You can use a combination of some of the following strategies, some of which have eligibility requirements:
- Work for 35 years
- Check Social Security statement for mistakes
- Stop collecting benefits temporarily
Please note that the Social Security Administration periodically increases Social Security benefits called a cost-of-living adjustment , which adjusts for rising prices . In 2023, Social Security and Supplemental Security Income beneficiaries will receive a 8.7% COLA. The estimated average monthly benefit for retired workers will rise to $1,827 in 2023.
Below are the nine ways to help boost Social Security benefits.
Reduce The Risks Of Unexpected Bills
Parker suggested that Americans could leverage Medicare, the federally-funded health insurance program, to offset rising costs.
“Medicare offers a wonderful savings program for aging seniors,” Parker said. “But, be diligent and do ample research to make sure doctor visits and prescription drug costs are fully covered under any given health insurance plan.
“Too many Americans fail to take this precaution and are hit by an unexpected bill that wipes out their cash flow and savings in the years to come,” Parker continued.
Eligible Family Members Include:
- Ex-spouses, if the marriage lasted for at least 10 years and they have not remarried
- Children under 18, or up to 19 if still enrolled in high school
- Children of any age who were disabled before 22 — that is, not earning more than $1,260 per month in 2020, having a medical condition that results in severe functional limitations and that is expected to last 12 months or longer or result in death
Spouses and ex-spouses must be at least 62 in order to claim benefits, and spouses and children must wait for the worker to begin claiming benefits themselves before they can claim family benefits on their record.
You Can Claim Social Security Benefits Earned By Your Ex
The end of a marriage doesnt spell the end of being able to get get a Social Security benefit based on your former spouses earnings. You can still receive a benefit based on his or her record instead of a benefit based on your own work record, so long as you were married at least 10 years, you are 62 or older, and you are currently unmarried. And guess what: If you’ve made multiple trips to the altar, you can pick which spouse’s benefits you want to claim, based on what’s most beneficial to you.
Like a regular spousal benefit, you can get up to 50% of an ex-spouses benefitless if you claim before full retirement age. And the beauty of it is that your ex never needs to know because you apply for the benefit directly through the Social Security Administration. Taking a benefit on your ex-spouses record has no effect on his or her benefit or the benefit of your exs new spouse. And unlike a regular spousal benefit, if your ex qualifies for benefits but has yet to apply, you can still start collecting Social Security based on the exs record, though you must have been divorced for at least two years.
Note: Ex-spouses can also take a survivor benefit if their ex died after the divorce, and, like any survivor benefit, it will be worth up to 100% of what the ex-spouse received. If you remarry after age 60, you are still eligible for the survivor benefit.
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Brief History Of Social Security
The Social Security program was created by the Social Security Act that President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law in 1935. The first checks went out in 1940. Originally it paid benefits only to workers 65 and older, but in the 1970s the government altered it to allow workers to claim benefits as early as 62. It also instituted annual cost-of-living adjustments to help Social Security keep pace with inflation.
The program has worked fairly well so far, but many people fear for the future, when there will be fewer workers to support a greater number of Social Security recipients. The latest Social Security Trustees’ Report indicates the program’s trust funds would be depleted by 2034, after which it would be able to pay out only about 76% of benefits to retirees and about 92% to disabled workers.
The government has proposed several possible solutions for ensuring the long-term sustainability of the program, but at present no plans have been set. There’s no risk of the program disappearing in the next decade or two, but it’s possible future benefits may not go as far as they do today. That’s why today’s workers need to prioritize their personal retirement savings, so they can cover most of their expenses on their own.
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No : Start Collecting Early At 62
If you live an average lifespan, though, you won’t come out ahead much by delaying, because you’ll get fewer checks, in total, than those who started earlier with smaller checks. If you live much longer than average, though, waiting will have been worth it. But if you have reason to believe you will live a shorter-than-average life, or you simply need the money, go ahead and start collecting early. For most people, that’s a perfectly reasonable thing to do.
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How Much Will Your Divorced Spouse Receive
If you have not applied for retirement benefits, but can qualify for them, your ex-spouse can receive benefits on your record if you have been divorced for at least two continuous years.
If your ex-spouse is eligible for retirement benefits on their own record, we will pay that amount first. If the benefit on your record is higher, they will get an additional amount on your record so that the combination of benefits equals that higher amount.
If your ex-spouse was born before January 2, 1954, and has already reached full retirement age, they can choose to receive only the divorced spouses benefit and delay receiving their own retirement benefit until a later date.
If your ex-spouses birthday is January 2, 1954 or later, the option to take only one benefit at full retirement age no longer exists. If your ex-spouse files for one benefit, they will be effectively filing for all retirement or spousal benefits.
When Should You Start Collecting Social Security Benefits
The earliest you can start receiving your Social Security benefits is at age 62 — though you’ll receive a smaller amount than if you wait. If you do wait until full retirement age , you can collect more money — but over fewer years. However, everyone’s situation is different. The Social Security Administration says “there’s not a single ‘best age’ for everyone and, ultimately, it’s your choice.”
Katherine Tierney, senior retirement strategist of client needs research at financial services firm Edward Jones, suggests asking yourself these questions: When do you want to retire and when can you afford to retire?
Looking at when you can afford to retire depends on the lifestyle you want, as well as where you’ll live when retired, Tierney said. It also depends on how much you’ve got saved for retirement and how much you’ve contributed to your 401. You should also consider if you’ll have other forms of income in retirement, such as a part-time job or a pension. Your health and life expectancy are also other factors to consider.
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What We Mean By Disability
The definition of disability under Social Security is different than other programs. Social Security pays only for total disability. No benefits are payable for partial disability or for short-term disability.
We consider you to have a qualifying disability under Social Security rules if all the following are true:
- You cannot do work and engage in substantial gainful activity because of your medical condition.
- You cannot do work you did previously or adjust to other work because of your medical condition.
- Your condition has lasted or is expected to last for at least one year or to result in death.
This is a strict definition of disability. Social Security program rules assume that working families have access to other resources to provide support during periods of short-term disabilities, including workers’ compensation, insurance, savings, and investments.
Assess Your Cash Flow
Americans who are facing a financial shortfall could make ends meet by increasing their income or reducing their expenses, Joe Buhrmann, a senior financial planning consultant at eMoney, said.
Opting for solutions like part-time work in retirement is one way to shore up your income and protect against potential shortfalls, Buhrmann said. Other options that can help increase income are taking out a reverse mortgage or a lifetime income annuity, he added.
“Market volatility, inflation, and health care needs during retirement underscore the need for working with a financial planner who utilizes technology to deploy a holistic planning approach and helps clients assess income needs, provide resources, and share guidance on how to overcome shortcomings,” Buhrmann said.
If you are looking to prepare for retirement, paying down debt with a personal loan could be a good place to start. To see if this is the right option for you, you can contact Credible to speak to a loan expert and get all of your questions answered.
Have a finance-related question, but don’t know who to ask? Email The Credible Money Expert at and your question might be answered by Credible in our Money Expert column.
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