Social Security’s retirement benefits
Social Security benefits last as long as you live and increase with the cost of living. These benefits, including Medicare, provide a foundation on which to build a financially secure retirement. Savings and pensions are the other two legs of the stool for your retirement plan.
The Social Security benefit programs are “entitlement” programs. This means that workers, employers and the self-employed pay for the benefits with their Social Security taxes. The taxes that are collected are put into special trust funds. You qualify for these benefits based on your work history (or your spouse or parent). The amount of the benefit is based on these earnings. Fact Sheet * a right to benefits specified especially by law or contract — a government program providing benefits to members of a specified group [those who paid taxes into it] also : funds supporting or distributed by such a program Merriam-Webster *
A secure, comfortable retirement is every worker’s dream, especially now that we’re living longer, healthier lives, we can expect to spend more time in retirement than our parents and grandparents did. Achieving the dream of a secure, comfortable retirement is much easier when you plan your finances.
Social Security’s Planning Tools
- Retirement Benefits Publication 10035
- What is your retirement age?,
- Use the benefit calculators to test out different retirement ages or future earnings amounts,
- More about Social Security programs,
- What happens if you work after you retire?, and
- How do certain types of earnings and pensions can affect your benefits?
- Retirement options,
- How members of your family may qualify for benefits,
- How to apply for benefits and what supporting documents you’ll need to furnish, and
- Apply for retirement benefits.
- Retirement Check List # 10377
What if you work in two or more different Countries?
International Social Security agreements, often called “Totalization agreements,”
have two main purposes.
- First, they eliminate dual Social Security taxation, the situation that occurs when a worker from one country works in another country and is required to pay Social Security taxes to both countries on the same earnings.
- Second, the agreements help fill gaps in benefit protection for workers who have divided their careers between the United States and another country.
Consumer Links & Resources
Nolo Press Social Security, Medicare & Government Pensions – Get the most out of your retirement and Medical Benefits.
Cost of Living Increase socialsecurity.gov/
Spousal Benefits socialsecurity.gov/
If your self employed – how to pay your premiums – taxes publication # 10022
Understanding the Benefits # 10024
- Set up an ONLINE Social Security Account - You also need it to get enrolled in Medicare Parts A & B
- Self Employed & Social Security # 10022
Steve's Social Security Video's explaining how to use and benefit from these pages
- Optimum Age to start taking social security retirement
- Survivor Death Benefits Social Security SSI SSDI
- Social Security Retirement Benefits Maximize age 62 or 70?
- How are Social Security retirement benefits taxed
- reduced Social Security retirement Benefits if you are working
- Story of Medicare - Timeline
History of Medicare
The longer you hold off on taking your Social Security, you get an 8% increase in your check. Then you will also get cost-of-living increases. If you continue to work, that would increase your benefits too. See the official Social Security publications to the right or scroll down if you’re on a smart phone, see also the calculators & bibliography below. Our VIDEO explanation of this page.
Don’t forget about Medicare @ 65
If you plan to delay receiving benefits because you’re working, you’ll still need to sign up for Medicare three months before reaching age 65. If you don’t enroll in Medicare medical insurance or prescription drug coverage when you’re first eligible, it can be delayed and you may have to pay a late enrollment penalty for as long as you have coverage. You can find more detailed information about Medicare here or scroll down and see general brochures & videos.
Links & Resources
Terry Savage.com Social Security – Still have mortgage?
Dave Ramsey – Take Social Security early?
Suze Orman – Optimum Age to retire
Social Security Strategies: How to Optimize Retirement Benefits Book the authoritative source on Social Security claiming strategies, Social Security benefits are the largest retirement asset for the majority of Americans. Yet most decide when to begin benefits without advice. this book is a primer for enhancing lifetime income and minimizing the risk of running out of savings in retirement. cut through the maze of rules governing Social Security and will equip you with the information and heuristics you need to offer quality advice about Social Security
Each year we review the records for all working Social Security recipients. If your earnings for the prior year are higher than one of the years we used to compute your retirement benefit, we will recalculate your benefit amount. We pay the increase retroactive to January the year after you earned the money.
Higher benefits can be important to you later in life and increase the future benefit amounts your family and your survivors could receive.
Note: If you receive survivors benefits, the additional earnings could help make your retirement benefit higher than your current survivors benefit.
How much can I earn and still get benefits?
If you are younger than full retirement age and make more than the yearly earnings limit, your earnings may reduce your benefit amount. (Full retirement age is 66 for people born between 1943 and 1954. Beginning with 1955, two months are added for every birth year until the full retirement age reaches 67 for people born in 1960 or later.)
- If you are under full retirement age for the entire year, we deduct $1 from your benefit payments for every $2 you earn above the annual limit. For 2018, that limit is $17,040.
- In the year you reach full retirement age, we deduct $1 in benefits for every $3 you earn above a different limit. In 2018, the limit on your earnings is $45,360 but we only count earnings before the month you reach your full retirement age.
Note: If your earnings will be over the limit for the year but you will be retired for part of the year, we have a special rule that applies to earnings for one year. The special rule lets us pay a full Social Security check for any whole month we consider you retired, regardless of your yearly earnings.
When you reach full retirement age:
Beginning with the month you reach full retirement age, your earnings no longer reduce your benefits, no matter how much you earn. We will recalculate your benefit amount to leave out the months when we reduced or withheld benefits due to your excess earnings.
If you are working outside the United States
If you work outside the United States, the rules for receiving benefits while you are working are different. For more information, please read Work Outside the United States.
When you should contact us
If you are not already receiving benefits, be sure to contact us at the beginning of the year you reach full retirement age. Even if you are still working, you may be able to receive some or all of your benefits for the months before you reach full retirement age. SSA.Gov
Use our Retirement Age Calculator to find your full retirement age based on your date of birth.
Use our Retirement Earnings Test Calculator to find out how much your benefits will be reduced.
What counts as earnings:
When we figure out how much to deduct from your benefits, we count only the wages you make from your job or your net earnings if you’re self-employed. We include bonuses, commissions, and vacation pay. We don’t count pensions, annuities, investment income, interest, veterans, or other government or military retirement benefits.
Your benefits may increase when you work:
As long as you continue to work, even if you are receiving benefits, you will continue to pay Social Security taxes on your earnings. However, we will check your record every year to see whether the additional earnings you had will increase your monthly benefit. If there is an increase, we will send you a letter telling you of your new benefit amount.
When you’re ready to apply for retirement benefits, use our online retirement application, the quickest, easiest, and most convenient way to apply.
If you need to report a change in your earnings after you begin receiving benefits:
If you receive benefits and are under full retirement age and you think your earnings will be different than what you originally told us, let us know right away. You cannot report a change of earnings online. Please call us at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) between 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday, or contact your local Social Security office. SSA.Gov *
Examples: How We Deduct Earnings From Benefits
Not me – regardless of how one defines the word. This is a topic you cannot wait to focus on until you reach a late age. You have to plan for a long time.
There are four major concepts that override the issue of retiring. You may know these to some extent, but it’s important to refocus on these:
- The earlier you start putting away for your retirement and the more you contribute the better. That will give you the best flexibility when you get older.
- Here is something you know – people are living longer and are healthier for longer periods of time. Whatever you think is “sufficient” savings, think more.
- Because people are living longer and healthier lives, they are working longer. When I was young everything focused on the age of 65 when one retires. That is when Medicare and Social Security kicked in. People now think 65 is nothing and many people I know are working way past that age. My favorite writer said he was hanging it up when he was 87 years old. Broke my heart. He still writes a column occasionally. Like him others may be working a little less hard and taking more vacations. But if you can, there is good reason to continue working. As a professional, most of the people I know are more skilled and knowledgeable than they were 10-15 years ago. They are wiser and more experienced. They have irreplaceable skills. Many may want to keep busy and stretch out their retirement savings. Remember what happened to Bear Bryant, the famous Alabama football coach? They finally got him to retire and he was dead six months later. The bottom line is the longer you can postpone tapping your retirement assets, the better.
- Investment advisors focus on creating lots of savings. When thinking of retirement, you must likewise think of outflows. Most people think of not having a house payment as crucial. It may not make sense in some instances to pay off your house when you have a 3.5% loan, but you are earning 6% on your retirement investments. Minimizing other outflows are very important.
Delineating your income can be pretty easy. You have your social security and if you have a spouse theirs also. But then you must net that against what you must pay for your Medicare costs. Your outflows for Medicare B, D and your supplemental can add up and cut into your social security proceeds.
Next, there are the earnings from your pensions. Since most people outside of government are on defined contribution plans (401K, IRA, etc.), you must determine how much you can draw out every year and not run out of money.
That will begin to outline on what you have available for paying for your needs. It is of utmost importance that you analyze what you are going to give up of your current lifestyle and what you want to do when you retire. How often do you hear someone say when they retire they are going to do all that travelling they put off while they were working? Traveling costs lots of money even if you go on the cheap. A suggestion from a very experienced traveler — don’t wait until you retire to travel if that is what you want to do. The sooner you begin traveling the better. You will also learn more about what your reality is for travel during retirement.
Then there are the things you love to do. Baseball, theater, football, Hollywood Bowl concerts, basketball. These things cost a lot and may not fit into your budget if you have no revenue coming in from work. And there are always the big-ticket items such as helping your children or paying for your grandchildren’s private schooling. One person told us when we asked the name of the school his grandchild was attending (and he was funding) – it’s called “Dear Grandparents.”
Here are the major concerns beyond what has already been mentioned above:
- Home expenses – You may have paid off your home loan, but there are still significant outlays. People understand they must pay their home insurance and property taxes. What most people don’t plan for is the constant repairs. It seems like we don’t go a month without having to fix something. That is not considering remodeling or simply updating. Those expenditures can add up and may be out of the question unless you have significant resources set aside.
- Medical expenses – Even if you have all the elements of Medicare coverage including a supplemental plan, you can run into significant out-of-pocket expenses. Then there are dental expenses which can pile up for some people especially as they get older.
- Long-Term Care – The one insurance I tell people they should get is Long-Term Care. Almost everyone will have extensive care expenses near the end of life. We are fortunate to have a plan wherein we made payments for 10 years and are now paid up. Those plans are no longer available. You need to plan for this insurance or you will need to have large sums of money in your retirement plan.
- Loss in Asset Value – Many people experience the anxiety of thinking they are running out of money even if they are not. It is common. I had a client with $15 million in municipal bonds who acted as if she was going to be on the street the next day.
There will always be market fluctuations. It is easier to be patient with a downturn if you are still producing income. When the value of your retirement assets drop 15% because of a normal downturn in the market and you are retired — hysteria may set in.
If you figure you are going to have that happen twice during a retirement period of 20 years and plan for it early on, the anxiety is likely to be less. Most people think their portfolio is going to always be going up and that is not how markets work.
People often do not have a choice about retiring. They may work at a company or firm that has mandatory retirement even though that is less common today. Or there may be a medical condition causing retirement.
My suggestion is that you sit down and make two lists. One of what you believe your inflows are going to be (pensions, social security, rental income, etc.) and your outflows (realistic monthly expenses). Then take those to a professional who can analyze what you have included. The earlier you do this the better. If you are thinking of retiring in two years you may get an eye opening experience and decide to work two additional years. To pay a professional to analyze this instead of flying blind may be a money well spent.
You can then focus on what you are going to do when you are not working. A friend told me he has had friends retiring recently and everyone ninety days in says to him “I don’t know why I retired; I am bored to death.” That is another discussion entirely.
- A widow/widower — full benefits at full retirement age (currently age 65), or reduced benefits as early as age 60.
- A disabled widow/widower — as early as age 50
- A widow/widower at any age if he or she takes care of the deceased’s child who is under age 16 or disabled, and receiving Social Security benefits
- Unmarried children under 18, or up to age 19 if they are attending high school full time. Sometimes benefits can be paid to stepchildren, grandchildren, or adopted children
- Children at any age who were disabled before age 22 and remain disabled
- Our Webpage on DAC Disabled Adult Children
- Dependent parents at 62 or older ssa.gov/survivors *
Government Pension Offset if survivor had pension not covered by Social Security Publication 10007
How Social Security Can Help You When A Family Member Dies Publication 10008
What You Need to Know When You Get Retirement Or Survivors Benefits Publication 10077
How Much Your Survivors Would Receive. SSA Website
Nolo – Social Security, Medicare & Government Pensions – Maximize your benefits
Nolo's Guide to Social Security Disability
We do have a reference copy in our office
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