How Retirement Benefits Work
Social Security replaces a percentage of your pre-retirement income based on their lifetime earnings. The portion of your pre-retirement wages that Social Security replaces is based on your highest 35 years of earnings and varies depending on how much you earn and when you choose to start benefits.
When you work, you pay taxes into Social Security. We use the tax money to pay benefits to:
- People who have already retired.
- People who are disabled.
- Survivors of workers who have died.
- Dependents of beneficiaries.
The money you pay in taxes isnt held in a personal account for you to use when you get benefits. We use your taxes to pay people who are getting benefits right now. Any unused money goes to the Social Security trust fund that pays monthly benefits to you and your family when you start receiving retirement benefits.
Are You Currently Healthy
Your health status may affect your timing decision, although possibly not in the way you expect. Beneficiaries already struggling with poor health in their early 60s may be tempted to take benefits as early as they can.
Receiving lower payments earlier means you get more benefits over a lifetime if you pass away relatively young. In general, the break-even point falls at about age 80 and 4 months when comparing lifetime benefits starting at 62 with a reduced benefit and starting at 70 with an increased benefit. For those who are currently ill and concerned they wont live to age 80, early benefits may sound like the right call.
But Weston cautions against this: Starting early is a common timing mistake, especially if you think you wont live beyond the break-even age where the larger checks for waiting more than offset the smaller checks you passed up. Westons concern about this strategy is if you outlive the break-even point and are stuck receiving a reduced benefit while also suffering from poor health. Most people dont understand how long theyre likely to live and the risks if they outlive their savings, Weston explains.Be sure to take careful stock of your financial and physical health when deciding when to start benefits.
How To Receive Federal Benefits
To begin receiving your federal benefits, like Social Security or veterans benefits, you must sign up for electronic payments with direct deposit.
If You Have a Bank or Credit Union Account:
- Call the Go Direct Helpline at .
If You Don’t have a Bank or Credit Union Account:
- Direct Express debit card – a pre-paid debit card. Get help by calling the Go Direct Helpline at .
Make Changes to an Existing Direct Deposit Account:
Learn how to make changes to an existing direct deposit account. You also may contact the federal agency that pays your benefit for help with your enrollment.
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You’re Afraid Social Security Will End
Social Security is one of those benefits that’s supposed to be around forever. But the system is in trouble, and benefits may change in the future. That worries people of all ages.
While older peopleparticularly ones in or nearing retirement ageworry about the fate of Social Security, they likely won’t see much impact. Still, if the thought of losing out on Social Security benefits is keeping you up at night, it may be better to start claiming early or at full retirement age rather than to hold off for an increased benefit.
How To Stop Social Security Check Payments
The SSA can not pay benefits for the month of a recipients death. That means if the person died in July, the check received in August must be returned. Find out how to return a check to the SSA.
If the payment is by direct deposit, notify the financial institution as soon as possible so it can return any payments received after death. For more about the requirement to return benefits for the month of a beneficiarys death, see the top of page 11 of this SSA publication.
Family members may be eligible for Social Security survivors benefits when a person getting benefits dies. Visit the SSA’s Survivors Benefits page to learn more.
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It Depends On The Type Of Benefit And Other Factors
Most people think of Social Security benefits as a monthly payment that you start getting in retirement and receive for the rest of your life. In fact, Social Security is an umbrella term for several federal benefits programs. One of the largest government programs anywhere in the world, Social Security is expected to have paid out more than $1 trillion to about 65 million Americans in 2020.
There are three key groups of people who receive Social Security benefits: retired workers, survivors of retirees, and people with disabilities and their families. How long does Social Security last? It depends on the type of benefit.
What To Consider Before Filing For Social Security
A larger benefit check sounds great, but there are tradeoffs, and soon-to-retire folks should consider multiple issues before they decide one way or the other on when to file. If you really want to consider all the avenues, then youll have to think about your finances and longevity two issues that people have a hard time grappling with.
But heres the key tradeoff: you can file early and take a reduced benefit, expecting that a shorter lifespan will mean you receive more now, or you could file at full retirement age or later and claim a bigger check, and eventually live long enough to claim more than the first approach.
Social Security is like longevity insurance, says Brent Neiser, a certified financial planner and former chair of the Consumer Advisory Board at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Its a stream of payments that will not stop throughout your life, so delaying your benefits to keep those payments as large as possible forms a helpful base to your retirement plan.
Neiser urges those who have not saved enough for retirement to use whatever means possible to postpone their Social Security benefits until after their full retirement age to help boost their future income.
You can use personal savings to help bridge the gap, but ideally you should plan to work a little longer , Neiser says.
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Children Can Collect Social Security Benefits Too
Minor children of Social Security beneficiaries can be eligible for benefits. Children up to age 18 and disabled children older than 18 may be able to receive up to half of a parent’s Social Security benefit. The disability must have occurred before the age of 22. As long as the disability prevents the person from working, the adult child can continue collecting the benefit even after the parent has died.
How Should I Decide When To Take Benefits
Consider the following factors as you decide when to take Social Security.
Your cash needs: If youre contemplating early retirement and you have sufficient resources , you can be flexible about when to take Social Security benefits.
If youll need your Social Security benefits to make ends meet, you may have fewer options. If possible, you may want to consider postponing retirement or work part-time until you reach your full retirement ageor even longer so that you can maximize your benefits.
Your life expectancy and break-even age: Taking Social Security early reduces your benefits, but youll also receive monthly checks for a longer period of time. On the other hand, taking Social Security later results in fewer checks during your lifetime, but the credit for waiting means each check will be larger.
At what age will you break even and begin to come out ahead if you delay Social Security? The break-even age depends on the amount of your benefits and the assumptions you use to account for taxes and the opportunity cost of waiting . The SSA has several handy calculators you can use to estimate your own benefits.
If you think youll beat the average life expectancy, then waiting for a larger monthly check might be a good deal. On the other hand, if youre in poor health or have reason to believe you wont beat the average life expectancy, you might decide to take what you can while you can.
A quick note about life expectancy
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How Your Social Security Benefits Are Earned
To be eligible for Social Security benefits in retirement, you must earn at least 40 “credits” throughout your career. You can earn as many as four credits a year, so it takes 10 years of work to qualify for Social Security.
In 2021, you must earn $1,470 to get one Social Security work credit and $5,880 to get the maximum four credits for the year.
Spouses And Social Security
You can claim Social Security benefits based on your spouse’s work record. If claiming spousal benefits provides more, claiming before your FRA on a spouse’s record means you’ll lose even more than claiming on your own recordthe benefit reduction for a spouse is up to 35% while the reduction for claiming your own benefit is up to 30%. For instance, if you’re the spouse of Colleen in the above example and you are the same age, you’d be eligible for only $650 a month at age 6235% less than the $1000 a month you would get at your FRA of 67.
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Your decision to take benefits early could outlive you. If you were to die before your spouse, they would be eligible to receive your monthly amount as a survivor benefitif it’s higher than their own amount. But if you take your benefits early, say at age 62 versus waiting until age 70, your spouse’s survivor Social Security benefit could be up to 30% less for the remainder of their lifetime.
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Theres A Social Security Spousal Benefit
Marriage brings couples an advantage when it comes to Social Security. Namely, one spouse can take what’s called a spousal benefit, worth up to 50% of the other spouse’s Social Security benefit. Put simply, if your monthly Social Security benefit is worth $2,000 but your spouse’s own benefit is only worth $500, your spouse can collect a spousal benefit worth $1,000 — bringing in $500 more in income per month. Just as the benefit based on your own work history is reduced if you claim it early, the same is true for a spousal benefit. That 50% figure is the maximum amount that only a spouse who is at least full retirement age is eligible for. Taking the spousal benefit early at, say, age 62, reduces the amount to as little as 32.5% of the higher earners benefit. If you take your own benefit early and then later switch to a spousal benefit, your spousal benefit will still be reduced.
When Should You Start Social Security
The Social Security Administration does not have a recommended age to start receiving benefits. The decision is entirely up to you. You’ll get a little bit less if you start early, or a bigger benefit if you wait until 70. You can calculate the difference on the SSA website. You may receive a bigger payout over your lifetime if you wait, but that might not be as important as receiving income now, especially if you can no longer work for health reasons. Ultimately, the right age depends on your financial situation, your work, and your health.
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Retirement Age For Those Born After 1937
Year Born 1960 or later 67 years
The system does provide for early retirement at age 62, but also offers higher benefits for people who wait to make their claims after reaching full retirement age. For more information, see Nolo’s article Social Security Benefits: Retirement, Disability, Dependents, and Survivors.
Apply For Retirement Benefits
Starting your Social Security retirement benefits is a major step on your retirement journey. This page will guide you through the process of applying for retirement benefits when youre ready to take that step. Our online application is a convenient way to apply on your own schedule, without an appointment. You can also apply by phone or by appointment at a Social Security office.
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How Does Social Security Know
You might wonder how the Social Security Administration keeps track of your work and your earnings. The answer: It doesn’t. It’s your responsibility to report how much you’ve made.
“The biggest thing to remember if you are working is to notify the Social Security Administration if you’re going to earn wages in excess of the earnings threshold,” says Matt Ahrens, an associate financial advisor at Integrity Advisory Group.
Otherwise, he notes, “They will not be notified of your earnings until you file your taxes the following year. And if you were receiving excess benefits, you can be fined, forced to pay back the excess, or receive lower future benefits.”
Investigate Divorced Spouse Benefits
If youre currently unmarried but a previous marriage lasted at least 10 years, you could qualify for spousal benefits based on your exs work record. The amount can be up to 50% of the workers benefit at his or her full retirement age. If you remarry, however, the divorced spouse benefit stops. You must be at least 62 to get spousal benefits.
If your ex has died and the marriage lasted at least 10 years, you could qualify for survivor benefits of up to 100% of your exs benefit. You can remarry at 60 or older and still receive divorced survivor benefits. Survivor and divorced survivor benefits can begin at age 60, or at age 50 if the survivor is disabled, or at any age if youre caring for your exs child who is under 16 or disabled . People receiving survivor benefits can switch to their own benefit later if thats larger, and vice versa.
Pro tip: Your ex must be at least 62 for you to receive a divorced spousal benefit, but does not need to be receiving his or her own benefit. Survivor benefits are based on what your ex was receiving or would have received at full retirement age. If you start benefits before your own full retirement age, however, the amount you get will be reduced.
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
To people with disabilities
To 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 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
Can I Claim Spousal Benefits If I’m Divorced
You are eligible for dependents benefits if both you and your former spouse have reached age 62, your marriage lasted at least ten years, and you have been divorced for at least two years. This two-year waiting period does not apply if your former spouse was already collecting retirement benefits before the divorce.
You can collect benefits as soon as your former spouse is eligible for retirement benefits. He or she does not actually have to be collecting those benefits for you to collect your dependents benefits.
If you are collecting dependents benefits on your former spouse’s work record and then marry someone else, you lose your right to those benefits. You may, however, be eligible to collect dependents benefits based on your new spouse’s work record. If you divorce again, you can return to collecting benefits on your first spouse’s record, or on your second spouse’s record if you were married for at least ten years the second time around.
Your Social Security Full Retirement Age Plays A Big Role Know It
First things first:Determine your Social Security full retirement age. For people born between 1943 and 1954, full retirement age is 66. It gradually climbs toward 67 if your birthday falls between 1955 and 1959. For those born in 1960 or later, full retirement age is 67.
You can claim your Social Security benefits a few years before or after your full retirement age, and your monthly benefit amount will vary as a result. More on that in a moment.
Can I Keep A Job Even After I Start Collecting Retirement Dependents Or Survivors Benefits
Yes, and many people do just that. People who are past full retirement age may work and earn any amount without losing any of their Social Security benefits.
But before you reach full retirement age, Social Security will subtract money from your benefit check if you exceed a certain amount of earned income for the year . The limit applies only to earnings from work it does not apply to income from such things as savings, investments, pensions, or rental property. In other words, earnings from these sources will not affect your Social Security benefits.
The Social Security Administration has added a special twist for the year in which you reach full retirement age. During the 12 months prior to your birthday, you will lose one dollar of benefits for every three dollars you earn over a set monthly limit . After your birthday, you can earn any amount of money without losing benefits.
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