Senior Living


Health & Spirit

Social Security and You: Question on Online Application Form Still Confusing Many

Tom Margenau on

About two months ago, I got a question from a reader that I had never received before. (And believe me, that is unusual. I thought there wasn't a single Social Security-related question I haven't been asked a hundred times before.)

The unique question had to do with how to answer a specific question on the online application form for Social Security retirement benefits. I'm paraphrasing, but it essentially asks this: "What month do you want your Social Security payments to start?"

At first glance, the question seems pretty straightforward. For example, the person who sent me that question wanted to wait until age 66 to start her Social Security benefits. And she was turning 66 in November 2017. She asked me if she should answer the "when to start" question by indicating November. Or, she wondered, since she knew that Social Security checks were paid one month behind (in other words, the November benefit is paid in December), should the answer be December?

As politely as I could, I told the lady that the correct answer was November and that she shouldn't worry about when the physical payment was actually sent to her. She should only worry about her first month of entitlement to full retirement age benefits, and again, that would be November, when she turned age 66.

Because no one had ever asked me about that before, I really thought she was overanalyzing the application question. But lo and behold, since that first time a few months ago, I have been asked versions of the same question about 20 or 30 times!

So now I'm wondering if maybe the Social Security Administration recently changed the way it asks that question on its online retirement questionnaire. I don't know how it was worded in the past. But I can now see how the "When do you want your benefits to begin?" question can be confusing. Perhaps they could include something like: "For example, if you want your benefits to begin at age 66, and you are 66 in March, then your answer should be March."

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Another reader recently asked me about the same issue. She wanted to start her Social Security at age 66. She was turning 66 in January 2018. She wanted to know if she should answer by indicating January (when she turns 66) or February (when her first payment would be due). Again, the answer is January.

But then she had a couple follow-up inquiries about other questions on the retirement application form that confused her. They asked her to indicate how much money she thought she would make in 2018. And then they further asked her if she planned to retire at some time during the year -- and if so, when?

She told me that she wasn't sure if or when she would retire during 2018. And because of that, she had no idea how much money she would make during the year. She told me that she was concerned that if she answered the question incorrectly, she might get in trouble or might get her Social Security benefits paid incorrectly.

I told her not to worry. Social Security rules say that once you reach age 66, your earning are no longer a factor in determining your eligibility for Social Security benefits. In other words, she could answer that question by saying she planned to work all year and thought she'd make a million dollars per month. Or she could answer the question by saying she was already retired and wouldn't make a dime in 2018. Either way, because she is 66 in January, she would be due her full retirement age benefit amount for every month of the year.


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