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Social Security and You: More Questions About Benefit Start Dates

Tom Margenau on

Q: I will be turning 70 in July 2018. I wanted to delay starting my Social Security benefits until then. When should I apply? And will I get any retroactive benefits?

A: You should sign up for Social Security benefits two to three months before you want your benefits to start. You said you wanted to wait until age 70, in other words, July, to start your Social Security. So you should get the application ball rolling sometime in April or May. You can do that by calling 800-772-1213 to set up an appointment to file by phone or in person at your local Social Security office. Or you can file online.

You asked about retroactivity. Of course, there wouldn't be any retroactive benefits if you want your benefits to begin when you are 70. You will simply start getting your first check in August. (Social Security checks always come one month behind. So the July check will be paid to you in August.)

But you do have other choices that would involve retroactive benefits. Any Social Security claim filed after full retirement age comes with the option of up to six months of retroactive payments.

So, for example, if you waited until July when you are 70 to file, instead of starting your benefits then, you could say you want to use January as your start date. Then you would get a retroactive check. That's the good news. The bad news is your ongoing monthly benefit rate would be smaller. Instead of getting 132 percent of your basic Social Security benefit that would be payable at age 70, you would get about 128 percent. So you would just have to decide if you want that big back paycheck, or if you'd rather have an extra 4 percent for the rest of your life.

Q: I will be 66 on March 22, 2018. I heard I have to be age 66 for a full calendar month before I can get my first Social Security check. Is this true?

A: No, it's not true. The government has never prorated Social Security benefits. As I've explained in past columns, this can be bad news when a person dies. The law says you must be alive for an entire month to get a Social Security check for that month. So, for example, if someone died on March 22, the March benefit check (payable in April) would have to be returned.

On the other hand, the law does not say you have to be 66 for an entire month to be eligible for full retirement age benefits. So the lack of proration is good news for retirees. Even though you will be 66 years old for only nine days in March, you will get a Social Security check for the whole month. But again, the check is payable in April.

Q: I will be 66 on April 15 Will my first Social Security check be the April check payable on May 1? Or will my first check be for May and payable on June 1?

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A: The correct answer is "none of the above." I'm assuming you want your benefits to begin effective with the month you turn 66. And as I explained in the prior answer, you don't have to be 66 for an entire month to be eligible. So the first check you are due is the April check. But that check will not come on May 1. Instead, it will show up in your bank account on May 16. Let me explain.

For about the first 50 years of the program, Social Security checks were always sent out on the third of every month. But that process was clogging up the mail system on that one day of the month. And since millions of people always had questions about their benefit payment, Social Security office waiting rooms were filled to overflowing during the first week of each month.

So, Social Security planners decided to stagger the delivery of Social Security checks. And they came up with the following scheme, which is still in effect today. People born in the first 10 days of each month get their Social Security benefit on the second Wednesday of each month. Those born between the 11th and 20th of the month get their check on the third Wednesday. And those with birthdays between the 21st and 31st of the month get a check on the fourth Wednesday.

Q: I am 70 years old. I've been getting Social Security for six years now. And as I see it, the government owes me hundreds of dollars in lost interest. For you see, I was born on June 28. So I don't get my Social Security check until near the end of each month. I've got friends who get their check at the beginning of the month. So they are able to get almost a full month's worth of interest that I can't. I've lost 72 month's worth of interest since my retirement benefits started six years ago. Will the government ever repay me?

A: I don't follow your logic and I don't think the government owes you anything. First of all, are you really banking and saving your Social Security check trying to earn interest? I think most of us are using that check to pay the mortgage or to make a car payment or buy groceries. In other words, we're spending the money, not letting it sit in a savings account.

Second, even if you were investing every nickel of your Social Security benefits, I could see where you could make an argument that you lost interest (and let's be honest, probably about a penny) on your first Social Security payment. You got your check a few weeks later than other people with an earlier-in-the-month birth date. But after that first check, you got all subsequent checks every 30 days or so, just like everyone else. In other words, after you lost that first penny in interest, in all subsequent months you had the same amount of time (once every 30 days) to invest your money as everyone else.

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If you have a Social Security question, Tom Margenau has the answer. Contact him at thomas.margenau@comcast.net. To find out more about Tom Margenau and to read past columns and see features from other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

 

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