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Social Security and You: Turning 66 in 2020? Consider Filing for Benefits This Month

Tom Margenau on

I write a column similar to this one every January. But I don't mind plagiarizing myself, because it contains a very important message for people planning to retire in 2020.

January is a critical month for the hundreds of thousands of potential Social Security beneficiaries who are reaching 66, their so-called full retirement age, in 2020. The important message: All of them should at least consider the possibility of filing for their benefits this month, even though they may not be reaching their retirement age until later in the year.

Please note that if you want to delay filing for your Social Security benefits until 70 to get a 32% "delayed retirement credit" added to your monthly benefits, then you should forgo the procedure discussed in this column.

But if you are not interested in that strategy and plan to start your benefits at 66 in 2020, then, as I said, you may want to consider filing for benefits in January.

The reason for this early filing timeframe has to do with some quirky and complicated features of Social Security's earnings penalty provisions. Those provisions generally keep seniors who are still working off of Social Security's rolls until they reach that magic full retirement age.

The law essentially says if you are over 62 but under your full retirement age and still working full time, you are not eligible for Social Security. Specifically, the rules require that the SSA deduct $1 from any retirement benefits you might be due for every $2 you earn over $18,240 in 2020.

 

However, the rules say that once you reach your full retirement age, you are due full Social Security benefits even if you are still working and no matter how much money you are making.

Let's follow an example. Let's say Ed was born in July 1954, which means he'll reach his full retirement age of 66 in July 2020. And let's further say Ed generally makes about $80,000 per year, and he plans to continue working indefinitely. Based on the earnings penalty rules I briefly outlined above, Ed figures he must wait until July (his full retirement age) to begin collecting his Social Security benefits. As I said, at that magical point, the earnings penalty rules no longer apply, and he can get his Social Security. And prior to that, he's making way more than the $18,240 income threshold.

But here is why Ed should check into applying for Social Security in January. Congress set up a more lenient earnings threshold for the year you reach your full retirement age. Specifically, it says you can earn up to $48,600 between January and the month you reach your full retirement age and still get Social Security benefits. And even if you earn more than $48,600, you lose only $1 from your benefits for every $3 you exceed that threshold.

Ed is going to make $40,000 between January and June (i.e., before he reaches the magic age of 66). And that's under the $48,600 threshold for 2020, which means Ed is due benefits beginning in January. He does NOT have to wait until July to apply for his Social Security checks.

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