Social Security and You: Quick and Dirty Answers Lead to Confusion
As regular readers of this column know, every once in a while, I try to squeeze as many questions and answers as I can into one column. And several weeks ago, I did just that. But I knew ahead of time it would cause problems. Why? Because there can be so many "ifs ands or buts" associated with Social Security's rules. And when I try to keep my answers short and sweet ... well, they may be short, but they are not always so sweet. I simply cannot cover all the variables that may pop up, and I can't explain all the nuances to any given Social Security situation.
So, even though I broke a record by answering 16 questions in one column, the 16 answers I gave probably led to 160 more questions from confused readers. And here are some of them.
Q: In a recent column, you said that people could continue to get increases in their Social Security checks after age 70. But I thought the delayed retirement bonus you get for working beyond your full retirement age ends when you turn 70. So, what gives?
A: You are right about this "bonus" stuff. They are called delayed retirement credits, or DRCs. And you get a DRC equal to two-thirds of 1% for each month you delay filing for Social Security benefits after your full retirement age. That comes out to a 32% bonus if you wait until 70 to sign up for Social Security. And after 70, there are no more DRCs.
But I was talking about something else. There are more than a few seniors out there who continue working well beyond age 70. And depending on how much money they are making, those extra earnings added to their Social Security account could increase their monthly Social Security check. For example, I have a friend who is a doctor, and he is still practicing medicine even though he is 90 years old. And every year, he gets a little boost in his Social Security checks because of all the money he is still pumping into the system.
Q: A woman wrote to ask you if she could take benefits on her husband's record first and then later switch to her own. You said she could not do that. But I beg to differ. Because I did just that when I signed up for Social Security several years ago.
A: I didn't have the space in that prior column to explain there used to be a loophole in the law that allowed people to file for spousal benefits first and delay taking their own until a later date, usually at age 70, to get the delayed retirement credits referred to in the prior answer. That loophole closed on Jan. 2, 2020. You were lucky and turned 66 prior to that point so you jumped through the loophole. But everyone turning 66 after Jan. 2, 2020, can't do that. They must file for their own Social Security benefits first before they can consider filing for any extra benefits on a spouse's record.
Q: In a recent column, you said the $255 Social Security death benefit is only paid to a surviving spouse. But that is wrong. When my mother died, she was already a widow, and I collected the $255 death benefit.
A: Your mom must have died a long time ago, because it was way back in the 1980s that they changed the law. Before then, the death benefit could be paid to any one of a whole list of approved family members or estate executors. But as a part of a package of cost-cutting Social Security reforms passed in 1983, they limited the payment of the measly little death benefit to a "spouse who was living with the deceased at the time of death." It also could be paid to a minor child who is eligible for benefits on the deceased's account.
Q: You recently said that someone who inherited a large amount of money would not lose their Supplemental Security Income. But I know that is wrong because my nephew, who has been disabled since birth and gets SSI, recently inherited $100,000 from his mother's estate, and he lost his SSI check. Please retract your prior answer.
A: I don't have to retract anything. But I do have to clarify that we are talking about two different programs. In that prior column, I told someone who was getting Social Security benefits that the inheritance he got would have no affect on his monthly Social Security checks. I went on to explain that Social Security is not welfare, so he could inherit a million dollars, and he'd still keep getting his benefits.
But your nephew is getting Supplemental Security Income. And unlike Social Security, SSI is a welfare program that pays a monthly stipend to poor people. But now that your nephew got that $100,000, he is no longer poor, so he no longer qualifies for any SSI (welfare) payments.
I've pointed out a thousand times in this column that many people confuse SSI with Social Security. They think they are the same thing. In fact, many people think SSI stands for "Social Security Income." It does not. Supplemental Security Income and Social Security and two entirely separate programs with entirely different sets of rules and regulations.
Q: For a variety of reasons too complicated to explain here, I retired 10 years ago, when I was 52. I just turned 62 and filed for my Social Security. I have fibromyalgia and wanted to apply for disability, too, but I was told I couldn't. Yet in a recent column, you told a guy with heart problems who was about to turn 62 that he should file for both Social Security retirement and disability at the same time. So, did my Social Security office cheat me?
A: No, they didn't cheat you. To get disability benefits, the law says you must have worked and paid Social Security taxes in five out of the last 10 years. It sounds like you haven't worked and paid taxes in any of the last 10 years. So, you simply are not eligible for Social Security disability benefits. But you still can get your retirement checks because that program doesn't have the "five out of the last 10" rule.
If you have a Social Security question, Tom Margenau has the answer. Contact him at email@example.com. 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.