Social Security Webinars: Your Questions Answered – FAQs

Topics and Questions

Applying for Benefits
What is my full retirement age and when should I apply for benefits?
In what month do I need to apply to get my maximum monthly benefit based on my birth month?
When do I get my first Social Security check?
How do I apply for benefits?

Survivor Benefits
Who is eligible for survivor benefits?
Can you apply for a survivor benefit several years after the death of a spouse?
At what age is a survivor eligible to receive the survivor benefit?

Spousal Benefits
Am I eligible for a spousal benefit?
If my spouse files, can I collect a benefit based on her retirement benefit before filing for my own retirement benefit and wait until full retirement age to collect my own?
How is the spousal benefit calculated if you are not eligible for your own Social Security retirement benefit?
How is the spousal benefit calculated if you are eligible for your own Social Security benefit?
How does my spouse receiving benefits on my record affect my benefits?

Benefits for Married Couples
Can my spouse and I both receive our full retirement benefits?
What is a restricted application?
Who is eligible to take advantage of a restricted application?
Can my spouse claim before full retirement age, and claim on his own benefit even if I am still working until full retirement age?

Social Security Earnings Limit
What is the Social Security earnings limit?
Is the earnings limit based on monthly income or yearly?
Is the earnings limit benefit reduction temporary?
Does income from a 401(k) plan count against the earnings limit?

My Social Security Account and Notices
What is a “My Social Security” account?
How do I set up a “My Social Security” account?
How do I manage my online notification preferences?

Applying for Benefits

Q: When is full retirement age and when should I apply for benefits?

  • Workers planning for retirement should know that the amount of your Social Security benefit depends on the age you start.
  • Full retirement age, sometimes called normal retirement age, is the age you get your full benefit.
  • The amount you collect is reduced if you claim benefits prior to your full retirement age.
  • Full retirement age was 65 but is increasing to age 67.
  • Your full retirement age depends on the year of your birth.
  • Full retirement age for retirement benefits is age 66 for people born between 1943 and 1954 will gradually increase to age 67 for people born in 1960 or later.
  • Even though you can collect what’s known as your “full” retirement benefit at age 66 or 67, you can actually grow your retirement benefit by waiting up to age 70.
  • No matter when you plan to start, early, at full retirement age, or later, the Social Security Administration recommends you apply three months prior to the month you want to start your benefit.

Q: In what month do I need to apply to get my maximum monthly benefit based on my birth month?

  • Social Security reduces retirement and survivor benefits if you claim prior to your full retirement age.
  • Generally, you get the maximum spousal and survivor benefit if you start with the month you turn full retirement age.
  • Surviving spouses should check with Social Security. If the deceased worker claimed reduced retirement benefits prior to full retirement age, the maximum survivor benefit may be payable earlier.
  • You can increase your own retirement benefit by delaying to age 70.
  • Social Security increases your retirement benefit for each month you delay claiming from the month you turn full retirement age up to age 70.
  • So, although you get your full retirement benefit if you start at full retirement age, to get the maximum monthly retirement benefit you would wait to start the benefit with the month you turn 70.

Q: When do I get my first Social Security check?

  • Social Security pays your benefit in the month after the month it is due. Example: Social Security pays the benefit for September in October.
  • Benefits are paid on the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Wednesday depending on the day of the month you were born. If your birthday falls on the:
  • 1st through the 10th, your retirement benefit is paid on the 2nd
  • 11th through the 20th, your retirement benefit is paid on the 3rd
  • 21st through the 31st, your retirement benefit is paid on the 4th For example, if you were born on the 15th of the month and started Social Security in October, you would receive your first payment on the third Wednesday in November.

Q: How do I apply for benefits?

  • You can apply for retirement, spouse’s and disability benefits online at www.socialsecurity.gov
  • If you are applying for survivor benefits or would simply like a Social Security representative to help you with your application, you can schedule an appointment to apply by telephone or in-person by calling 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778).

 

Survivor Benefits


Q: Who is eligible for survivor benefits?

  • When a worker dies, benefits may be payable to the worker’s:
  • Surviving spouse
  • Surviving divorced spouse
  • Children; and/or
  • Financially dependent parent

Q: Can you apply for a survivor benefit several years after the death of a spouse?

  • A claim for the $255 one-time death payment must be made within two years of the worker’s death.
  • Other than that, there is no time limit to apply. However, any delay in filing after meeting the eligibility requirements could result in the loss of money because Social Security generally only pays benefits starting with the month you submit your application.
  • There are situations where they can pay benefits for up to 6 or 12 months prior to the application date, but only if it does not result in a lower monthly benefit.

Q: At what age is a survivor eligible to receive the survivor benefit?

  • It depends on the type of benefit.
  • A child qualifies if he or she is under age 18, age 18 to 19 if in full-time attendance in high school or at any age if disabled before the age of 22.
  • A spouse can qualify at any age if they have an entitled child under age 16 or disabled in his or her care.
  • Otherwise, the surviving spouse must be at least age 60. The benefit can be paid as early as age 50 but only if the surviving spouse is disabled.
  • A financially dependent parent must be age 62 or older.

 

Spousal Benefits


Q: Am I eligible for a spousal benefit?

  • The age requirement for spousal benefits is age 62.
  • Like retirement benefits, the spousal benefit is reduced if you claim it prior to your full retirement age.
  • You have to be married 12 months to qualify if you are currently married.
  • Social Security might waive the 12-month requirement if you were eligible for a benefit on a prior spouse’s record in the month prior to your marriage.
  • If you are divorced, you must have been married to the worker at least 10 years and can’t currently be married to someone else if your former spouse is living.
  • There is a provision to pay spousal benefits at any age if the spouse has a qualifying child entitled on the worker’s record in his or her care.

Q: If my spouse files, can I collect a benefit based on her retirement benefit before filing for my own retirement benefit and wait until full retirement age to collect my own?

  • You cannot claim the spousal benefit prior to your full retirement age and delay claiming on your own record.
  • If you claim benefits prior to your full retirement age, you must claim your own benefit first before claiming on the record of a living spouse or living ex-spouse.

Q: How is the spousal benefit calculated if you are not eligible for your own Social Security benefit?

  • If you are not eligible for your own Social Security benefit, the spousal benefit is 50% of the worker’s full retirement age amount if you wait until your full retirement age to claim.
  • The benefit is reduced if you claim it prior to your full retirement age.

Q: How is the spousal benefit calculated if you are eligible for your own Social Security benefit?  

  • If you are eligible for your own Social Security benefit, the spousal benefit is the difference between your full retirement age amount and one-half of your spouse’s or ex-spouse’s full retirement age amount.
  • They always compare the full retirement age amounts, even if benefits are reduced for claiming early or the worker’s amount is increased for delaying beyond full retirement age.
  • If you are full retirement age, the difference is added to your own retirement benefit.
  • If you are under full retirement age, they reduce the difference and then add it to your own retirement benefit.

Q: How does my spouse receiving benefits on my record affect my benefits?

  • A spouse collecting on your record does not affect the amount you collect.
  • Your own retirement benefit is never reduced because someone else collects on your record whether it be a spouse, ex-spouse, or child.

 

Benefits for Married Couples


Q: Can my spouse and I both receive our full retirement benefits?

  • You collect the Social Security you earned by working regardless of your marital status.

Q: What is a restricted application?

  • Generally, when you file an application for Social Security it is an application for all Social Security benefits you might be eligible for.
  • In certain situations, Social Security allows you to restrict your application to only one type of benefit.
  • For example, if you are eligible for your own retirement benefit and a benefit as a surviving spouse, you can claim one of the benefits early and wait until you are older to switch to the other.
  • However, when it comes to the choice between your own benefit and the benefit as a spouse or divorced spouse of a living worker the rules get complicated.
  • The general rule is you have to claim your own benefit before you can try to claim on a living spouse or living ex-spouse.

Q: Who is eligible to take advantage of a restricted application?

  • If you were born before January 2, 1954, and wait until your full retirement age, you can file a restricted application for spousal benefits and delay filing on your own record to get a higher benefit when you are older.
  • The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 eliminated this option for people born after January 1, 1954.
  • People born after January 1, 1954, must file for their own benefit before they can file on a living spouse or ex-spouse even if he or she has reached full retirement age.
  • Under current law, everyone can use the restricted application if the choice is between your own benefit and a benefit on a deceased spouse’s record.

Q: Can my spouse claim before full retirement age, and claim on his own benefit even if I am still working until full retirement age?

  • Yes.
  • If you claim the benefit on your own record early, your spouse’s earnings do not count toward your Social Security earnings limit.

 

Social Security Earnings Limit


Q: What is the Social Security earnings limit?

  • Social Security retirement and survivor benefits can be reduced if you are under full retirement age, work and earn over Social Security’s earnings limit.
  • The limit for 2019 is $17,640 for people who will not reach age 66 this year.
  • Social Security withholds $1 from your benefit for every $2 you earn over $17,640.
  • The limit for people turning age 66 in 2019 is $46,920 with only $1 withheld for every $3 earned over $46,920.
  • If you are turning age 66 in 2019, Social Security will only count your earnings from January through the month before the month you turn age 66.
  • Once you reach your full retirement age, you can earn any amount and still collect your Social Security.

Q: Is the earnings limit based on monthly income or yearly?

  • Social Security starts by looking at your total earnings for January through December.
  • If the total is over the annual limit your benefit will be reduced.
  • If it is your first year of retirement, however, Social Security can use a monthly test to pay you so that you are not penalized for your preretirement earnings.
  • After the first year, withholding is based on your total earnings for the year, whether you work one month or 12 months.
  • People who are old enough for Social Security and still working should do their homework on the Social Security earnings test so they will know how it may affect their benefit.

Q: Is the earnings limit benefit reduction temporary?

  • The benefit reduction is temporary. Once you reach full retirement age, Social Security will give you credit for months they withheld benefits due to work.

Q: Does income from a 401(k) plan count against the earnings limit?

  • Income from a 401(k) and other retirement plans do not count toward the earnings limit.
  • Social Security only looks at earned income – gross wages from employment and net profit from self-employment.
  • Other taxable income such as interest, dividends, pensions, and rental income do not count toward the Social Security earnings test.

 

My Social Security Account and Notices


Q: What is a “My Social Security” account?

  • With an online “My Social Security” account, you can view your estimated future benefits, see your Social Security statement, review your earnings history, change your address, request a replacement card, and manage your benefits online. You can also get a benefit verification letter and receive notifications from the Social Security Administration through a My Social Security account.

Q: How do I set up a “My Social Security” account?

  • Open a “My Social Security” account online at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount.

Q: How do I manage my online notification preferences?

  • The Message Center is a secure and convenient portal where you can receive sensitive communications that the Social Security Administration does not send through email or text.
  • To ensure you never miss a message or notice from Social Security, choose or update your notification preferences inside the My Social Security Message Center.
  • After you update your notification preference, you will receive an email or text to let you know there is a notice in your Message Center.
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