Social Security is a social insurance program that consists of retirement, disability, and survivor benefits. It is funded by the people, both workers and employers, and the self-employed. Social Security is administered by the United States Social Security Administration (SSA), an independent agency of the U.S. federal government. Social Security is not an optional program, thus most working people must contribute through payroll or self-employment taxes. Note that there are many Social Security Myths surrounding this hot topic – so read on to learn more.
Social Security income makes it possible for many mature people to make ends meet during later stages of life. Workers contribute money by paying Social Security through payroll taxes during their years of employment. To begin receiving Social Security, a worker must be a minimum of 62 years of age. However, benefits increase upon waiting until full retirement age or thereafter up until age 70. There’s a lot to know about Social Security, so after reading Social Security Myths, feel free to first bounce to AMAC’s article entitled Social Security Basics.
There are many common misconceptions and myths about Social Security. Here, we highlight five to set the record straight.
- Myth one: Social Security starts automatically. FALSE! When to apply for Social Security varies. It is dependent upon multiple factors, including personal finances, health factors, and more. It does not automatically begin without applying for it. One must meet age or other criteria to apply for Social Security benefits. This must be done up to 4 months before seeking to start receiving benefits. A person may apply for benefits online (click here for link) or by calling the national toll-free service at 1-800-772-1213. (TTY 1-800-325-0778). Or one may make an appointment to visit a local Social Security office, if preferred.
- Myth two: If my spouse gets half my benefit, I will get less. WRONG! Essentially a married person may choose to receive half of their spouse’s benefit if it is more than their own. Should one do that, it will not reduce or affect their married partner’s Social Security income. If their own benefits are higher, they should simply stick with their own rather than apply for half of their spouse’s benefits. Since making the wrong Social Security decisions can be disadvantageous, it’s best to consult a Social Security Advisor for clarification and guidance on topics that may cause confusion. These professionals have extensive knowledge of Social Security, and work to guide clients on all aspects related to eligibility, rules, benefit optimization, claiming decisions, and more.
- Myth three: Divorced people are automatically unable to claim Social Security benefits based on an ex-spouse’s contributions. INCORRECT! This blanket statement is simply wrong. A divorced person can indeed receive benefits based on their ex-partner’s record if certain criteria are met. For example, the marriage must have lasted ten years or longer, the couple must be divorced for at least two consecutive years, and the seeker of benefits must remain unmarried and be 62 or older. The working spouse will also need to have already claimed the benefit. And, if the divorced person seeking benefits has a personal work history, too, they can receive either their own benefits or spousal benefits for which they are eligible – whichever is higher. But, if the divorced person seeking benefits remarries someone else, they are ineligible for their ex’s spousal benefits. Similarly, if that person begins drawing ex-spousal benefits when single but then remarries, payments will be terminated. However, should the ex-partner remarry, and the benefits seeker does not, the benefits seeker may still claim their ex-partners benefits.
- Myth four: I will get penalized for applying for Social Security at age 62 and before full retirement age. FAKE NEWS! A penalty is loosely defined as a punishment imposed for breaking a law, rule, or contract. There are no punishments or penalties for applying for Social Security at age 62. For example, a person will not have to pay a fine. However, note that applying for Social Security on the early side can result in a reduction of benefits. To get the maximum monthly Social Security payout, one must be 70 years of age. For this reason alone, some people may opt to wait to apply for Social Security.
- Myth five: You must retire to apply for Social Security. MISTAKEN! You don’t have to retire to apply for Social Security. Although retirement may affect one’s decision to apply for benefits, Social Security payments are not dependent upon retirement. Here’s what’s important to know. A person past full retirement age can continue to work and earn without limits. However, if one gets Social Security before full retirement age and they are working and earning income past the maximum earnings allowed, they will likely have to make repayments.
The five examples above are just a few of many common Social Security myths in existence. Because Social Security is not straight forward, and misconceptions frequently occur, it’s important to educate oneself on rules and benefits. The Social Security Administration, at www.SSA.gov, provides valuable resources for the public. In complex situations, one should consider the guidance of a knowledgeable CPA, Personal Financial Professional, or Social Security Advisor. Each may advise clients on how to save for retirement years, as well as when to apply for and collect Social Security. A Social Security Advisor is trained in Social Security specific matters and can be of great assistance to people on a quest to optimize benefits.
This information is provided for general purposes only and is not intended as financial advice. Note that these answers are general and are subject to change. Please visit AMAC Foundation’s Social Security Advisory Service for free expert Social Security counseling.