Should my mom start drawing Social Security?

Hello all,

Background: Mom turned 65 this year and is eligible to begin collecting Social Security. She works full time at a job she loves, but the hours and commute arer very stressful. She has minor health problems, my dad’s health is frail. I live with them, both to recover from a severe bout of depression, pay off bills, and help out where I can.

Mom worries about money. Constantly. It doesn’t help that I moved out here right when the economy crashed and only in the last couple of months have I found consistent work that pays more than poverty level. Unfortunately, it doesn’t offer health insurance, which is my biggest challenge, and the job is temporary.

If Dad dies, she will still receive 50% of his pension, but it will be a very large hit, as the most money Dad spends is a couple of nights at Olive Garden a week. To top it off, my older brother’s job may go poof, and he would end up moving back with us as well, putting four adults in a three bedroom home - one retired, one working with benefits, one working without benefits, and one unemployed. Ai-yi-yi.

This is the sort of thing that keeps my mom up at night.

I’ve talked to her about filing for Social Security benefits as soon as she’s able, but she’s convinced that the $200 a month difference between retiring at 65 and retiring at 67 is worth the wait. A recent column on the NY Times said it would take 12 years to catch up on the $200 a month difference and see a net loss. While I totally expect my mom to live that long, I’m more concerned about her stress these days.

She has an IRA she can start drawing from when she’s 69. There are a couple of investments, but they took a hit with the economy. The house needs a plethora of mostly cosmetic repairs, everyone needs dental work, and Dad could sure use some hearing aids. Mostly, I want my mom to lose that panicky twitch any time a new bill shows up.

I believe she should start drawing Social Security, but I’m not a financial advisor, accountant, or economist. I know some Dopers are, and I know some Dopers are in similar circumstances.

What do you say?

Yeah, I dunno what to tell you. I tried to get my mom to retire for a year before she finally did this summer… and then she asked me why she thought it was so important for her to have waited that long. :: face palm ::

For my own sanity, I had to stop and realize that she’s an intelligent, discerning adult and just because I am too, that doesn’t mean it’s appropriate for me to tell my mom how to live her life or what she should worry about. I had to step back and let her make her own decisions, much like she had to when I was young and starting out in life. When I gave her the same respect that I expected from her, she stopped fighting me and started talking more about her plans.

If I had been concerned about her financial situation at any point (and part of the strain was because of my actions), I would be taking a second job, or selling my sister’s kids into prostitution (just kidding!), or doing whatever I had to do to increase my contributions to help ease the financial burden on her. That’s about the only thing you can do at this point.

But . . . I have no children to sell into prostitution! Just a really cute puppy! Darn it!

Currently, my second job is running interference for her with my dad. Her job is an hour and a half away. Mine is ten minutes, and when I’m not on a long term assignment, like now, I can take a day off with no warning and run Dad to the doctor, drive to the base to get his meds, or otherwise run errands that she would have to either take a day off (very difficult, as she’s manager-level), or wait until one of her days off.

My take is less about how much money she has right now - enough, barring catastrophe, and there are resources available if there’s a catastrophe - but the constant stress she’s under from worrying about money. The Social Security benefits would be enough for my parents to pay off the one credit card balance, get all the dental work done, and start fixing up the house, and get all of it done in less than 18 months.

Right now, I cost my parents about $500 a month in bills/gas/groceries/pocket money while I wait for my paychecks to start arriving (school districts are notorious for taking forever to pay). It’s less than it would cost for in-house help for my dad, and I’m on call 24 hours a day for medication, companionship, computer and tv troubleshooting, errands, cooking, cleaning, and everything else. Mom’s made it clear that what I do far outweighs what I cost.

I can’t realistically take a second job because:

a) my mental and physical health are still in recovery mode, and I can’t add to my load without risking a relapse into severe depression/physical ailments.
b) there’s no stinking jobs to be had that wouldn’t cost more to work than I’d earn in working it.

I’m really looking for numbers so I can present an objective, dispassionate argument to her, weighing the benefits and costs of collecting benefits now instead of two years from now.

It was unclear from your OP and your second response as well. It sounds like you are thinking she can continue to work AND draw SS—which is what I am assuming you mean by it is enough to pay off her bills, etc.

As I understand it (haven’t looked at SS for awhile though) she can work while she draws SS but there is a limit to how much she can earn before she they start deducting from her SS benefits. I don’t recall the age (I think it is 67 or 72) that you can earn any amount and it doesn’t impact your SS benefit.

Otherwise I am not seeing how she can take SS, quit her job, and have more money then she has now. If she doesn’t have the money to pay bills, do dental work, etc with a full time job, I don’t see her having enough with just SS.

Or am I misreading your OP?

She could take the best of both worlds: Apply for SS now, but put all of the payments away in an interest-bearing account. If she ends up not needing it, pay back whatever was paid out, and re-apply for SS to get the benefit amount for her new age. Bonus: the payback amount is interest-free, so she can keep whatever interest she earned …

If she likes that plan, she should probably take advantage of it soon, as this option may be severely restricted in the near future.

Sorry, I wasn’t clear.

There’s no way Mom is giving up work in the next two years. My understanding is that you can work and draw Social Security, and that there’s maybe a tax penalty depending on how much you earn.

SCSimmons, I will investigate that! It looks very promising.

I’m going to say that you and your brother should not be living in their house. That only adds to the expenses via things like utilities, and there is a psychological cost as well, because parents always worry about their kids, and two adult children living at home is very worrying, I’m sure.

I am not familiar with your area, but I would imagine that you and your brother can get some kind of McJob and afford a two bedroom rental. That takes the burden off your parents, and opens up other options like downsizing their home to save expenses or moving closer to her job.

You and your brother need to step up and start acting like adults, and letting your parents live their own life, including making their own financial decisions.

phouka, my understanding is that you are limited in the amount of money you can make in your job (and it’s based on what you’ve made previously) and after that limit is reached, the benefit declines until age 66 or 67. After that magical age, you could make $1 million and still draw your full benefit.

Honestly, a phone call to your local SSA rep would give you the hard numbers you are looking for, but you’d need to know how much your mom makes. Better yet, why isn’t she calling to find this information herself? I gave up trying to feed this information to my mom and it turned out that she had much more information than I did, because she was actually talking to SSA and using real numbers to do it. So I had to trust her to figure it out for herself. She’s not a disabled child; I don’t have to do stuff like that for her. Imagine how the pressure lifted off me when I stopped holding myself responsible for making my mom retire when *I *thought she ought to.

Sateryn, I did not ask for your opinion of my family dynamics. Your attitude is especially galling after I left work early yesterday to take my father to the ER when he had a bad fall. You may count financial independence as your number one priority in life, and that’s your call. For me and my family, the ability to be there for one another and support each other’s emotional and physical health takes precedence.

Dogzilla, my mom hasn’t made those calls because she’s working 50-60 hour weeks with 12 hours of commuting and spends her days off resting, dealing with my elderly father, trying to figure out the bills and money (Dad’s former job), and watching the occasional British mystery to unwind. She frequently gives me topics to research so she can make informed decisions. Sometimes, I pick up on something worrying her before she asks me, and I try to anticipate her needs. I no more treat her like a child than she treats me like one. We are allies and partners. But thanks for projecting your emotional issues on me.

SCSimmons, thanks again for the resources. This is exactly the information I need to help my mom. And now I’m going to ask the moderators to close this thread.

Closing thread at OP’s request.

Ellen Cherry
IMHO Moderator