YOU Signed Up for Social Security: Tell Me About It!

So I’m getting up there where signing up for Social Security will be an option for me. Specifically, will be 62 in a few months. I imagine, having said that, some will feel the need to tell me that the smartest thing I could do, if I don’t need the money, is wait. I agree, and it’s the most common piece of advice I’ve seen in my attempts at research. My reason(s) for starting this discussion is more about ‘How?’ than ‘When?’.

I’ll add that I have a copy of Get What’s Yours , the updated version (printed after the 2015/2016 changes). I’ve only skimmed here and there, and freely admit I need to read it.

My personal details, that could possibly affect how I sign up:

Married for 25 years
She’s about 9 months older than me (so makes a difference when she can sign up; to date, she has not)
I am retired from the USAF (did 20 years,and receiving a pension)
Neither my wife nor I work, and that isn’t likely to change
We have a handicapped son, age 42, who was handicapped from birth (so before age 22) and who receives (has received) SSI practically all his life (in care of his mother, of course)
Despite marrying his mother when he was 17 and the emotional bonds he and I have (this is MY son), as yet I have no LEGAL ties to him, aside from claiming him on our Married Filing Jointly tax returns all these years ( I know I need to see a family attorney to get all that squared away, but that’s another discussion)
Our annual income (as near as I can figure) is low enough that we likely won’t have our SS taxed at all

While I have done a fair bit of research, assume I know nothing. I very recently (yesterday!) attempted a telephone talk with a local SS agent, asking several questions. My biggest takeaway was, if I am going to assert that such-and-such detail should be so-and-so, be able to name the source. More than once, my knowledge was challenged by things like ‘Where did you hear that?’ For instance, I knew that the time of my military service should have an impact on my final monthly amount; I read it, in detail, on the SSA website. However, when my assertion was refuted, I couldn’t do more at the time than weakly refer to ‘your website.’

Having said ALL THAT, I now come to the Ask: how was YOUR sign-up experience? Did you sign up online, with no help? Did you sit with an agent in your local SS office? If you did research to know the ins and outs, what was most helpful to you? What about Spousal Benefits? What about Survivor Benefits? Do you have to do something specific to add Survivor Benefits (and is there a cost?), or is just automatic?

My aim, as anyone’s should be, is to make sure I check all the boxes to maximize my amount and not miss anything important by not knowing if something is important (or even not knowing about something that I should). The obvious disclaimer is that no one’s advice or anecdotal experience or even confirmed knowledge given here will be construed as Gospel, since everyone’s situation is theirs alone, and what you relate will not 100% apply to my situation.

Thanks in advance for any and all contributions!

Edited to add: Mods, I chose IMHO as opposed to Factual Questions since I’m asking more for personal experience, even though facts may be given in any replies. Please move as appropriate.

I signed up online, and don’t recall that there were any choices to be made. It was totally straightforward.

I retired last year in July, a few weeks after my birthday, precisely because I wanted the additional benefit that came from being a year older. A few weeks later I got a phone call from someone at a nearby regional Social Security office. She pointed out that I had the option to file with my pre-birthday age. This would mean a slightly smaller monthly benefit, but that they would owe me retro payments for the 6 months from January to my filing date. I said “hell yeah, give me the big check!” and a week or so later they did.

I never expected such excellent customer service from a government bureaucracy.

Yep. Easy-peasy. I mean, I assume SocSec was sending you statements every year? They know who you are, how much you earn, and how much your benefits will be.

Now, if you plan to work, wait until full retirement age, likely 66?

I signed up online, and it was trivially easy.

My investment advisor is of the opinion that you should begin taking it when ever you need it, that there’s no real strategic advantage to waiting. He says even if they reduce your benefit if you start to earn some income, that reduction will lead to a small increase in your future benefit.

But you still have to look at your specific financial situation. If you decide not to take it now, how are you going to fill that gap in your income? If you take larger withdrawals from your retirement accounts, that will reduce your future income from that source. If you liquidate assets such as property, that will reduce your income in the future.

That’s why my FA feels it really doesn’t matter that much, it all balances out. This is second hand advice, and I may be wrong.

I started taking my SS at 63.5. I retired a year earlier, but I got some hefty tax returns that first year, because I didn’t decrease my withholding as I wound down my business. So I used that income for the first year of my retirement.

In my case, it really made a lot of sense to start taking it early, because I own a fairly high value property ( an apartment, which I currently sublet) and I plan to sell it in 5-10 years, which will replenish my retirement accounts. So I need the money now more than I’ll need it later.

3 replies, 3 reassurances at the ease of the process. Given we’re talking about a huge government bureaucracy, and my own natural paranoia telling me I’m going to get screwed somehow if I don’t research this to death and make sure to cross every possible t and dot every possible i…I expected…different. I think at least part of my distrust of the process is fueled by the book I mentioned in the OP. Even having only skimmed some of it, it sets up a constant drumbeat of ‘WATCH OUT or you could really MISS OUT!’ in every area.

I’m heartened by your advisor’s advice, Ann. Signing up early may make sense for us, as it would be a very significant bump in our income and allow us to move into a new home in a few years instead of 10 or so. Having run the numbers a few different ways, we’d be getting extra money 5 years early, and it would be 17 years before we would start ‘losing out’ because we didn’t wait to sign up later. Even then it would (only) be around 400 dollars a month ‘loss,’ in a retirement home that would be half-paid off by then.

I was warned about the initial processing time and its effect on when the first payment arrives, but it’ll get here when it gets here. It’s not like the mortgage won’t get paid without it. We’re doing okay now, and this will just make things better.

I agree that people should enroll when they need it. Some people put themselves through unnecessary hardship “so they’ll get more later” and it’s not warranted. You paid into it, it’s your money, and there’s no guarantee that you’ll live to age X to get the maximum monthly benefit.

Unless my situation changes drastically, I have every intention of enrolling on my 62nd birthday.

My spouse signed up 3 mo before his 62 birthday this year and payments were to start in May.

Then in a panic he realized after rereading the rules, that for the first year his part time summer gig was going to pay him above the ss monthly limit. For the first year on SS any earned income is subject to monthly limits, after the first year limits are calculated on your yearly earned income.

SSA would’ve docked his benefit until full retirement age I think. Not having it he withdrew his application just in time. You get one opportunity to withdraw your app. And now he’ll will wait until after the summer gig is up to reapply. The SSA was very helpful and and things went through channels in a timely fashion.

I will keep all this in mind when I apply as I intend to keep my part time job too.

The libertarian in me has to point out the first sentence is not true. Social Security is not a pension or annuity that you pay into while you work then draw the benefit from after you retire. Rather, the money you paid in went almost immediately out to those benefiting back then and the money you’ll receive is a transfer from those working after you retire. Back when it started, the ratio of workers to retirees was 7:1. Now, with the end of the baby boomers retiring it’s more like 2:1, poor sods.

The second sentence is true, depending on your circumstances. I could have retired as early as 62 (or 62-1/2 – I forget) but waited until I was 66 to get the larger monthly amount. That hit the sweet spot of making it large enough I wouldn’t be eating dog food if my other income streams dried up yet not that much less than the maximum amount had I waited until 70.

Read “Get What’s Yours.” It made me a lot of money. I learned from it that my wife could sign up when she was 65 and I was 66. I went on her spousal benefits. Then, when I turned 70, I went on full benefits and she got half mine which was more than all of hers. So, I got benefits from 66 to 70 without losing a penny. You are too young to pull the same trick, but maybe there is stuff in the book which can help you.
Since we were doing weird things, we made an appointment at the local SS office (only a few miles away) and went in. Both times we did it the person was helpful, knowledgeable and just plain nice. The last time I dealt with them, last October, I made an appointment for a telephone call, and they were just as nice.
The only problem I had was that I had set up direct deposit on my account years ago, and by the time I went on benefits at 70 we had changed checking accounts. When I got from my wife it went to the account in her records which she had changed. Thought the paperwork after I changed it online said it would take a few months to process, when I called it got fixed in a few days.
I’m sure a normal registration could be done easily on line, but I didn’t want to risk it.
Warning - it can take months to get a telephone appointment, so start early unless you want to sit on hold for hours. But they did call exactly when they said.
Social Security is great.

Spousal benefits can vary widely, so if either or both of (generic) you have been married more than once, regardless of how it ended, it might benefit you to meet directly with an agent. Anecdote: I know a woman who found out that if she filed under her first husband’s number (the marriage was disastrous, but it did last more than 10 years, and she did get her kids) she would get $400 a month more than if she filed under her late second husband.

Also, Social Security can be garnished in some cases of deadbeat parents, but you do have to ask for it, among other hoops to jump through. I have known several women personally who eventually benefited from this, and can think of a man who might well have as well.

Haven’t signed up yet, but have worked for SSA for 35+ years. The fact that SSA is a huge bureaucracy actually works to your advantage. The pay out on (IIRC) some 70 million accounts monthly. So yours isn’t the first case they’ve handled. Even when they make mistakes - which is strikingly infrequent (tho troublesome if it is YOUR case), in the vast majority of instances they eventually get it right.

There are some unusual fact situations, but if you do not fall into those (and it doesn’t sound like you do), you can be pretty certain your case will just be processed routinely. The SSA is actually quite good at what they do. The error rate - and administrative costs - are quite low. And the SSA is not responsible for many of the issues (such as funding/expansion of programs) folk complain most loudly about.

I signed up online. It was very easy. I had however gone in about 3 months before my 62nd birthday to determine exactly what my options were. (BTW, if you decide to go in it’s likely smart to make an appointment. I arrived at the office about 5 minutes before my appointment and they called my number at the actual appointment time. I got the stink-eye from some folks who clearly had been there for some time, waiting their turn.)

Assuming that your marriage is strong, I think it makes sense to look at payment scenarios for both Social Security accounts. In our case, we decided that I would collect at age 62 to bring in some steady income, while my husband would wait until age 70 to maximize the amount.

A minor point, but something you should be aware of, is that Medicare Part B premiums and Part D (the drug part) will be deducted from your Social Security payment. Since my husband is now on Medicare but not yet receiving SS, we have to pay his premiums from our bank accounts. (No, Spouse A cannot have premiums deducted from Spouse B’s SS payment.) Not a big deal (we set up auto payment), but important to know.

Speaking as a volunteer tax preparer, primarily for retired people, I will say that 100% of the Social Security recipients for whom I did taxes had their Part B premiums deducted from their SS. But I’m guessing that it was somewhere around 65-70% of them also had Part D premiums deducted. It’s possible that some of the rest didn’t have a Part D prescription plan, but others certainly did, as they had the paperwork to prove that they paid their premiums. My late mother, for instance, paid her Part D premiums out of pocket.

This is very similar to what we decided to do. My wife started collecting at age 66 1/2, while I’m waiting until I’m 70 to start collecting. At that point, her payment will increase to 1/2 of my payment.

I had totally forgotten that you can pay for Part D out-of-pocket rather than as a deduction from Social Security. I’m not sure what the advantage is to not having it deducted.

While on the topic – and yes, it’s a bit of a hijack – it’s generally a bad idea to decide that since you’re not taking any prescription drugs now it’s a waste to sign up for Part D. If you do need coverage down the road, you’ll pay a hefty surcharge to get that coverage.

Doing a little looking around today seems to be telling me that we’ll be eligible for Tricare For Life, due to my military service, starting at age 65 (we have Tricare Prime now). This will cover my prescription costs, thus making Part D unnecessary – supposedly. I rarely trust my own research until I’ve done it at least a few times.

Yeah, I’m not sure why my parents didn’t sign up for the deduction. But when I started handling Mom’s finances after Dad passed away, one more check to write each year wasn’t that big of a deal.

The same is true for supplemental insurance, I believe.

/endhijack

My Part D is not coming out of Social Security probably because of the screw up I mentioned above, but it is being paid by autodeduct from my checking account so it’s no big deal.Just one more thing to enter into Quicken.

That’s how I did deductions for both Parts B and D. My reasoning was that if I made a change of providers for Part D, it would be easier to switch the billing through my checking account than through SSA.

That’s a great point.

Wait, I want to make sure I understand this correctly.

Both wife and I will retire in March, I will be 65, she will be 62 1/2. Are you saying that she could then start her SS in March, and I could collect spousal - based on her SS (half, I guess?) - until I decide to start collecting my own SS (and then putting her as my spousal)?

If so, this seems like a smart move, assuming we can get by for a while until I pull the trigger on my own “full” payments.

mmm