How do I avoid pitfalls and get maximum Social Security?
Lassen County Times (CA)
Question: I turned 70 in June of this year and want to start receiving benefits. I am currently working full time as well. I want to set things up and get started in the most advantageous way so that my benefit is maximized even when I stop working. What are your recommendations for me to intelligently start the process and avoid any pitfalls? Signed: Ready to Claim
Dear Ready to Claim: Since you are past 70 years of age, you have already maximized your Social Security benefit based on your current lifetime earnings record — that occurred when you turned 70 in June. However, since you're still working, Social Security will review your earnings every year (after last year's income is received from the IRS) to see if your more recent earnings warrant a further increase to your monthly benefit. That you are still working shouldn't deter you from claiming your Social Security benefit now, and you should ask for benefits to be paid retroactive to June when your current maximum benefit was attained. Doing so will start your benefits at the maximum amount you are entitled to at this time, and you can rest assured that SS will further increase your benefit annually if your current earnings call for it.
After your benefits start, the key to whether your benefit will increase depends on how your more recent earnings compare to the earnings originally used to compute your benefit when you claimed. Your benefit is based on the highest-earning 35 years over your lifetime, and for your current earnings to cause an increase they would need to be higher than one of those 35 years originally used. Be aware, however, that your earnings in past years were adjusted for inflation to compute your benefit, so your current earnings would need to be more than the inflation-adjusted previous earnings to cause a benefit increase. As an example, the inflated value of $50,000 earned in 1990 is about $105,000 in today's dollars, and it is the indexed amount that must be exceeded to cause a benefit increase. In any case, if your current earnings exceed the indexed amount in any of the 35 years used to compute your benefit when you claimed, your benefit will be increased accordingly.
So, how do you start the process and avoid any pitfalls? You should apply for your benefits now and request benefits retroactive to the month you turned 70. Social Security will pay up to six months of retroactive benefits, so the pitfall is that waiting beyond six months past age 70 will result in lost money. If you like, they will pay you for a full six months retroactively now, but if that is earlier than the month you turned 70, doing so would result in payment less than your age 70 amount. To maximize, ask that your benefit-start-month be June 2022 and no earlier.
You can apply for your benefits by calling Social Security (800) 772-1213) and scheduling an appointment to do so, or you can apply for your benefits online at www.ssa.gov/retire. Applying online is by far the most efficient method, but you will need to first create your personal "my Social Security" online account, which is easy to do at www.ssa.gov/myaccount.