Apply for social security benefits as soon as possible to avoid losing money in the future. (Photo by Marcus Winkler)

By Russell Gloor,
AMAC and AMAC Foundation

I’m 78 and still working– should I apply for social security?

Dear Rusty: I am 78, still working, have a good healthcare plan and I make a nice salary. Can I still get my Social Security check since I paid into it all these years? 

-Signed, Still Working in my 70s

Dear Still Working: You not only can get your Social Security check now, I recommend you apply for it as soon as possible. Regardless of your current earnings, you’ll not suffer any penalty because you are still working. That’s because you stopped being subject to Social Security’s “earnings test” when you reached your full retirement age (FRA) of 66 some years ago. Indeed, your Social Security benefit continued to grow until you reached 70 years of age, at which point it reached your maximum benefit, which is 32 percent more than your benefit would have been at age 66.  

Since your benefit reached maximum some years ago at age 70, and since working now won’t hurt your payment amount, you should claim your benefits immediately. You should also ask for six months of retroactive benefits. Although your benefit stopped growing at age 70 and you’re now 78, Social Security will only pay up to six months of retroactive benefits, thus you have lost some of your benefits by waiting until age 78 to claim.

You can apply for your benefits either by calling SS at your local office or the national Social Security service center at 1.800.772.1213 to make an appointment to apply, or you can apply online at www.ssa.gov/retire. Applying online is by far the most efficient method, but you’ll need to first create your personal “my Social Security” online account to do so (simply go to www.ssa.gov/myaccount and follow the instructions). 

Since you’re still working, and assuming you have “creditable” healthcare coverage from your employer, you can delay enrolling in Medicare until you stop working. “Creditable” coverage is a group plan with at least 20 participants. If you haven’t yet enrolled in Medicare and you’ve had creditable healthcare coverage since you were 65, you will not incur a late enrollment penalty for enrolling in Medicare now, but you can also continue to defer enrolling in Medicare without penalty if your employer coverage is “creditable.”

I strongly encourage you to apply for your Social Security benefits as soon as possible, because you will continue to lose money by delaying further. You will still get credit for your current earnings even after you start your Social Security benefits and, if appropriate because of your recent earnings, your benefit amount will be automatically increased, so there is no reason to delay claiming Social Security any longer. You earned your Social Security benefits, you aren’t subject to a penalty because you’re still working, and you’ll continue to get credit for your current earnings while still working, so you should apply for your Social Security benefits as soon as possible. 

How does social security disability work with private disability insurance?

Dear Rusty: If someone is collecting long-term disability through their company and the company states the employee also must apply through Social Security, how does this work? Does the amount of Social Security decrease from the amount that the person would normally receive upon retirement? Is long-term disability for life, or just until you are of retirement age? How about for the spouse of that individual? Would it have any impact on them? 

-Signed, Concerned

Dear Concerned: It’s common for private long term disability (LTD) insurers to require that you apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. Typically, the private LTD benefit will be offset (reduced) by the federal SSDI benefit. 

The SSDI benefit amount, if awarded, will be the full Social Security benefit earned up to the point the recipient becomes disabled and unable to work. That means someone on SSDI before full retirement age (FRA) gets their FRA amount earlier. Your FRA is somewhere between 66 and 67 depending on the year of birth. The SSDI benefit will be based on the disabled person’s lifetime earnings history, unreduced for claiming earlier than full retirement age. SSDI will automatically convert to regular SS retirement benefits at the same amount when FRA is attained. Thus, getting SSDI doesn’t detract from the person’s FRA benefit amount; rather they get their FRA amount earlier. 

Social Security disability benefits last for as long as you remain disabled, or up to your SS full retirement age. To be eligible, the disability must be expected to last for at least one year, and the disability must render you unable to perform significant work. You must also have worked recently –usually at least 5 of the last 10 years– to maintain eligibility, and you must have contributed Social Security FICA payroll taxes, or self-employment taxes, from your work earnings. Only very limited work earnings are allowed when collecting Social Security Disability Insurance benefits, and Social Security may periodically require confirmation of continued SSDI eligibility. 

Applying for SSDI is a relatively easy process which can be done online at www.ssa.gov/applyfordisability, or by calling SS directly at 1.800.772.1213. 

Depending on the nature of the disability, it usually takes three to five months to obtain a determination and, if SSDI is approved, there is a five month wait for benefits to start. If the SSDI application is initially denied –about 65 percent of all initial applications are– you can exercise several levels of appeal, starting with simply requesting a reconsideration by Social Security, followed, if necessary, by a hearing with an independent Administrative Law Judge, a review by the SSDI Appeals Council, or even an appeal to Federal Court. Hopefully, if the applicant is now on private long term disability, the SSDI application will be initially approved. 

As for whether the spouse of a person on SSDI is affected, much depends on the spouse’s age and how the spouse’s own SS retirement benefit compares to the disabled partner’s SSDI benefit. Benefits for a spouse are available as early as age 62, but the spouse’s personal FRA benefit amount (from their own lifetime earnings record) must be less than 50 percent of the disabled partner’s SSDI amount to get a spousal boost from the disabled spouse. Otherwise, one marriage partner being on SSDI will not affect the other partner’s personal Social Security retirement benefit.

Ask Rusty – will my husband’s benefits continue after he dies?

Dear Rusty: My husband is 65 and I am 55. He has recently been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. My question is, will I continue receiving his full social security check every month after his passing? Will the amount decrease? 

-Signed, Tearful Wife

Dear Tearful Wife: So sorry to hear of your husband’s condition. If he is now receiving Social Security benefits, when he passes your husband’s Social Security payments will stop. You will be able to keep the payment received in the month your husband dies, which is for the previous month, but any payments made thereafter must be returned to the Social Security Administration (SSA). 

For your information, normally the funeral director who handles arrangements sends a death certificate to Social Security, which will stop your husband’s SS benefits effective with the payment for his month of death. However, you should notify the bank which receives your husband’s SS payment of his death, and they will automatically return any later incorrect payments to the SSA. 

At age 55, you are too young to collect survivor benefits from your husband–unless you are disabled, in which case you can. You will first become eligible for a survivor benefit from your husband when you are 60 years old, but if you claim it at that time, it will be cut by 28.5 percent from the full amount. Your maximum benefit as your husband’s survivor is 100 percent of the benefit he is now receiving, but you can only get the full amount by waiting until your own full retirement age (FRA) of 67 to claim it. Any SS benefit claimed before full retirement age is reduced. 

If you are still working when you become eligible for your survivor benefit, you should be aware that Social Security will impose an earnings limit until you reach your FRA. The earnings limit changes annually. For 2022 it is $19,560, but if it is exceeded SS will take away benefits equal to $1 for every $2 you are over the limit, or half of what you exceed the limit by. 

If you work full time and your earnings are high enough, you may be disqualified from receiving survivor benefits. This is because your benefit amount may not offset the penalty for exceeding the earnings limit. The earnings limit applies until you reach your full retirement age, at which time your survivor benefit also reaches maximum , or 100 percent of the amount your husband was receiving at his death. 

If you will also be eligible for your own SS retirement benefit due to your own lifetime work record, and your own benefit at maximum will be more than your survivor benefit, you can choose to take your survivor benefit first and delay claiming your own SS retirement benefit until it is more than your survivor benefit. 

Your own benefit will reach maximum at age 70 so you could, if desired, take your survivor benefit first and your own larger benefit later. Or, once you are 62 you can claim only your own reduced benefit first and allow your survivor benefit to reach maximum at your full retirement age. In other words, you have a choice of which benefit to claim, and you should try to maximize the one which will give you the highest benefit for the rest of your life. But remember, the earnings test will apply to any benefit you claim before reaching your full retirement age.

Russell Gloor is the national Social Security advisor at the AMAC Foundation, the non-profit arm of the Association of Mature American Citizens. 

This article is intended for information purposes only and does not represent legal or financial guidance. It presents the opinions and interpretations of the AMAC Foundation’s staff, trained and accredited by the National Social Security Association (NSSA). 

NSSA and the AMAC Foundation and its staff are not affiliated with or endorsed by the Social Security Administration or any other governmental entity. To submit a question, email ssadvisor@amacfoundation.org.

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