Dear Rusty: I would like some advice concerning Social Security. In January, I will be 62.5 years old. I was laid off two years ago and have not had a steady income since (though I still have bills to pay). I also did not qualify for unemployment. Therefore, what little I had for “retirement” is now gone. For this reason, I have been seriously considering applying for Social Security as soon as I’m able. I remember reading something that said I should begin the “paperwork” three months ahead of time. I’d like to begin that process, but don’t know where to start. Could you guide me to the right place?
Signed: Ready to Claim Benefits
Dear Ready to Claim: Sorry to hear of your loss of employment and your current financial struggle, but the Social Security benefits you earned from a lifetime of working are there for you. Here’s what you need to know about applying for Social Security:
Since you are already 62 years of age, you can apply for your Social Security at any time now. The process is fairly simple, especially if you apply online, which you can do at www.ssa.gov. Just click on the “Retirement” icon and you will see a link to the online application. You simply complete the application, save it if you need more time to work on it, and later when you’re done, submit it online to the Social Security Administration (SSA). Before you do that, however, you’ll need to create your personal “my Social Security” online account, which is easy to do at www.ssa.gov/myaccount. Once you have your online account set up you can fill out and submit the online application. Of course, you can also apply via telephone by calling either the national Social Security service center at 1-800-772-1213, or your local Social Security office to make an appointment to apply. But applying online at www.ssa.gov is by far the most efficient way.
You can apply for your Social Security benefits up to four months before the month you wish your payments to start. On the application, you will tell the SSA which month you want your benefits to begin so you can apply before you want to start benefits. Since you’re applying before your full retirement age of 66 years and 10 months, there are a couple of things to keep in mind:
• By claiming at age 62 ½, your benefit amount will be permanently reduced by about 29 percent. You only get your full benefits if you wait to claim until your full retirement age (FRA) which for you is 66 years and 10 months; claiming any earlier means a permanently reduced benefit.
• If you claim before your FRA and you return to work, you’ll be subject to an “earnings test” which limits how much you can earn from working while collecting early Social Security benefits. The 2022 earnings limit is $19,560 and if that is exceeded, the SSA will take back $1 for every $2 you are over the limit (half of what you exceed the limit by). The earnings limit will apply until you reach your full retirement age, and the allowable earnings are more in the year you reach FRA.
Applying online for Social Security benefits is a reasonably easy process, and if you have even moderate computer skills you shouldn’t be intimidated by the thought. But if you are, simply call the SSA and request an appointment to apply. It will walk you through the application process.
Russell Gloor is a national Social Security advisor at the AMAC Foundation, the nonprofit arm of the Association of Mature American Citizens (AMAC). The 2.4 million member AMAC says it is a senior advocacy organization. Send your questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Author’s note: 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). The NSSA and the AMAC Foundation and its staff are not affiliated with or endorsed by the Social Security Administration or any other governmental entity.