Q & A
Ask Rusty – How Do I Apply for Social Security Benefits?
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 begin. 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’ll see a link to the online application. You simply fill out the application, save it if you need more time to work on it, and later when you’re done submit it online to Social Security. 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 SS benefits up to 4 months before the month you wish your payments to start. On the application you will tell them 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%. 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 SS benefits. The 2022 earnings limit is $19,560 and if that is exceeded SS 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 Social Security and request an appointment to apply. They will walk you through the application process.