Here’s a holiday gift for my readers. You’ve heard of the 12 days of Christmas, right? Well, here are 12 of the most common misconceptions about Social Security, cleared up for you in one neat little package.
And please note that these are myths involving one’s eligibility for Social Security benefits. I’ve spent many past columns clearing up the gads of historical, political and policy myths (make that outright lies) about Social Security that are circulating on the Internet.
Myth 1: Your Social Security benefit is based on your highest 10 years of earnings.
Fact: A Social Security retirement benefit is based on your average inflation-adjusted monthly income using a 35-year base of earnings.
Myth 2: If you stop working or start working part-time a few years shy of your Social Security eligibility age, your benefits will be severely reduced because you have limited or even “zero” earning years just before you claim your Social Security.
Fact: Because your benefit is based on a 35-year base of earnings, the impact of some years of reduced or even no earnings is greatly lessened. Your eventual Social Security benefit won’t be as high as it would have been had you kept working full time right up to your retirement date. But you shouldn’t lose too much sleep over the relatively minor impact of early retirement on your Social Security checks.
Myth 3: If you work after you start getting Social Security, the extra taxes you’re paying should increase your Social Security check.
Fact: You would get an automatic increase in your monthly retirement benefit only if your current income exceeds the lowest (inflation-adjusted) year of earnings used in your original Social Security benefit computation.
Myth 4: If you were in the military, you get a bonus added to your Social Security check.
Fact: If you served in the military anytime from World War II on, special wage credits are automatically added to your Social Security record. How much is added depends on the period of time you were in the military. But frankly, these extra wage credits are so minimal that they rarely have much, if any, impact on a veteran’s Social Security benefit.
Myth 5: I can file for reduced Social Security benefits at 62 and repay those benefits at 66 and file a new claim for full (unreduced) benefits.
Fact: You used to be able to do that. But the rules were changed about a year ago. Now, you usually can withdraw a claim only up to 12 months after your filing date.
Myth 6: A wife gets half of her husband’s Social Security.
Fact: She gets half if she waits until age 66 to claim those benefits. But benefits are reduced about one-half of 1 percent for each month they’re taken prior to that age.
Myth 7: You can take a benefit on your spouse’s record at 62 and switch to full benefits on your own at 66.
Fact: If you take any kind of reduced (i.e., pre-age 66) Social Security benefit, that reduction carries over to any other benefits you might be due. This rule does not apply to widows and widowers.
Myth 8: You must be married for 10 years before you qualify for benefits on your husband’s Social Security record.
Fact: The 10-year duration-of-marriage rule applies only to divorced women. If you’re still married to your husband, that marriage needs to have lasted only one year in order for you to claim benefits on his record.
Myth 9: If a woman was married more than once, she can claim benefits from all her ex-husbands.
Fact: Although a woman might be potentially eligible for benefits from more than one man’s Social Security record, she will get benefits only from the record that pays the highest rate.
Myth 10: If a widow remarries, she loses her first husband’s Social Security benefits.
Fact: If a widow remarries after age 60, she can keep getting widow’s benefits from her first husband’s Social Security account.
Myth 11: A child can get benefits from a parent’s Social Security record only if that parent is deceased.
Fact: In those rare cases when a retiree still has a minor child at home (it is often a stepchild), that child can get dependent’s benefits until age 18. If the child is disabled, those benefits can continue indefinitely.
Myth 12: All first-time disability claims are automatically rejected.
Fact: About 30 percent of all initial claims for disability benefits are approved.
If you have a Social Security question, Tom Margenau has the answer. Contact him at email@example.com. To find out more about Tom Margenau and to read past columns and see features from other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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