On Getting Older: Dealing with Social SecurityMar 09, 2023
Now that I’m a beneficiary of Social Security, I know whereof I write. The SSA is now a part of my life, my wife’s life, and for better or for worse will be until we’ve assumed room temperature.
I began drawing my retirement benefit at age 66, which was my Normal Retirement Age. NRA has been slowly moving up from age 65 to age 67, and now anyone who was born in 1960 or later has an NRA of age 67.
Like anyone else planning to investigate or claim benefits, I logged into the website. Calling it clunky and outdated is to be kind. There is a some good information there, but the site itself looks like it hasn’t been updated in about 30 years. Easy things one should be able to change online still take a form. Here are a few examples:
- Yes, you change bank accounts for direct deposit online, but you won’t see the change for three months! Clearly the change you entered isn’t live, and there’s someone behind the scenes making the data entry changes. Why?? If FPL and my mortgage company accept immediate changes to my banking information, why can’t Social Security??
- Want to change your tax withholding? That too takes a form mailed in to the SSA. Why?? Why can’t a beneficiary simply go to a withholding box and make a change? I can do that when I make a distribution from a retirement account, so why can’t SSA make this available?
- Have you ever tried to call? There is no longer a number into the Flagler St. SSA office – only one main toll-free number. The last few times I’ve called I’ve had :40 wait times. I have to say – without exception the people who answered the phone were knowledgeable, professional, and helpful. But forty minutes!! As people used to say: that’s no way to run a railroad. (See my blogpost on old expressions here.)
My Personal Tale
Now let me tell you my personal tale from Social Security, because I suspect it could apply to a lot of people.
Your complete earnings history is readily available. When I went to examine mine, the earnings numbers provided by the IRS to the SSA were way off, and on the low side. So I pulled out all the tax returns I had, examined them, and found out what was going on: the IRS reported only my W-2 income to the SSA, and none of my self-employment income – anything paid on a form 1099. In my case that was teaching income and insurance commission income. For every year that I had records, this was the source of the discrepancy.
So I fired up my online Solitaire games and prepared for my :40 wait.
For my readers, yes there is an earnings limit one take into account when having claimed benefits before full retirement age. But once you’ve hit NRA you can work and earn all you like without affecting benefits. Once my call was answered I learned that one’s benefit while still earning in retirement is automatically re-calculated annually, and this around September / October for that current calendar year. They have a very complex formula for calculating the monthly payment, but it takes into account the top 35 earning years. So if in my latter 60’s I’m earning, I’m likely to knock out income from 35 years ago used in their formula.
The very kind lady told me that I needed to submit a written request for a benefit recalculation, providing my tax return, so that they at SSA could clearly see the income the IRS didn’t report to them.
This has now become an annual task, since, dammit, the IRS underreports my income to the SSA each and every year! This year, in 2023 as I write this, I can see the income the SSA has for me online. But I haven’t even filed my 2022 tax return yet, and the same thing has already happened – SSA only has my W-2 income and none of my self-employment income.
I sent in the letter in June of 2022 to request a recalculation of my benefit for 2021. I received a letter from the SSA his January – six months later! – advising me of my new benefit.
And these same people want to take over my healthcare?!
So be patient, my friends. Things happen in the SSA at a glacial pace. Your issue will get fixed, eventually. And I always receive a special payment to compensate me for all the additional benefit I was due to date.
I’ve previously written a trilogy on Social Security which you may find interesting:
Best to all,
--Glenn J. Downing, MBA, CFP®
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