The Dallas Morning News had an excellent beginner’s guide to Social Security retirement this week. As the nation’s baby boomers begin to hit the early retirement age of 62, there will be literally millions of new retirement applicants. The News article is a great primer for planning to file for benefits. Please read the entire article. Here are few excerpts:
Beginning Jan. 1, the first of 78 million baby boomers will turn 62 and qualify for early retirement benefits. About three in four are expected to claim those benefits before their full retirement age of 66 or 67.
Officials hope the more computer-savvy members of that generation will turn to the agency’s Web site – socialsecurity.gov – for advice and help.
“Look online first,” said Wes Davis, a Social Security spokesman in Dallas. “If that’s not possible, call our toll-free number [1-800-772-12131-800-772-1213] or make an appointment to visit one of our offices.”
To help boomers get started on the road to retirement, here are the answers to some of the most common questions about Social Security.
How, and when, do I sign up for benefits?
Generally, you should apply for retirement benefits about three months before you want them to begin, Mr. Davis said.
How much will I receive each month from Social Security?
“It’s the No. 1 question we hear,” Mr. Davis said. “Essentially, your benefits are based on how much you earned during your lifetime and when you retire.”
The average monthly benefit for a retired worker will be $1,079 in 2008.
What’s the best age to start drawing benefits?
To collect your full benefits, you’ll need to wait until 66 if you’re a boomer born before 1955 – and up to a year more if you’re younger.
But as long as you’re willing to accept a smaller check, you can retire anytime after your 62nd birthday.
How much can a spouse receive?
A spouse who hasn’t worked or has low earnings may be entitled to a check equal to half of the other spouse’s benefit, Mr. Davis said.
If you’re eligible for your own retirement benefits and for spousal benefits, however, you can’t collect both. Instead, you’ll get the higher of the two.
What about divorced spouses’ benefits?
You may be able to collect on your former spouse’s Social Security record, but there are a number of wrinkles, Mr. Matthews said.
How much can I earn and still get Social Security benefits?
“Once you reach your full retirement age, there’s no limit on what you can earn while on Social Security. But before then, your benefits may be reduced,” Mr. Davis said.
Generally, if you’re working, collecting Social Security and still under your full retirement age, the government will deduct $1 from your benefit for every $2 you earn above an annual limit – $13,560 in 2008.
Are my benefits taxable?
Possibly. Depending on your other income, you may have to pay federal income taxes on up to 85 percent of your benefits, Mr. Davis said.
You’ll owe taxes if you file as an individual and your “combined income” is more than $25,000 or if you file a joint return and you and your spouse have combined income of more than $32,000.
When I start receiving benefits, will the amount be the same for the rest of my life?
No, your benefits are almost certain to increase each year, since Social Security is one of the few sources of retirement income adjusted for inflation.
If I collect Social Security at 62, can I also sign up for Medicare at the same time?
Probably not. Medicare coverage doesn’t begin for most people until 65.