Social Security And You

SSQ: I am about to turn 62. I can’t decide if I should file for my Social Security now or wait until I am 66. My friends say I should take it now because Congress will probably increase the retirement age to 68. So if I don’t take it now, I’ll have to wait six more years to get it. What do you think I should do?

A: I think it’s almost a sure bet that once Congress gets around to reforming Social Security, they will raise the retirement age. It might go up to 68. It might even be increased to 70. But there is no way that increased eligibility age will impact you or anyone currently nearing retirement age. Such major changes to Social Security are always phased in over a long period of time, primarily to give people a chance to adapt to and plan for the changes.

Consider our currently slow transition to age 67 as the “full retirement age.” The law increasing the retirement age from 65 to 67 was passed in 1983. Over the past several decades, we have inched our way up to where we are now — age 66 as the retirement age. Not until 2020 will the age start slowly going up again, until it reaches 67 in the year 2027.

In other words, it is taking us 45 years to bump up the retirement age from 65 to 67. So, there is zero chance that it will be increased to 68 or 70 in the next several years. To put it another way, I’ve got a couple of cute grandkids under the age of 3. They might have to wait until age 68 to get Social Security, although they don’t seem at all concerned about that issue! And you shouldn’t be concerned, either.

You should make a decision about retiring at 62 or 66 based on your retirement plans and your life expectancy — not on your friends’ wayward advice to jump on the Social Security bandwagon before it speeds off into the future.

Q: I have been getting Social Security for several years. My wife will soon be applying for her Social Security. Will we have to combine her Social Security with mine and pay taxes on both benefits?

A: I am a retired employee of the Social Security Administration and as such, I am a Social Security benefit expert, not a Social Security tax expert. The Internal Revenue Service handles all tax matters, including the payment of Social Security taxes and issues involving the taxation of Social Security benefits.

I know enough to tell you that assuming you and your wife file a joint tax return, you may have to pay taxes on both your own and your wife’s Social Security benefits if your combined taxable income exceeds $32,000 per year. But that’s pretty much all I know about the subject. For further information, you’ll need to contact the IRS or a tax adviser.

Q: When my ex-husband died, I was getting divorced wife’s benefits that were converted to divorced widow’s benefits. So that part went OK. But I have never received the $255 burial benefit. He never remarried and we never had children. Shouldn’t I be due the $255?

A: No. The law says the one-time $255 Social Security death benefit can be paid only to a widow who was living with the deceased at the time of death.