How to receive answers to specific SS benefit queries from the source

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Maisie
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How to receive answers to specific SS benefit queries from the source

Post by Maisie »

Hi, Bogleheads,

This may not be the appropriate subforum for my question, but I’m hoping a few members can help me out with my problem.

As I’m sure you know, all local Social Security offices are closed until further notice; it is not possible to contact local offices by phone. Questions that cannot be answered by my Social Security or the site’s FAQs may be posed via the 800 (866?) number—which, of course, places the caller on hold for at least 40 minutes—with no guarantee that whoever responds may be able to provide accurate answers.

The questions I need to ask are not simple. I was born in 1951, and in 2018, at age 67, I applied for spousal SS benefits (got in just in time) and was approved. I’ve been receiving spousal benefits since 2018.

I have always intended to apply for my own benefits when I turn 70, on July 7, 2021. However, given the current situation—COVID-19 and an upcoming presidential election—I’m concerned that SS benefits for those who apply following the election may be adversely affected. In other words, the benefits I am expecting on my 70th birthday (based on their calculations over the best years of my SS “real incomes”) may be lowered owing to the financial drain from the stimulus packages the population has received this year and perhaps next as well...and whatever craziness ensues over the weeks following the election.

As a result, I would like to know what my monthly benefit would be if I apply (1) around October of this year; (2) around December/January of 2021; and (3) on my 70th birthday. If the difference is not significant, I might want to apply earlier, hoping to lock in a rate and be grandfathered in should the government decide to revise downward SS benefits as of the first (or second) quarter of 2021.

I have an account on my Social Security, but the site will NOT calculate even my 70th-year benefit because I am currently receiving spousal benefits. The site tells me that they cannot determine what my benefit will be at age 70 because I already am receiving benefits. The fact that the benefit is spousal makes no difference to them.

So I need to speak with someone knowledgeable at Social Security, someone who will understand the difference between spousal benefits and personal benefits and will help answer my questions.

If anyone has an idea or a suggestion that will help here, I’d be most grateful.

Many thanks in advance!
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LadyGeek
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Re: How to receive answers to specific SS benefit queries from the source

Post by LadyGeek »

As a reminder, conjecture on the future of Social Security is off-topic. Changing Social Security requires changes in US law - a political process. From: Political comments and proposed tax plan remain off-topic
LadyGeek wrote: Sun Nov 20, 2016 12:01 pm Speculation about future legislation is prohibited by forum policy, see Unacceptable Topics:
Politics and Religion

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This forum is focused on investing that is directly actionable to personal investors. We don't hold debates on conjecture.

The whole point of the policy is to (1) eliminate contentious disagreements that result from these discussions and (2) keep investors from making bad decisions. Proposed legislation changes many times between the time it's introduced and signed into law.
Planning for a reduction in benefits is OK (how much to reduce), but conjecture on future benefits (or political comments) is off-topic.
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02nz
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Re: How to receive answers to specific SS benefit queries from the source

Post by 02nz »

To answer your question, you do get a slight bump for every month that you delay filing for your own benefits up to age 70. But there is absolutely zero reason to believe that your benefits will be different if you apply after the election vs. now, aside from the slight increase for delaying.

As for calculating your own benefit, there are online tools that can do that if you have your earnings record from your SS statement. Here's one: https://ssa.tools/calculator.html
Last edited by 02nz on Sat Aug 08, 2020 10:51 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Raybo
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Re: How to receive answers to specific SS benefit queries from the source

Post by Raybo »

Did you get the yearly Social Security statement for previous years? The one I get estimates my payout when I am 70 and at my current age. Since the difference is linear, you should be able to estimate what you would get at some point in the middle with a fair amount of accuracy.

As for changes in the SS payment, I am assuming that I would be grandfathered in at this late date. I'm 68 and getting spousal support, as well.
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Maisie
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Re: How to receive answers to specific SS benefit queries from the source

Post by Maisie »

Thank you, LadyGeek, for telling me about the aspect of SS that is off-topic. I hadn't known, and in any event that wasn't the focus of my query. I will remember in future, however.

02nz, thank you!

Raybo, thank you for your helpful reply. I've just gone online to my SS website (I'm "green," so all statements are retrieved online), and just as I remembered from previous attempts, it is not possible to receive estimates on my benefit when I turn 70: "We cannot provide you estimates because you are already receiving Social Security benefits." That is a reference to the spousal benefit I am receiving.

So I'm blocked from receiving any future estimates. I'm truly curious how it is that your statements give you an estimate of your benefit at age 70 even though you, like me, are currently receiving spousal benefits. :confused

At any rate, I will still be searching for answers to the three time periods from my original post and assume they can be given to me only by an experienced SS employee!

Thank you, both.
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Re: How to receive answers to specific SS benefit queries from the source

Post by #Cruncher »

Maisie wrote: Sat Aug 08, 2020 8:37 amI have always intended to apply for my own benefits when I turn 70, on July 7, 2021. ... I would like to know what my monthly benefit would be if I apply (1) around October of this year; (2) around December/January of 2021; and (3) on my 70th birthday.
Without knowing your Primary Insurance Amount (PIA) -- the benefit at age 66 based on your own earnings -- I can't tell you the dollar amounts. But I can say that you'd receive about 0.5% less per month. So if you claimed in October 2020, you'd get about 4.5% less than what you'd get if you claimed at 70; and if you claimed in January 2021, you'd get about 3% less.

Code: Select all

  Claim      Age     % of PIA    vs 70
--------   -------   --------   -------
Jul 2017   66        100.000%   24.242%
Oct 2020   69  3mo   126.000%    4.545%  <===
Nov 2020   69  4mo   126.667%    4.040%
Dec 2020   69  5mo   127.333%    3.535%
Jan 2021   69  6mo   128.000%    3.030%  <===
Feb 2021   69  7mo   128.667%    2.525%
Mar 2021   69  8mo   129.333%    2.020%
Apr 2021   69  9mo   130.000%    1.515%
May 2021   69 10mo   130.667%    1.010%
Jun 2021   69 11mo   131.333%    0.505%
Jul 2021   70        132.000%
The figures above are based on the 8% increase per year that you delay past your Normal Retirement Age (aka Full Retirement Age) which, since you were born in 1951, is 66. See Effect of Early or Delayed Retirement on Retirement Benefits.
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Maisie
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Re: How to receive answers to specific SS benefit queries from the source

Post by Maisie »

#Cruncher, thank you so much!

I have a copy of my 2018 SS statement, which was issued in the early months before I applied for spousal benefits, and it does give me an estimate in the event I apply at age 70. The next year's statement does not; it indicates it cannot offer estimates because I'm already collecting benefits (spousal). Then it added that should I decide to apply for my own benefits, they will have to work from both my earnings reports and my spousal's earnings (not sure whether they mean the spousal benefits I collected or what my spouse earned) to calculate the benefit I will receive at that time.

In the meantime, I will work off the chart you provided here and the estimated benefit supplied in 2018. It won't be 100% accurate, but it's better than nothing!

Thank you!
montanagirl
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Re: How to receive answers to specific SS benefit queries from the source

Post by montanagirl »

Anypia lets you run all sorts of scenarios once you enter you yearly numbers from the earnings statement.

You can download it at ssa.gov.
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Re: How to receive answers to specific SS benefit queries from the source

Post by JoeRetire »

Maisie wrote: Sat Aug 08, 2020 8:37 amThe questions I need to ask are not simple. I was born in 1951, and in 2018, at age 67, I applied for spousal SS benefits (got in just in time) and was approved.
What does "just in time" mean here? What do you think would have happened if you applied for spousal benefits a bit later?
However, given the current situation—COVID-19 and an upcoming presidential election—I’m concerned that SS benefits for those who apply following the election may be adversely affected. In other words, the benefits I am expecting on my 70th birthday (based on their calculations over the best years of my SS “real incomes”) may be lowered owing to the financial drain from the stimulus packages the population has received this year and perhaps next as well...and whatever craziness ensues over the weeks following the election.
Without a change in laws, that cannot happen.
As a result, I would like to know what my monthly benefit would be if I apply (1) around October of this year; (2) around December/January of 2021; and (3) on my 70th birthday. If the difference is not significant, I might want to apply earlier, hoping to lock in a rate and be grandfathered in should the government decide to revise downward SS benefits as of the first (or second) quarter of 2021.
Since it would require a change in laws to revise benefits downward, it's unpredictable what those changes could be. Thus it's unpredictable what the difference might be, and if grandfathering would help.[/quote]
If anyone has an idea or a suggestion that will help here, I’d be most grateful.

Many thanks in advance!
My suggestion is not to worry about future changes in Social Security laws. You can't predict them.

Proceed with your current plan of starting your own benefits once you turn 70.
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vested1
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Re: How to receive answers to specific SS benefit queries from the source

Post by vested1 »

I am in your same situation, having claimed spousal in 2018 at FRA while delaying my own benefit until 2022 at age 70. Your increase in benefits is all based on your PIA (amount of your benefit at FRA), which rises whenever there is a COLA increase on January 1st. You can do one of two things to determine what your current PIA, which again increases every year there is a COLA adjustment. There may be no COLA adjustment this year, meaning no increase in January 2021.

1st method - Look at your 2018 statement which was the last that showed your PIA amount and add the COLA amounts for 2019 in percentages.There was an increase of 1.6% increase on January 1st 2020, due to the COLA increase calculated by the SS administration in 2019, released in October of that year. You can then determine what 101.6% of the PIA listed on your 2018 statement is to determine what your PIA was or will be on your birthday this year. If you want to find out how much your PIA is right now you can add 2/3 of 1% for each additional month of your delay past your birthday this year, remembering to adjust if and when COLA calculations lead to a raise in benefits on January 1st of 2021 and 2022. Don't make the mistake of adding the 2018 COLA percentage increase in January of 2018 because it was already accounted for in your 2018 statement.

Here is a link to the historic COLA raises through 2019. SS COLA raises are announced in October every year and are currently based on the CPI-W (Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers), but I won't go into the fairness of that due to forum rules.

https://www.ssa.gov/OACT/COLA/colaseries.html

2nd method - Call SS and ask them what your current PIA is and they will tell you. You can also ask them what your current benefit would be if you filed right now or at age 70, or at any month from now till then, assuming no COLA increases.

The 2/3 of one % per month increase will not give an exact amount of increase but it will be close enough not to make any real difference. A rough estimate of yearly or monthly increase is easily determined using basic math. Just remember that the calculation of increase due to COLA is based on your PIA, not on the amount you would be receiving if you filed after delaying for any period of time. Also, any income listed on your work record while you are delaying will be added to your SS base, increasing your benefit slightly. This amount will be on your tax return under earned income.

Someone like #cruncher can correct any errors I made to a finite degree, but unless you're a math wizard the methods I described will get you close enough "for government work", a saying which people of our generation are familiar with, and which seems strangely appropriate.
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Maisie
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Re: How to receive answers to specific SS benefit queries from the source

Post by Maisie »

JoeRetire, thank you so much for pulling me back down to earth. You aren't the only one who has laid out the realities and suggested I calm down and hold off...wait till I turn 70 next July.

What does "just in time" mean here? What do you think would have happened if you applied for spousal benefits a bit later?

Apologies for making it sound as though it had been an action of mine alone: it was a dual husband-wife action. I won't be able to clarify properly what I meant without a few links (see below), but I'll try to explain:

One day in early 2016 (January? not sure), quite by chance, I learned that the SS would be changing its "file and suspend" process as of April 2016. If spouse #1 qualified and wanted to file for spousal benefits, spouse #2 would have to "file and suspend" by or before April 2016 or spouse #1 would no longer be able to receive spousal benefits. (Assuming both spouses were the requisite ages to do this, I mean.)

So my husband did "file and suspend" just before April 2016 (he was 67 at the time and was planning to file at age 70, like me, so he had not yet filed; we both assumed I could simply apply for spousal benefits when I turned 66 with no problems), and I filed for spousal benefits by (on?) my 66th birthday.

That's what I meant by "just in time." Had I not seen the articles and confirmed their import with SS, and had my husband not handled his "file and suspend" before the April 2016 deadline, I was told I would not have been able to receive spousal benefits.

Here are the links:

https://investorjunkie.com/retirement/e ... -strategy/

https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/investi ... d-changes/

https://www.csmonitor.com/Business/Savi ... ed-to-know

And from SS:

https://www.ssa.gov/benefits/retirement ... iming.html
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Re: How to receive answers to specific SS benefit queries from the source

Post by Maisie »

vested1, thank you so much for the information! I think I'll try to work the math on my own--I'm told that SS is overwhelmed right now, so it may be quite a long wait on the phone.

However, although no one can predict the future, I may be getting hot and bothered for no practical reason. If I can work out a fairly decent calculation, I'll see whether it may be worthwhile to file six months earlier than my 70th...or leave it alone till then.

Thanks!
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Re: How to receive answers to specific SS benefit queries from the source

Post by neilpilot »

Maisie wrote: Sat Aug 08, 2020 8:37 am
As I’m sure you know, all local Social Security offices are closed until further notice; it is not possible to contact local offices by phone.
My problem is different - I was collecting Spousal and decided to begin benefits a few months before I turned 70. I applied online and asked (and a call from SS later confirmed) for 3 months or retroactive benefits, even though you can actually ask for up to 6 months. My benefits started on time but I have not yet received payment for the retroactive months. I was able to reach a SSA rep at the national number [800-772-1213] a few times, with minimal wait time, by calling as soon as their office opened. I was told 2 different things on those calls. The 1st call said they would contact the "payment office" and I should receive a letter and hopefully payment in about 2 weeks. Never happened. During the 2nd call a month after the 1st I was told that my local office had my retro payments on hold pending an in person visit, which of course is impossible with the office closed.

I was then able to call my local office; those SSA agents are working from home and taking calls. Unfortunately my discussion with the local SSA rep who answered was an even greater disaster. He thought retroactive retirement payments weren't possible (they are), and eventually admitted he really didn't know SS retirement regulations. He then offered to have someone knowledgeable about retirement benefits call me back. Of course that was weeks ago and I never received a call back.

So in summary are you sure it's not possible to contact your local office via phone?
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Maisie
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Re: How to receive answers to specific SS benefit queries from the source

Post by Maisie »

Hi, neilpilot~

Sounds like you've been through the wringer! I don't envy you that...and it's probably why I'm not anxious to call the main (800 or 866) SS number.

Yes, I've tried to get the local office. By phone it was impossible: no answer. I faxed over an email I sent to the one (good) representative I know there, because the email itself was returned to me--I guess SS isn't letting its reps get too overwhelmed with emails. The fax went through (last week), but for all I know it's sitting on the floor there with hundreds of others. I've received no response.

Getting conflicting responses is fairly commonplace. Depends upon how much the rep knows, areas of expertise, and so on. I hope your issue gets resolved within the next few months. It's frustrating.

Good luck!
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Re: How to receive answers to specific SS benefit queries from the source

Post by JoeRetire »

Maisie wrote: Tue Aug 11, 2020 7:42 am That's what I meant by "just in time." Had I not seen the articles and confirmed their import with SS, and had my husband not handled his "file and suspend" before the April 2016 deadline, I was told I would not have been able to receive spousal benefits.
Hmm. That doesn't sound right. No matter.
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Re: How to receive answers to specific SS benefit queries from the source

Post by dodecahedron »

JoeRetire wrote: Tue Aug 11, 2020 10:09 am
Maisie wrote: Tue Aug 11, 2020 7:42 am That's what I meant by "just in time." Had I not seen the articles and confirmed their import with SS, and had my husband not handled his "file and suspend" before the April 2016 deadline, I was told I would not have been able to receive spousal benefits.
Hmm. That doesn't sound right. No matter.
It sounds quite right to me. You can not get spousal benefits until your spouse files. The OP indicated her husband was planning to delay filing until 70. Fortunately OP and husband learned about the ¨file and suspend¨ option just in the nick of time for husband to exercise it before it disappeared in April 2016 so OP had opportunity to file for spousal only while both spouses continued to be able to allow their respective own-record deferred benefits to grow to their age 70 maxima.
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Maisie
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Re: How to receive answers to specific SS benefit queries from the source

Post by Maisie »

dodecahedron wrote: Tue Aug 11, 2020 10:23 am
JoeRetire wrote: Tue Aug 11, 2020 10:09 am
Maisie wrote: Tue Aug 11, 2020 7:42 am That's what I meant by "just in time." Had I not seen the articles and confirmed their import with SS, and had my husband not handled his "file and suspend" before the April 2016 deadline, I was told I would not have been able to receive spousal benefits.
Hmm. That doesn't sound right. No matter.
It sounds quite right to me. You can not get spousal benefits until your spouse files. The OP indicated her husband was planning to delay filing until 70. Fortunately OP and husband learned about the ¨file and suspend¨ option just in the nick of time for husband to exercise it before it disappeared in April 2016 so OP had opportunity to file for spousal only while both spouses continued to be able to allow their respective own-record deferred benefits to grow to their age 70 maxima.
That's it! That's exactly what I meant...only you said it perfectly. Thank you!
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Re: How to receive answers to specific SS benefit queries from the source

Post by arcticpineapplecorp. »

these are the amounts above 100% of PIA (at 70 132% of PIA, at 69 and 1 month 124.7% of PIA) for those born between 1943 and 1954

https://www.ssa.gov/benefits/retirement ... delay.html

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Re: How to receive answers to specific SS benefit queries from the source

Post by tibbitts »

dodecahedron wrote: Tue Aug 11, 2020 10:23 am ...You can not get spousal benefits until your spouse files...
I didn't think it was the case - pre or post 2016 - that a spouse could not file for spousal benefits without the earnings-record spouse also filing. I thought they were completely independent, and that the 2016 change had to do with the spouse who does file no longer benefiting from deferral credits on their own earnings once they file for spousal benefits. The earnings-record spouse would continue to benefit from deferral credits on his/her own account, even if the other spouse filed and began receiving (reduced) benefits based on his/her earnings record. So the "can not get spousal benefits until your spouse files" is a surprise to me.
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Re: How to receive answers to specific SS benefit queries from the source

Post by dodecahedron »

tibbitts wrote: Thu Aug 13, 2020 8:20 am
dodecahedron wrote: Tue Aug 11, 2020 10:23 am ...You can not get spousal benefits until your spouse files...
I didn't think it was the case - pre or post 2016 - that a spouse could not file for spousal benefits without the earnings-record spouse also filing. I thought they were completely independent, and that the 2016 change had to do with the spouse who does file no longer benefiting from deferral credits on their own earnings once they file for spousal benefits. The earnings-record spouse would continue to benefit from deferral credits on his/her own account, even if the other spouse filed and began receiving (reduced) benefits based on his/her earnings record. So the "can not get spousal benefits until your spouse files" is a surprise to me.
¨Can not get spousal benefits until spouse files¨ has long been a rule (probably ever since the spousal benefit was created.)

It is worth noting that there was and remains an exception to the above rule for divorced ex-spouses. Divorced ex-spouses can claim [ex]-spousal benefits as long as they are at least 62 and their ex-spouse is eligible to file, regardless of whether s/he has filed. (Of course, the foregoing assumes that applicable eligibility requirements about the length of the marriage, etc. have been fulfilled.) I suppose that is a practical necessity since ex-spouses may not be communicating about their filing decisions and otherwise an ex-spouse wanting to file for ex-spousal would be calling SSA every month, month after month, and asking ¨Has s/he filed yet?¨

But yes, for spouses who remain married to one another, the rule was and remains that you can only file for spousal if your spouse has filed.

(Note all discussion above is for living spouses and ex-spouses. If your spouse is dead, you can´t receive spousal benefits or ex-spousal benefits, but you get widow[er] benefits instead. Very different rules if spouse or ex-spouse is dead.)
Last edited by dodecahedron on Thu Aug 13, 2020 8:57 am, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: How to receive answers to specific SS benefit queries from the source

Post by ObliviousInvestor »

Dodecahedron is correct that a requirement for Spouse A to get spousal benefits on Spouse B's earnings record is that Spouse B must have filed for his/her own retirement benefit. This was true prior to 2016 and is still true.

See below. (Key point in the below being that Spouse B must be "entitled" rather than simply "eligible.")
https://www.ssa.gov/OP_Home/cfr20/404/404-0330.htm

What did change is that, up until April 2016, Spouse B could file for their own benefit and then (if they had reached FRA) immediately ask to have it suspended, thereby allowing other people to claim spousal (or child) benefits on Spouse B's record while Spouse B's benefit continues to grow until 70.

While voluntary suspension is still an option, now if a person suspends his/her retirement benefit, it also suspends anybody else's benefit on the same work record.
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dodecahedron
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Re: How to receive answers to specific SS benefit queries from the source

Post by dodecahedron »

ObliviousInvestor wrote: Thu Aug 13, 2020 8:50 am See below. (Key point in the below being that Spouse B must be "entitled" rather than simply "eligible.")
Thanks for reminding me of this important distinction in SSA lingo.
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