From the very first day of work, we all have the same goal: To stop working. Yes, we need a job to pay the bills and enjoy life but we’re also working toward that goal of retirement. Won’t it be great enjoying life without the stress of the job? One of the ways our retirement is bolstered is with Social Security benefits.
This is the proverbial “safety net” that helps seniors supplement their retirement savings. The closer you get toward retirement, the more the issues surrounding Social Security will become relevant. As with any large government institution, there is a lot of information to sort through. Here are some common Social Security misconceptions you should know about.
Misconception #1: The Amount of Your Social Security Benefits Is Based on Your Last 10 Years of Earnings
From the moment you start working, you begin to pay into the Social Security system. If your benefits were based on the past ten years of your earnings, there would be a mad scramble for everyone to seek raises and look for higher-paying jobs. Those wouldn’t necessarily be available for folks in their late 50s/early 60s. Don’t worry. Your benefits will be based on the highest 35 years of your earnings over a lifetime. That applies if you had one job or twenty in that time.
Misconception #2: Your Contributions Will Be Returned Directly to You
On many levels, Social Security is a lot like insurance. You pay into a system that will pay you back when the need arises. In other words, the amount taken out of your paycheck today goes for eligible retirees today. Your benefits will be paid by the next generation of workers. You can thank them later!
Misconception #3: You’ll Never Get Back All Your Contributions
Those FICA deductions always seem like such a big chunk of your paycheck. There might be a few folks who are adding up those deductions to make sure they get what they deserve when they retire. The truth is you will most likely receive more benefits from Social Security and Medicare than you ever paid out over the course of your lifetime. Sounds like a good deal.
Misconception #4: You Can Retire Early and Collect Full Benefits Later
Although it might seem like a grind, you have to work until the official retirement age of 65 in order to collect full benefits. Of course, you can opt to retire early and file for your Social Security benefits, but you would only earn limited benefits. That number would remain the same for the rest of your life. The only time there is a possible exception is with widows who are collecting on their spouses’ benefits. This isn’t so bad if you consider the fact that there are plenty of people who come out of retirement to continue working due to certain circumstances.
Misconception #5: Anyone Who Develops a Disability Will Still Have to Wait Until Retirement to Collect Benefits
Remember how Social Security is referred to as a “safety net?” That is especially true for anyone who develops a debilitating illness that prevents him or her from earning. In those cases, the person applying for Social Security disability benefits does not have to wait until they are retired. It might mean securing the help of a qualified attorney to assist with cutting through some of the bureaucratic red tape, but it would be worth the peace of mind.
Misconception #6: If You’re Married but Never Worked, You Can’t Receive Benefits
Believe it or not, there are still plenty of married folks who don’t work at a job. That doesn’t mean they haven’t earned. A stay-at-home mom or dad can receive Social Security benefits based on their spouse’s work record. Those benefits might get as high as 50 percent of the spouse’s benefits.
However, the stipulation is your spouse needs to already be collecting those benefits and you have to be at least 62 years old. Also, if you are divorced but still want to collect benefits based on your former spouse’s income, then you would had to have been married to that spouse for a least ten years in order to be eligible.
Misconception #7: If You Still Work After the Benefits Start, Your Social Security Payments Will Increase
The Social Security Administration was founded in 1935. That was long before super computers did the calculating. Today, the amount of your benefits is calculated in the blink of an eye and will be based on your lifetime of taxpaying.
With regard to continuing to pay into the system after you start collecting, you’ll only see an increase if your current income is higher than your lowest income during the 35-year calculation period. That would also take into account adjustments for inflation. Aren’t you glad you don’t have to do the math?
Misconception #8: Social Security Payments Are Tax Free
It would be nice if we could get a break from paying taxes once we retire. Unfortunately, that isn’t going to happen, even with Social Security benefits. Again, you might want to bring in a professional accountant to help make sense of the deductions, but at least it won’t be as big a deduction as you once were paying.
Now that you have a better understanding of how Social Security benefits work, all you have to do is wait for those golden years to arrive.