Monday, April 24, 2006

Antiques Roadshow: My adventures with receiving Social Security before age 65

Well, I thought I'd go on Social Security early and avoid the rush. Big mistake.

"If you go on Social Security BEFORE you turn age 65," a friend advised me, "you will receive less money per month but you would have to live to age 78 before you would start getting less TOTAL money than you would have gotten if you had gone on Social Security at the full retirement age." Let me get this straight. If I retired at, say, age 62, I would be gambling that I would win the lottery or something by age 78, would actually be receiving more money up to that point and could use all that extra cash now instead of 16 years from now?

"Something like that," said my friend. "Plus if you applied for Social Security now, you would be getting your current paycheck plus some extra cash on the side."

That sounded like a good idea.

It wasn't.

Here's what actually happened. I applied for Social Security early. I continued to work. I received Social Security and a paycheck at the same time. And my Social Security check was less than it would have been if I had waited. I had expected that. But here's something that I hadn't expected: The Social Security money you receive BEFORE the official retirement age ISN'T REALLY YOUR MONEY.

To receive your Social Security benefits before full retirement age, you are only allowed to earn $12,000 a year. I earned $15,000 last year. My bad.

The Social Security people wrote me a letter. "You earned too much money in 2005. Now you owe US money." So now instead of having extra money, I need to pay money BACK? "That is correct."

But this year I don't have a job and I don't have any income. But I STILL can't receive Social Security. Why? Because if I actually did get a job, then I would owe the government even more than I do now and I'd be even deeper in debt. It's all very Catch-22.

I called the Social Security guys up. They were very helpful and very nice. "Do I have this right," I asked them. "I can't get a job because if I did I wouldn't be able to receive Social Security. And I can't receive Social Security because I might get a job."

"That is correct."

Okay. That's clear. But with no job and no Social Security, how can I pay you guys back? "This is not a problem, Ms. Stillwater. We will deduct what you owe us from your FUTURE Social Security payments."

"You mean that not only are you not giving me money and that I owe YOU money instead, but that I will CONTINUE to owe you money for years to come?"

"That is correct."

And in addition I just heard that, once I finally turn 65, Medicare will also deduct $76 a month out of my Social Security money to cover my medical costs.

"That is correct."

This is just WRONG. I paid into Social Security. I earned that money. Congress needs to stop passing all these holier-than-thou laws and just give me my darn money.