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Will Social Security Get a Raise in 2022?

The COLA increase in Social Security is welcomed by seniors depending upon their benefits but the timing varies, says the article “Social Security Benefits Get a 5.9% Raise This Year–Here’s When You Should See That Extra Money” from the Lincoln Journal Star. Here’s what you can expect.

The first benefit check or automatic deposit should arrive with the 5.9% COLA. However, the timing depends upon your date of birth. If your birthday falls between the first and the 10th of the month, those benefits should arrive on the second Wednesday of the month, so by January 12, you’ve should have received your first Social Security benefit with the COLA.

What if your birthday is between the 11th and 20th of the month? Benefits should arrive by the third Wednesday of the month. That’s a raise on January 19.

And if your birthday is late in the month, between the 21st and 31st, expect your benefits on the fourth Wednesday of the month—that would be January 26.

A caveat—if you’re collecting Social Security but have not yet enrolled in Medicare, then you’ll see a monthly increase of 5.9%. However, if you’ve enrolled in Medicare Part B and pay premiums directly from your benefits, your increase will be less. This is the push me—pull you of Social Security COLAs.

Medicare Part B premiums have increased, from $148.50 in 2021 to $171.10 in 2022, a total increase of $21.60. So, while you may have hoped for a true 5.9% increase, subtract the COLA from your premium hike to see what monthly benefit you’ll really get.

The annual deductible for all Medicare Part B beneficiaries is $233 in 2022. That’s a $30 increase from the $203 annual deductible in 2021.

Yes, this is the biggest COLA increase in a long time, as we have been in a low inflation environment for a very long time. If possible, it would be wise to take your COLA increase and set it aside to create or enhance a financial cushion. However, when living costs for everything from food to gas keep going up, it’s simply not possible for most people to save.

The reason this year’s COLA was so large is because of the high inflation rates from the third quarter of 2021. If inflation had been less, so would have been the increase. We don’t know what the future of Social Security will be, or what future COLAs will be. However, if at all possible, building in a little security of your own is the best recommendation.

Reference: Lincoln Journal Star (Jan. 7, 2022) “Social Security Benefits Get a 5.9% Raise This Year–Here’s When You Should See That Extra Money”

Can You Increase Your Social Security Benefits?

The desire to get the largest possible benefits from Social Security is a relatively new phenomenon. For decades, people received their monthly benefit check and that was it. However, in the late 1990s, a new law let seniors over age 66 work without any reduction in benefits, says the article “Social Security & You: Seniors obsess over ‘maximizing’ their Social Security” from Tuscon.com. The law led to loopholes that became known as “file and suspend” and “file and restrict.” In a nutshell, they allowed retirees to collect dependent spousal benefits on a spouse’s Social Security record, while delaying their own benefits until age 70.

Congress eventually realized that these loopholes violated the basic concept of the program. Benefits to spouses were always known as “dependent” benefits. To claim benefits as a spouse, you had to prove that you were financially dependent upon the other spouse to collect benefits on their record. However, the loophole let people who were the primary wage earner in the family claim benefits as a “dependent” of the other spouse. Five years ago, Congress closed that loophole.

More specifically, Congress closed the ability to file-and-suspend. It also put file-and-restrict on notice. If you turned 66 before January 2020, you could still wiggle through that loophole, and there are some people who are still eligible. That’s where the term “maximizing your benefits” originated.

Can you get a bigger Social Security check, if you don’t fit into the exception noted above? The only real strategy to maximizing your benefits is simply to wait. The equation is pretty simple. If you wait until your Full Retirement Age (FRA), you will receive 100% of your benefit rate. If you can wait until age 70, you’ll receive 132% of your benefit.

In some households, the higher income earner waits until age 70 to file for retirement, so that the surviving spouse will one day receive higher surviving spouse benefits.

But that’s not the best advice for everyone. If you or your spouse suffer from a chronic illness, it may not make sense to wait.

If you or your spouse have lost your jobs, as so many have because of the pandemic, then Social Security may be the safety net that you need, until you are able to return to some kind of paid employment.

There may be other reasons why you might need to take your benefits earlier, even earlier than your FRA. Some households start taking their Social Security benefits at age 62, as a way to augment other income.

If you don’t already have a “My Social Security” account set up on the Social Security Administration’s portal, now is the time to do so. The Social Security Administration stopped sending annual statements years ago, but you can go into your account and download the statements yourself and start planning for your future.

Reference: Tuscon.com (Feb. 10, 2021) “Social Security & You: Seniors obsess over ‘maximizing’ their Social Security”

social security benefits

Social Security Benefits: Timing Is Everything

Not knowing when you will be eligible to receive all of the benefits earned through your work history can hurt a retirement plan, says a recent article from CNBC.com titled “Here’s what to you need to know about claiming Social Security retirement benefits.” Equally problematic? It is letting fears of the program running out of money before you can get your fair share influence your decision.

If you get the timing right and use a combination of your retirement savings and Social Security benefits in the right time and the right order, your money may last as much as seven years longer. However, remember that there are many rules about Social Security and retirement fund withdrawals. Here are three big blind spots to avoid:

Not knowing when to take full benefits.

Age 62 is when you are first eligible to take Social Security benefits. Many people start taking them at this age because they don’t know better or because they have no alternative. If you start taking benefits at age 62, your monthly benefits will be reduced.

There is a difference between eligibility and Full Retirement Age, or FRA. When you reach FRA, which is usually 66 or 67, depending upon your birth year, then you are entitled to 100% of the benefits based on your work record. If you can manage without taking Social Security benefits a few more years after your FRA, those benefits will continue to grow—about 8% a year.

Most Americans simply don’t know this fact. If you can wait it out, it’s worth doing so. If you can’t, you can’t. However, the longer you can wait until when you reach your full amount, the bigger the monthly check.

How many ways can you claim benefits?

This is where people make the biggest number of mistakes. There are many different ways to take Social Security benefits. People just don’t always know which one to choose. First, once you start receiving benefits, you have up to a year to withdraw your application. Let’s say you need to start benefits but then you find a job. You can stop taking benefits, but you have to repay all the benefits you and your family members received. This option is a one-time only event.

Another way to increase benefits if you start taking them early, is to suspend them from the time you reach your FRA until age 70. However, you have to live without the Social Security income for those years.

Expecting the worst scenarios for Social Security.

Social Security headlines come in waves, and they can be disconcerting. However, a knee-jerk reaction is to take benefits early because of fear is not a good move for the long term. There are a number of proposals now on Capitol Hill to strengthen the program. Benefits may be reduced, but they will not go away entirely.

Reference: CNBC.com (Aug. 24, 2020) “Here’s what to you need to know about claiming Social Security retirement benefits”

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