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Get the most out of Social Security

By Steven Weber, Gigi Harris and Elizabeth Loda

In our July column, we reviewed some general Social Security information as well as FAQs on rules and eligibility. In the second of this two-part series we will explore some lesser known strategies and situations that can impact your lifetime Social Security benefits.

Check your data

Make sure your Social Security record shows your correct name, birth date and earnings record. Employers report your earnings under the name you supply, so whenever you change your name, make sure you notify Social Security. Otherwise, your earnings may not be recorded properly and you may not receive all the benefits you’ve earned.

Government pension offset

Civil Service Retirement System employees understand and expect that they will not receive Social Security in addition to their civil service pension. However, they are often surprised that their own Social Security spousal and surviving spouse benefits, based upon their partner’s Social Security record, could be eliminated or severely reduced as well.

If you receive a pension under the Civil Service Retirement System, (from which Social Security taxes were not withheld,) Social Security benefits you would normally be entitled to as a spouse, divorced spouse, or surviving spouse are affected by government pension offset rules. These rules require that you calculate your options by taking two thirds of your government pension, comparing it with the Social Security survivor’s benefit, and choosing between the two.

Currently, more than 250,000 government retirees (about twothirds of them women), have had their Social Security spousal benefits fully or partially offset due to the effects of the GPO. If you served in the military, however, you are probably eligible for both Social Security and military retirement benefits, since there is no offset of Social Security benefits based upon military retirement. You will get your full Social Security or spousal benefit based on your earnings.

Seniors who go back to work

Many retirees are returning to the workplace; some by choice, some out of necessity. If you are working, and between your full retirement age and age 70, you may consider suspending Social Security benefits during the time of your employment, thereby locking in a larger monthly payment in the future when you stop working and reinstate.

Benefit payback

A seldom used but interesting option is to take benefits at full retirement age, but save the payments. Upon reaching 69 or 70 and if you’re still in good health, the total of the benefits received is paid back to Social Security (without penalty or interest) and reapplication is made, securing a higher benefit for the rest of your life. Social Security Form 521 “Request for Withdrawal of Application” must be filled out and submitted with full repayment of all Social Security received.

Steven Weber, Gigi Harris, and Elizabeth Loda, CFP, are advisors and staff of The Bedminster Group.