Color of Money Live: Talking with Social Security expert Andy Landis

Jun 28, 2018

Join Washington Post nationally syndicated personal finance columnist Michelle Singletary for an online discussion.

Michelle is joined by Andy Landis who is an expert on Social Security, having spent 12 years in the Social Security Administration before becoming a consultant. He is the author of “Social Security: The Inside Story,” currently celebrating its 25-year Silver Anniversary.

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I'm super excited about today's chat. My guest is Andy Landis, a guru about all things Social Security. So get your questions in!

Let's get started.

I was recently told in a Federal retirement class that the only way to receive the increased Social Security benefit at age 70 was to continue to work up until that age. The advice was to "take the money and run" at your full retirement age if you didn't want to have to work until your 70th birthday. What do you think? Thanks!

Sorry, you were told wrong.  Even if you stopped working years ago, your SS benefit gets bigger if you delay taking it, up to age 70.  Working up to 70 can further increase it, but even if you don't work, it will be bigger at age 70.  Perhaps the confusion comes from the SS Statement:  its benefit estimates assumes that you work to each age shown.

I never understood the parable of the Prodigal Son until it was explained to me that the story is about mercy, not about justice - certainly most people are struck by the injustice. However, I think that approaching the parable, and the allocation of an estate, from the perspective of mercy casts a different light on things.

Read Michelle's column: Should a needy adult child get more in the parents' will? 

I loved writing this column because I really hope it gives peace to heirs who have felt they weren't treated fairly. 

So glad you got the point of that story. I'll be honest, I was with the elder brother too until I came to understand grace and mercy.

So many people are carrying the burden of hurt because they feel they weren't treated fair in a will. And maybe that's true. But holding on to this stuff isn't good for you. Besides none of us are entitled to money that's not ours. Sure, it would be great if parents treated all the children fairly but life isn't fair. And it's there money after all. 


Should grandparents contribute money to a 529 plan for grandchildren? Is the money contributed tax deductible?

When you put money in a 529, the growth is not taxed if used for qualified educational purposes. And depending on where you live and if you put money in your state-run 529 plan you might get a state tax deduction.

But if you are asking can you write off your deduction on your federal return for money you put in a 529 plan for your grandchildren the answer is no. You generally can not write off money you give to an individual. To get a tax write off for a donation, you have to give money to a qualified charity.

We are financially comfortable. Money in the bank, plus stocks, mutuals, annuities, etc. I started collecting SS @62 & we each have a small pension coming in. My wife is 64, & can draw full SS @66. Were both in good health. Should she start drawing SS now, wait until 66, or until 70? 6yrs payments til 70 =130K, when does she recapture that amount, if she waits untill 70?

Read Michelle's column: The great Social Security benefits debate: Take it early or wait?

Thanks for your question.  My rule of thumb is to delay SS if you can afford to.

Let's compare filing at 62 vs. 66, and 70 vs. 66.  Filing at 62, you are money ahead until age 78.  From that age on you're ahead by filing at 66.  Waiting until 70 out-pays other choices from age 82.5 on.  Average life expectancy in our mid-60s is about 85, so the rule of thumb is to wait until 70 if you can.

But every situation is different.  To explore your (her) options, there are free online calculators.  My fave is from Financial "financial engines social security calculator" to find it.  There are also fee-based services to help you decide.  Best wishes!

How do we stop stories that misrepresent and advance conspiracy scenarios about the health and longevity of the system and payouts. The worst culprits are our U.S. legislators. Writing to them is of no use. I believe payouts is a more accurate term than benefits

Read Michelle's column: Worried about cuts to Social Security Here's the bible on navigating this retirement benefit

Thanks for your question!  This is a tough one I deal with all the time, most recently with my sister-in-law.  I suggest that you refer them to the annual SS Trustees Report that gives comprehensive actuarial facts about SS financing.  I like to add that ever since 1983, the Trustees Report has forecast about the same insolvency date for SS--in the mid-2030s.

I am passing my 67th birthday this week (FRA of 66) and can easily wait for 1-2 more years to trigger my own SS benefits. Given I am in good health with a younger spouse (-2 years), I struggle with when to pull the SS benefits trigger. I understand the benefit of the ~8% per year increase but also wonder / worry about potential changes to SS. Given that, I am tempted to begin my benefits either in 2019 or 2020. Any advice you might give me with those limited nuggets of information. Tom

Hi Tom, thanks for your question, and congrats on reaching Social Security age! 

I can't respond to possible changes to the SS system, except to observe that USUALLY when Congress makes changes they're focused on younger workers, not near-retirees.  To consider your options, check out the free calculator by googling "financial engines social security calculator" or some of the fee-based services out there.  Best wishes!

Hi Michelle, We just found out that we’re expecting (!) and want to set ourselves up well. I am a freelancer and am used to bumpy income. Is it better to continue in my voluntary 403b for my own retirement (we both max out our IRAs and my husband has an employer match) or start a general baby slush fund or 529-type fund. I won’t get any paid leave but can ramp up some gigs before the baby comes. Thanks!

Congrats on the baby! How very nice. About to send off my last kid to college in the fall.

So I would hunker down and really get a hold of your budget. Start figuring out what new expenses will be added (daycare perhaps, diapers, etc.) and if your current income levels can handle it.

I typically suggest new parents start acting like the baby is here and taking out the money for projected baby expenses and see how that impacts your budget. 

So for example, pretend this coming month you have daycare expenses of say $700 (It might be more or less). Transfer that money over to a savings account as if you actually have to pay it. Do the say for cost of diapers, etc. Make it real but moving the money out of the main household account.

This way you can see how it hurts or doesn't hurt. You might realize for a time, you may need to pull back from retirement savings if there isn't enough money because your income is not stable. 

Then after a few months -- again months before the baby comes -- you can also start adjusting your spending on other things -- cable, eating out, etc. 

Start with the basic needs first -- daycare, diapers, etc. 

If you've got a hold on that then you can start a 529 plan. You do want to start that as soon as you can, even if you just start with $25 or $50 a month. But get the necessities taken care of first. 

Twice a year I receive a COLA from state government. I report it immediately including all information. It takes months to get the adjustment. Once, they ask me to send a payment to Louisville, KY; it was a disaster. July 1 I have the 2nd COLA for 2018, and my check is still being adjusted from 1/1/18 COLA. The amount is very small. Is there a more efficient way to handle these adjustments? Can I just have one adjustment per year based on the January COLA? Is it possible to get a phone # for the Southeastern Service Center?

Hi, thanks for your question.  It sounds like you're subject to either WEP (Windfall Elimination Provision) or GPO (Government Pension Offset), meaning that your state pension can affect your SS payment.  Sorry, I don't know a better way to report your pension changes, or deal with the hassle of SS overpayments resulting from the pension changes.  Hang in there!

I contributed to SS for 15 years and then changed my career to public education. Now I contribute to a pension instead of SS and anticipate I will fall under the Windfall Elimination Provision. I understand the pension will decrease my SS benefits. My pension will increase annually. Do I need to notify SS each time my pension increases? Are you aware of any changes under consideration for WEP? Thank you!

Hi, thanks for your question.  First, I don't know of any changes pending for WEP.  And yes, you will need to notify SSA of any changes to your pension.  It will be messy (see another posting in this chat) but it's required to keep you payments correct.  Best Wishes!  --Andy

I know Andy Landis is quoted as saying that Social Security is sound, but other sources say differently. How is one supposed to properly plan for retirement when the solvency of Social Security is questionable? Are we to expect benefits to fall to 77% in 2034?

Read Michelle's column: Worried about cuts to Social Security? Here's the bible on navigating this retirement benefit

Michelle's column will help you with this question.  I'd add that the 2034 date has been the same since 1983, and any cuts related to it assume that Congress does not act to fix the shortfall.  Back in 1983, insolvency was only a few months away before Congress overhauled SS finances.  I hope they don't wait until the last minute again, but there's a lot of time from now to then for them to act.  You might let your Congressional Rep and Senators know that you'd like to see a fix.

I am so over one of my credit card companies for their horrible, terrible customer service. The benefits the card offers now are useless. And the last straw came when they flagged a completely normal small charge as potentially fraudulent. (I have the card set up to automatically replenish my bus pass and it wasn't a problem until last week.) It has taken well over a week to get my card activated again, even though I confirmed the charge FIVE separate times, including TWICE on the phone directly with the fraud department. I've had the card something like 25 years. I also have an AmEx that I've had for less time, but still a long time (10 years maybe?). If I close this card, I'll only have the AmEx, which isn't accepted everywhere, and a Visa debit card that is linked to my bank account. I want to make sure I'm not missing any other considerations. Will closing this really adversely affect my credit report?

Read Michelle's column: Some guideposts for those lost in Crazy Credit Town

Please read the link. But the short answer is a positive credit history for a card you've had for 25 years isn't likely to disappear from your credit report. In fact, it could stay on your report for up to 10 years or more. It's the negative credit history/accounts that have to be removed after 7 years.

But having said that, if you have a really good credit score -- 750 or higher you could close the account and try a lender who might have better service. Or you might want to keep the card but stop using it. Unless you have an annual fee in which case close it. 

The thing if your credit scores are good, you pay your bills off every month, don't stick with a company you can't stand. 

I'm new to the Color of Money chats. Is there an easy way to read all the chat archives like for Carolyn Hax? I tried to find it but may have missed such a page. Right now, I have to keep clicking the "Load More" button on the main page and if I accidentally close that out or refresh the page, I have to start all over again from the most recent ones (lots of clicking).

Find chat archives here

There's a lot of wisdom in the archives so if you get a chance after today, take a look. 

I am 62 and working at a satisfying job with no immediate plans to retire. My husband died 16 years ago and I never remarried. I think my strategy for SS is when I stop working at 65 to collect a widow's benefit and then when I reach 70, apply for my own benefit which should be larger. Is that generally a good idea?

Read Michelle's column: This lucrative Social Security strategy is about to go away

I'm sorry for your loss.  But in your situation, Yes!  This is a great strategy to maximize your SS payout.  I suggest you determine which is higher:  your widow's payment at your Full Retirement Age, or your own SS at 70.  Then take the smaller one first and the bigger one second.

A caveat:  this strategy works for widows and widowers, but not for most people currently married.  There are some pretty cool strategies if you're currently married but born before Jan. 2, 1954, or if you're currently married and are also a survivor of a previously deceased spouse--if you remarried after age 60.

Hi I am a spouse whose husband's Social Security earnings are significantly more than mine. Thus, when my husband retires I plan to claim the 50% of his earnings for my benefit. I am a little over 2 years older than my husband. I also understand I can't draw benefits based on my husband's earning until he retires. One thought we have is my claiming Social Security on my own work record when I turn 62 and then when my husband retires increase my Social Security payment using the 50% of his earnings which will be higher. Does this make sense to do and/or is there anything aware if trying to employ this strategy? Thanks

Yes, it's a possible route.  However, if you take your own SS before Full Retirement Age, it will be reduced, and the reduction will carry over to your later spousal benefits--so you'd never get the full 50% spousal payment.  It can still be worth it--check you options by googling the free Financial Engines Social Security calculator.  Best wishes!

To solve the short fall in Social Security funding. It is very simple, just take the cap off of SSI withholding. There would be no shortage for future generations. There are Pro Basketball players making up to $36 million per year and other professions players, executives, and actors making millions that would throw billions into the fund.

Hi, thanks for your point.  Removing the cap could eliminate some but not all of the SS funding shortfall.  Check out the SS actuaries' analysis here.  Scroll down to choices E 2.1 and E 2.2.  Depending on whether you give higher earners more SS because of their higher taxes, SS would save 67% to 83% of the shortfall...meaning other measures would still be needed.  Keep on thinking, though, because I think the shortfall can be fixed without a lot of benefit cuts!

...but it only goes back to December. What if I'm after a chat from 2010?

Often if you just search for the subject and my name you can find a particular chat. 

Sorry I can't be more helpful. 

But with all the cuts, won't all the benefits be reduced, no matter how long I wait until I retire? I'm 59 now, and feeling uneasy about everything right now :(

We can only plan based on the rules we have now, then modify the plan if rules change.  I would say it would be unwise to take SS early because you think it might be cut.  In the past, any changes have been focused on younger workers and not so much on near-retirees.  We just can't predict what Congress will do, though.

I am currently receiving half my ex spouses benefit. When I search for my benefit at 70 on my social security, there is no information. What do I need to do to obtain that information? Yes I do have my password

Yes, those estimates stop when you start an SS payment, even a spousal payment.  But you can call or visit SSA to get an estimate of your own SS at 70.

How should I incorporate Social Security's pending trust fund depletion into my financial planning?

That depletion is still a decade and a half away.  But if you're extremely pessimistic, you can use 75% of your current SS estimate in your planning.  Not a bad idea to play it safe!

Why would I not start taking benefits at 65 and use those funds (invest or not) as it seems to take a long number of years for a larger payment at 70 to catch up?

Well, it's an individual decision.  See Michelle's articles on making the "when to start" decision.  Also consider whether you can use a special strategy like spousal-only payments to allow you to take early payments and still get the age-70 raise.

Is the 4% withdrawal rule still relevant?

Read Michelle's column: If you don't want to run out of money in retirement, follow this rule of thumb

Read this link. The answer is it depends. For some the 4% rule still works. For others it might actually be too much. 


Spouse receives State retirement pension. No SS. I plan to file @ FRA of 66. Is spouse entitled to any amount of SS payments?

Hi, sounds like your spouse did not pay SS taxes while working for the State.  That means that any spousal SS they get would be subject to Government Pension Offset (GPO).  GPO will subtract 2/3 of the state pension from any SS spousal payment--often eliminating the spousal payment.  Check it out at the SSA website.

Michelle: I'm a federal employee who may move into management. One of my co-workers is an elderly gentleman who was hired just before computers changed everything in our field. He was never a ball of fire (the person who hired him described him as a "warm body"), but now that we rely so heavily on computers, he literally causes more work that he completes. The thing is, he's got no family, is already drawing on social security, will have a small federal pension, and has very little savings. I don't know how he would survive if he got fired for poor performance. The logical part of me knows that my first responsibility is to the taxpayer. I've been trying to get this person to do his job, but he's really struggling. What is my obligation to him? Who helps people like this?

You are a good person. Sure some managers might say forget the guy but you are concerned and that's just being decent.

Having said that, talk to management and see if together the team can't figure out a way that is fair to the employee but also to you, other co-workers and yes us taxpayers. 

Maybe there is a different job the he can do without getting fired even if it's a downgrade.

My heart goes out to you and this person but if he can't do the work, it's not fair to others to keep him at the current position out of mercy. Maybe, getting put on a performance plan will give him the fire he needs to improve. If not, you can't feel guilty for his circumstances.


Sometime in 2017, I believe, you hosted an author, who discussed designing and building a home with her elderly parents; as part of your discussion of a multi-generational home. If memory serves correct, it was an ebook, titled "Hive". However, I am unable to locate such title, subject. Do you have an archive of your book club, where; and can you provide author's name? I hope you had some awesome time with family.

Read Michelle's column: Learn how to share housing in order to save on rent—and save your sanity

Read more about "Hive" here.

I haven't written about the book in question, but I did one an article about it. But also read my column on how I feel about shared housing. Hint: I'm an advocate. 

Given today's political & federal budget climate, are there dangers in delaying pulling the trigger on one's SS benefits so that they accrue beyond one's FRA? I turn 67 years old this week and would prefer (and can afford) to wait another 1-2 years. Are there larger picture reasons why I should not delay even that long to begin receiving my benefits? Tom

Ah, it's crystal-ball time.  I can't predict what Congress will do with SS.  In the past, most changes have affected younger workers, not near-retirees.  I'm putting my money where my mouth is by delaying SS (I'm vintage 1951.)

Hi, I turn 65 Jan. 8 and will apply for Medicare in Oct. when you are supposed to. However, I am holding out for age 66. If I don't have SS from which to take any medicare expenses, does this just get billed to me? Thanks

Correct--and that's exactly what I'm doing (I'm on Medicare but delaying my SS).  You'll be billed quarterly for 3 months of payments.  But if you start automated payments, they take only one month at a time.  Welcome to Medicare!

I am divorced and do not have enough work history to receive much at all. (Community Volunteer for years) Does my ex have to draw on his before I can begin to draw on it, too? And, if so, how do I know if he has started drawing his SS?

Good news--you can draw an ex-spousal SS payment if you were married for over 10 years--and you can start it before your ex-spouse starts their SS, if you've been divorced for over 2 years.  Definitely explore this with SSA!

My British wife, who worked in Germany for 20+ years will receive a pension from that nation. She has NOT worked in the US (for money anyway). As I understand it, she will get a portion of Social Security based on our marriage (25 years) and my work record. We are trying to find out if her pension will offset the amount she receives based on my benefit.

Great question with a surprising answer.  A German pension can trigger WEP (Windfall Elimination Provision), which can reduce payments on her OWN SS.  However, foreign pensions do not trigger GPO (Government Pension Offset), which could reduce spousal payments.  In your case I'd say the German pension will not reduce her spousal payments on your record.  Check with SSA, of course!

My husband and I have started our own business. Our tax planner told us we no longer were required to pay into social security because we had both worked 36 Plus quarters for corporations and maxed out. He stated the SSA would gladly take our money but we weren't required to pay into it any longer. Is this correct?

No!  Your self-employment income is subject to Social Security taxes by law.  For self-employed it's called "Self-Employment Tax" rather than FICA.  You pay it on Form SE of your 1040.  Check back with your advisor--they may have meant that you don't pay FICA, but you definitely pay SE taxes.

Hi I’ve heard that you can collect 100% of your Sosa security while you are still employed. My eventual Social Security will be reduced by my teachers pension. Doesn’t make sense to do that if my full retirement age is 66 and I am currently 65?

You CAN collect full SS while working--once you're over your Full Retirement Age.  While younger than FRA, any work over $17,040 will reduce your SS payment.  Check it out on the SSA website.

Okay, I hear you guys. You have a LOT of questions about Social Security. So Andy and I will stick around for a bit longer got get through more questions.

And clearly, I have to have him back!

I’ve tried to think this through. SS will be my only guaranteed pension, although I have been diligent about 401(k) savings. I know I’d probably collect more total if I started taking SS earlier, but would it be smarter to wait as long as possible (even to the point of maximum benefits) in order to have more guaranteed income later in life in case I outlive my savings or investments really go south?

Check out Michelle's column on this question, and some other questions in this chat session.  It's an individual question, but the rule of thumb is that you'll get more total SS payout by waiting to 70 and living to at least average life expectancy.  Personally, I'm delaying SS and drawing from savings to pay my bills.

Guys, the early or late question is one that creates a tremendous about oaf debate. As Andy said, I've written about this quite a bit lately. In fact, my husband and I are in a debate about it. He wants to collect at 62, I argue we should wait until 70.

But the answer is truly it depends. 

-- If you need the money and will have trouble paying bills and well eating. Take your benefit. 

-- If you're going to be earning a lot of money consider that you'll be getting a reduced benefit anyway, so maybe delay.

-- If you've got enough income coming in through other pensions, 401 (k), etc. that you can live on comfortably, probably wait.

-- If you aren't in good health or your family doesn't have those long-life genes take it early or at full retirement because well you know your people don't live long. Me, the women in my family live until their late 80s and 90s. I had a great grandmother who lived past 100. Those North Carolina genes. 

The important thing is to run your own numbers. Do the best you can to figure out what's right for you. And if you do that, don't look back. Because nobody really has the right answer unless the person knows exactly when he or she will die.

should I wait until full retirement age to collect social security benefits or take it at age 62? I am 61 right now and work part time.

Huge question the Michelle's articles can help you ponder.  But you need to know that any work over $17,040 will reduce your SS, while you're under Full Retirement Age.  Be sure to take that reduction into consideration.

Are you a supporter of living on your investments and (401k, annuity etc.) and waiting until 70 to draw your Social Security check?

Read Michelle's column: Early or late: One senior says ignore the conventional wisdom of waiting to take Social Security. Take it at 62.

Michelle is the expert on this.  You might talk with a financial planner.  I looked at how much my total SS would be from 66-70, and mentally set that aside in my savings.  Now waiting until 70 for SS.

Actually not an expert but I've have been reading a lot on this issue. My husband made a good case of collecting so we could use the money to travel while we are in good health. 

I think I've persuaded him to wait with the argument of what if we get sick later and need expensive long-term care.

But we are still talking about early or late. Haven't made the decision yet since we still have several years before we have to decide. 

Just wanted to say that thanks to you and your chats, I'm on track to finish off our second mortgage this week! And - I've tackled the college savings for my kids as if it's a debt I'm paying off. Should be done saving for my rising high school senior by February, and my incoming high school freshman by the start of her high school senior year. Being free of these "debts" has me thinking about the next phase in my life and the opportunity to step back career wise into a lower paying - higher satisfaction position in 5 years. thanks!

So proud of you!!!!!

I am 65 & will retire in 2 years from teaching. My husband has retired from teaching. He started to collect SS @ age 66 in addition to his pension. How can we maximize our earnings. I have read about File & Suspend; Do It Over- do those concepts apply to us?

Not sure if your teacher pension will make you subject to WEP and GPO (it depends on whether you paid SS taxes on your teacher pay, which varies by state).  The fee-based services that help you compute your SS can take this into consideration to see if yo qualify for some of those exotic strategies.  Check with Maximize My Social Security, Social Security Solutions, Social Security Choices, or a similar service.

Is there a tool for conducting break-even calculations to compare the three basic options for drawing social security benefits?

Yes.  You can do the math yourself, or see the free or fee-based comparison services mentioned in other posts in this chat.

One question that seems to come up often (from my wife!) is the following: Husband is 67, is still working (and his yearly salary has always averaged >$250K income) and not planning to retire until April, 2021 (when he will be 70 1/2). Wife stopped working in July, 2017, at age 65. Her yearly salary averaged <$25K. Husband is not planning on starting to draw on his SS benefits until after reaching age 70 1/2. When should Wife start drawing on her husband’s (or her) retirement benefits?

This is a great question for the free or fee-based services mentioned in other posts in this chat.  To start, try my favorite free calculator by googling "financial engines social security calculator."

Hi I am a spouse whose husband's Social Security earnings are significantly more than mine. Thus, when my husband retires I plan to claim the 50% of his earnings for my benefit. I am a little over 2 years older than my husband. I also understand I can't draw benefits based on my husband's earning until he retires. One thought we have is my claiming Social Security on my own work record when I turn 62 and then when my husband retires increase my Social Security payment using the 50% of his earnings which will be higher. Does this make sense to do and/or is there anything aware if trying to employ this strategy? Thanks

Hi, a very similar question was answered in another post in this chat.  Check it out--and check out the free or fee-based services to help with this question.

My toddler was just diagnosed with a developmental disability. We probably won't know for a number of years whether this will impact his ability to work later on. What paperwork/reporting should I be doing now to increase his likelihood/make the process easier for getting SS disability in the future if it is needed?

I'm sorry for your new situation.  Keep any medical records in case they could help a later disability claim.  Learn now about possible "SSI" benefits (if you happen to be needy), and later Social Security disabled child benefits.  Best wishes!

Michelle, Love and appreciate your chats and insight. My parents have a cabin on a lake in a very remote area of northern New England that has been in our family for over 40 years. They owe $25K on the mortgage, but are now on a very fixed income. The spend several weeks in the summer there, as well as a couple weeks in the fall. My brother has asked me about taking over the mortgage (splitting it with him) to give them some relief but my husband is reluctant pay 50% of a mortgage on a place that he only uses 1 week per year. Financially, this would not be a burden to us and I would like to give my parents some financial relief but I can see his point. Rental income is most likely not an option as this place is quite remote. Once my parents are gone and no longer using the cabin, we would most likely sell it, possibly for something less remote and more suitable for a rental income. Are there any advantages at all to taking over the mortgage and do you have any advice on splitting a vacation home with family in a way that is fair to all?

As I understand the question, you'll be taking over the payment but not ownership? That's how I read it anyway.

Whatever you decide get it in writing. If you plan to pay 50 percent and want some return in the way of splitting the home with your brother in a will, get the will to state that.

As for assuming ownership and the mortgage, I would say you and your husband should be in agreement. My rule is it takes two yeses to make such a decision. One "no" and it can't be done. So unless you can persuade your husband, it's a no. 

Generally, I discourage co-signing anything unless it's with a spouse -- even parents or siblings. 

Now, you might be able to convince your husband that you guys can help your parents by giving them money every month but it has to be in full agreement and you need to be specific with your parents about how long you can do it. 

This is a two part question: My last husband would have turned 57 this year and I am 51 and still working, at what age could I be able to apply for his full benefits SSA Benefits (as a survivor)? Would I still be able to work currently and receive my full salary and not be penalized for receiving his SSA benefits and will I able to apply for my own SSA full benefits at age 67?

You could get a 100% widow's benefit at age 67, whether you're working or not.  You could get a 71.5% widow's benefit at age 60, but it would be reduced if you earn over $17,040 at work.  Finally, you could get a 124% payment on your own SS at 70.  You could take either the widow's benefit or your own benefit early, with no carry-over reduction to the other benefit.  You have options--be sure to discuss with SSA.

If I retire and take SS in september when i turn 62,but have earned earlier that year(or expect to have earning by the end of the year) of $35,000,will i be penalized on the SS earnings for that year?

No.  The first year you get SS, they can count your earnings month-by-month.  So if you retire in September, you can start your SS in October with no reduction due to your earnings.  (It will be reduced because of age, of course.)

How is SS benefit calculated?

It's complicated.  In short, your best 35 years of earnings are inflated, and averaged together to  determine your payment.  There are cool worksheets for different birth years here, and put "figure" in the search bar.

If this is a card you pay a fee on, the card company might have an option to transfer to a no fee card, so you can keep the history on that account active at no cost to you. If it's a zero fee card, as long as you keep an eye out for strange charges, you don't lose anything by keeping it open and not using it.

Yup, what I said. No fee, sure keep it and don't use it.

But switching to a no fee option even with the same lender doesn't get address the person's issue that the customer service sucks. So, if you've got a good credit score don't stick with a company that is bad.

Hi Michelle, A young colleague just graduated and started working. She couldn't get an apartment w/o her parents co-signing because she has no credit. What can she do to start building credit? She's still on her parents cell phone plan, no car (no license, New Yorker). She's afraid to get a credit card. Any books I could recommend to her? I always tell our new youngin staffers about you :)

I don't advise co-signing for anyone that is not a spouse. But that's done. 

She should apply for a secured credit card to start if she can't get a regular credit card. She doesn't need to be afraid unless she's reckless with her money. Tell her I said charge something small, like $10. Pay the balance off in full and ON TIME. Do this for about six months. Then stop using the card and she will begin to build credit on her own. 

What's the likely timing of when Congress will act to address Social Security's long-term solvency? What aspects or features of the program do you think are most likely to change?

Sorry, I can't predict what Congress will do or when they'll do it.  I can say that in 1983, SS insolvency was only a few months away when Congress acted to fund the system.  Current insolvency date is 2034, so there's time.

For the bulk of my earning years I raised children and managed our home. So my lifetime earnings compared to spouse are poor. My SS monthly income is around $200. If I take my small amount at 62, does this affect getting the spousal benefit when my spouse retires?

Yes, if you take your own SS early, the dollar reduction for early filing will carry over to your later spousal payment.  In your case that would be a very small amount, so it might be worth it.  Check out your options by googling my favorite free calculator at "financial engines social security calculator."

Why did you choose not to wait until 70 to retire?

Is that for me?  I'm 67 and I've retired from my usual work.  However, I'm delaying SS until 70, when it maximizes.

I'm still too young to have to make the decision but I believe in looking ahead, which is why my husband and I are talking about it now. We are in our 1o-year preretirement phase. 

I am looking at retiring at 55 (thanks in large part to YOU Michelle Singletary!!) and would like some information as to how not having earnings in the years between when I retire and when I can start collecting SS will affect my payments. I am planning on starting collecting at 62. Thanks!

Congratulations on financial success!  Your SS is based on your best 35 years.  Not working for the next 10 or so years will deny you what could be your best years.  But to get a $$ and cents answer, try the SS Estimator here

Really, this is all about life choices and life expectancy. A dear friend just past away at 56. It was totally unexpected. Friends in my age range 50+ are all talking about when to retire so we can relax more. Working longer may mean more money and higher SS but what will it matter if you aren't here, right?

Or you could live to 80 or 90 or 100 and maybe your best years start at 70. I've seen so very spry seniors in better health than younger folks. 

Whatever you do, think it out. Plan it out. Know your numbers and when you do, adjust your lifestyle and spending to meet what you want/need.

I am retired and my husband just turned 66, his full retirement age. He is still working full time. I am claiming social security based on my own work record but receive a reduced rate because I spent half my working life abroad and have been hit by the windfall provision which claws back some of my US benefit as I also receive a pension from another country. Normally we’d think it best for my husband to delay claiming his social security until he actually stops working so that his account will accumulate more until he hits 70. However if he does claim now, I could claim my spousal benefits based on his work record and that would be a higher amount than the annual increase in benefit he would accrue by waiting. As he’s full retirement age, am I right that there’s no claw-back of benefits because he earns above the threshold? It seems to me that he should claim now. Am I missing something? I know we’ll have to pay taxes on the additional income.

Yes, he can draw SS with no reduction due to current work, because he's over his Full Retirement Age.  But you might want to think this "backwards."  What if you take your own SS, and he takes spousal payments on your record until he reaches 70?  Check this option out on one of the online calculators mentioned in other posts in this chat.  Best wishes!

Not a question, guys. I just wanted to quickly express my thanks for you taking your time to do this for us today :) Much love to both of you!

Right back at you! 

Andy is terrific, isn't he?

Hi Michelle. Today's newsletter discussing credit card vs debit card was interesting but recently my daughter had the opportunity to travel abroad with her school. I sent her with a credit card that she "piggy backs" off me and a debit card tied to her own checking account. The debit card was a nightmare...even though we notified the bank of the countries she would be traveling and having plenty of money in the account...her attempts at charging or getting money from an ATM were all declined. Thankfully she had my 'piggy back" credit card.

Read Michelle's column: What's the best credit card for students?

My oldest is 23 and she doesn't have a credit card in her own name. She occasionally uses one where I've put her as an authorized user. But she studied abroad and got by mostly with her debit card with no trouble at all. 

Thank you Michelle for being a wonderful example and for empowering us women with your financial advice on a daily and weekly basis. Also Andy, thank you for sharing your expert advice in reference to our Social Security System and how it all works. Sound like the bottom line is we all need to know our financial situation and more importantly, have a plan! If you each could recommend a good summer reading book on finances and on social security what would it be?

Good place to stop with your comments. And read Andy's book for the summer. There's a link in this chat.

Oh my goodness, Andy and I only got to a fraction of the questions. So were are super sorry if yours wasn't answered.

But two things.

1. Andy has agreed to answer some questions offline. So look for a future column that may have your question.

2. I am definitely having him back!

Thank you so much for participating in the chat today. So many good questions and clearly, it shows I need to do more columns on understanding Social Security.

See you next week. I hope you all have a great 4th of July holiday. 

In This Chat
Michelle Singletary
Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, "The Color of Money," which appears in The Post on Wednesday and Sunday and is carried in more than 120 newspapers.

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Andy Landis
Andy Landis is the author of "Social Security: The Inside Story." He worked for the Social Security Administration for 12 years before becoming a private consultant in the field.
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