Members of the military pay into Social Security just as civilian employees do, and when you retire you can receive both your military and Social Security benefits.
But claiming Social Security benefits can be tricky. To help you get the most from your retirement income, we’ve listed a few things to know that could make a big difference.
1. How Your Benefits Are Calculated
The Social Security Administration (SSA) will base your benefits on a 35-year average of your wages, adjusted for inflation. If you worked longer than 35 years, the government will use numbers from your highest-earning 35 years. If you worked fewer than 35 years, the government will average in zeros for the years you are lacking. So you probably want to work as many years as you can to avoid those “zeros” being factored into your payment.
MyRetirementPaycheck.org, a website sponsored by the National Endowment for Financial Education, offers a simple explanation of how this formula works.The Social Security Administration (SSA) will base your benefits on a 35-year average of your wages, adjusted for inflation. If you worked longer than 35 years, the government will use numbers from your highest-earning 35 years. If you worked fewer than 35 years, the government will average in zeros for the years you are lacking. So you probably want to work as many years as you can to avoid those “zeros” being factored into your payment.
2. Either Way, You’re Playing the Odds
There are two schools of thought on when to start benefits -- wait until your full retirement age (we’ll explain) or start collecting at age 62, the earliest possible date. If you start collecting early, your payments will be lower since you’ll be receiving benefits for a longer time, in theory.
This is why knowing your full retirement age is important. For example, if you were born in 1955, your full retirement age would be 66 years and 2 months -- at that age you would be able to collect 100% of your benefits. But if you start collecting at age 62, you will get only 74.2% of the full benefit amount. Once you reach full retirement age, your benefit increases 8% a year up to age 70. The benefit doesn’t increase after age 70.
Online calculators from SSA can help you understand these variables.
3. Yes, You Can Still Work...
If you apply for benefits before your full retirement age, you can work and collect SSA benefits but there are limits on how much you can earn, and those limits can change each year. When you apply for benefits, the SSA will tell you what the limits and whether your income will affect your benefits.
4. Disability Payments
Qualifying veterans can receive Social Security Disability benefits (SSDI) even if you are already receiving VA disability benefits. The amount you can receive each month will be based on your average lifetime earnings before your disability began and not the severity of your disability.
If you became disabled while on active military service on or after October 1, 2001, visit www.socialsecurity.gov/woundedwarriors to find out how you can receive expedited processing of your disability claim.
5. Claiming an Ex’s Earnings
If you’re now divorced but were married for at least 10 years, you can receive SSA benefits based on up to half of your ex’s earnings or on the basis of your own earnings, whichever is higher. If an ex-spouse dies, you may be able to receive benefits similar to a widow or widower. Visit the Social Security website for more information.
We Can Help
We want to help you make the most of your retirement income. Our Social Security Analyzer Report will help you understand how different claiming strategies will affect your estimated Social Security benefits. This report is available to active, veteran, and retired military personnel for a flat fee of $250. To receive your report, mail your completed input form and payment to AAFMAA Wealth Management & Trust LLC, 639 Executive Place, Suite 200, Fayetteville, NC 28305.
At AWM&T, our priority is to ensure the financial security and independence of the American Armed Forces community by providing military investment management, military financial planning, and military trust services. Call 1-910-390-1933 or click here to request a complimentary Investment Portfolio review. There’s no cost or obligation.