Dear Rusty: I have a big 65th birthday coming up mid-March and would like your advice on registering for Social Security and Medicare. I am now unemployed, but I am seeking another gig to get me to age 67 before taking Social Security. Signed: Wondering Senior
Dear Wondering: You do not need to “register” with Social Security in advance. You don’t need to do anything with Social Security until you are ready to claim your benefits. Since you were born in 1956, your full retirement age (FRA) for Social Security purposes is 66 plus 4 months, and that is when you will be entitled to 100% of the benefit you’ve earned from a lifetime of working. But you can, if you wish, also wait beyond your FRA to get an even bigger benefit. For each month you delay after your FRA you’ll earn Delayed Retirement Credits of .667%, which is 8% additional benefit for each year you wait. That can continue up to age 70 when your maximum benefit will be reached. In your case that would mean an age 70 benefit 29% more than your FRA benefit amount. But whenever you’re ready, you can apply for Social Security online at www.ssa.gov/retire (you must first create your “My Social Security” account to apply online).
Medicare is an entirely separate program and, unless you have “creditable” employer health-care coverage from a new job, you should enroll in Medicare a bit prior to your 65th birthday (“creditable” coverage is a group plan with at least 20 participants). This would be during your Medicare Initial Enrollment Period (IEP), which is a 7-month window starting 3 months before the month you turn 65 and ending 3 months after the month you turn 65. If you don’t enroll in Medicare during your IEP and enroll later, and if you didn’t have creditable employer health-care coverage after age 65, you will be subject to a late enrollment penalty, which will permanently increase your Medicare Part B (and Part D) premiums.
Medicare Part B is coverage for doctors and outpatient services, and Part D is prescription drug coverage, both of which require a premium; Medicare Part A is hospitalization coverage which is free if you’re eligible for Social Security. If you have “creditable” employer coverage when you turn 65, you can simply delay enrolling in Medicare Part B until your employer coverage is about to end, or until after it ends during an 8 month Special Enrollment Period during which you can enroll in Medicare Part B without penalty. But for Part D prescription drug coverage, you must enroll in a private plan within 63 days of your 65th birthday, or the end of your employer drug coverage, or you will incur a Part D late enrollment penalty for enrolling later. And remember that Medicare late enrollment penalties never go away – they are recurring for the rest of your life. The bottom line is this: you don’t need to pre-register for either Social Security or Medicare. You can simply enroll when you are ready for benefits to start (keeping in mind that for Medicare, you must have “creditable” alternative coverage after age 65 to avoid late enrollment penalties).
Russell Gloor is an Association of Mature American Citizens certified social security advisor. To submit a question, visit amacfoundation.org/programs/social-security-advisory or email firstname.lastname@example.org.