Dear Rusty: I am within a few weeks of applying for Social Security. My 70th Birthday is in April and I have stayed in my job for the maximum benefit from SS. I am also a veteran and so am taking my DD-214 with me to apply for the $300 or so extra dollars that is offered per month. Are there any other extra items I need to apply for? I keep hearing about a $16,000 benefit that I should apply for from SS but of course they never actually give you the specifics. Signed: Veteran Applying for SS
Dear Veteran: Please accept my gratitude for your service to our country, and congratulations for choosing a great strategy by waiting until you are 70 to get the maximum Social Security benefit available to you. However, I’m afraid I must clarify something regarding that “$300 or so extra dollars that is offered per month.” What you’re referring to is called “special extra earnings” for military service, but that provision doesn’t provide you with $300 in additional monthly SS benefits because of your military service. Rather it is a provision, which adds dollars to your recorded military earnings, with the amount added dependent upon the years during which you served.
Those who served between 1957 and 1977 get $300 added to their military earnings record for each quarter of active duty service. For example, if their actual military earnings for a given year of active duty were $2,700, their military earnings for that year for Social Security purposes will be shown as $3,900 ($300 per quarter times 4 quarters = $1,200 additional earnings for that service year). Those who served between 1978 and 2001 would also receive an addition to their military earnings record, but it would be computed somewhat differently – they receive an additional $100 in earnings for every $300 in active duty military pay, up to a maximum of $1,200 additional for each service year.
But these credits are not added to your monthly Social Security benefit payment; they are additions to your military earnings record, which may influence the amount of your Social Security benefit if your military service years are among the 35 years used to compute your SS benefit amount. Put simply, your earnings records for each year of active military service are increased by up to $1,200 per year for each year of active duty so that when your SS benefit is computed the higher earnings may increase your benefit amount. You can read all about this at the following link to Social Security’s rules on this topic: https://www.ssa.gov/planners/retire/military.html. As you will see in this document, if you served between 1968 and 2001 you do not need to do anything to receive these additions to your military pay record; the special extra earnings have already been credited to your military pay records. And no “special extra earnings” are credited for military service after 2001.
As for your question about “any other extra items” you need to apply for, there really aren’t any for you. By claiming your SS benefit to start in the month you attain 70 years of age you will be getting a benefit which is 32 percent more than you would have received at your full retirement age of 66, and that is the maximum you can receive.
Regarding what you hear about “a $16,000 benefit” you should apply for; those advertisements are marketing hype designed to get you to buy something or enroll in some program. If you keep digging (as I have) you will find that they’ll finally suggest that you may be able get that much more if you delay claiming benefits until you are 70 years old, which, of course, you have already done. Please keep this adage in mind – “if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.” And once more, thank you for your military service and congratulations for choosing a Social Security strategy that yields you the highest possible Social Security benefit available.
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.