How Do I Get Social Security To Pay Me My Full Benefit?


Today’s Social Security column addresses questions about when delayed retirement credits are applied to benefit rates, whether the WEP is fair or not and survivor benefits while working. Larry Kotlikoff is a Professor of Economics at Boston University and the founder and president of Economic Security Planning, Inc.

See more Ask Larry answers here.

Have Social Security questions of your own you’d like answered? Ask Larry about Social Security here.

How Do I Get Social Security To Pay Me My Full Benefit?

Hi Larry, I worked with the local Social Security office for months to determine my benefit. I went over my 100% benefit to increase my monthly amount. I decided to start benefits in June 2022. I was told an amount by the local people. When I received my first check in July, the check amount was lower than the quoted amount.

I figured I did not receive the amount covering the extra months for year 2022. I filed an appeal. The local person answer my appeal on the phone and said I was correct and that everything would be set correct after the turn of 2023. I have asked for a new calculation to be done. Their answer is they have been giving me the correct amount. Filing appeals and speaking with the local office is getting me no where. What can I do? Thanks, Bill

Hi Bill, There’s probably nothing that can be done right now. Based on the limited information in your question, I’m guessing that the reason your benefit rate is lower than you were is expecting is due to the fact that you haven’t yet been credited with the delayed retirement credits (DRC) you accrued in the first months of 2022. Those DRCs can’t be used to increase your benefit rate until your payment for January 2023.

When someone starts drawing benefits their between full retirement age (FRA) and age 70, Social Security law states that they can initially only receive credit for any delayed retirement credits (DRC) that they earned through December of the year prior to the year they start collecting benefits. Any DRCs earned in the year that they start drawing benefits are subsequently credited beginning with their payment for January of the year after the year they claimed benefits.

However, recomputations to credit partial year DRCs are done on an automated, and there is no way speed up that process to the best of my knowledge. My understanding is that such automated recomputations are only done every other year, so you may not actually see your rate increase until the latter part of 2024. You should though be paid any back pay due starting with your payment for January 2023 when the recomputation is processed.

By the way, we recently received feedback from someone who filed for his benefits at 68 in September 2019, and he reports that his recomputation to credit his 2019 DRCs wasn’t processed until August 2021. He was also then paid the back pay that he was due retroactive to the beginning of 2020. Best, Larry

How Is The Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) Fair?

Hi Larry, How is the windfall Elimination Provision fair? How is it not discrimination? I really want to get my full benefit with no reduction. Also, I’ve heard from a coworker that it does not apply in all states. Is this true? Wouldn’t that be discriminatory? Thanks, Steve

Hi Steve, What you heard is not correct. The Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) does apply in all states. The WEP is part of the Social Security law, which is a federal program that applies in all US states. In other words, you can’t avoid the WEP by moving to another state.

The basic reasoning that congress used when adding the WEP is as follows. Social Security is a social insurance program. As such, the Social Security benefit calculation formula is meant to replace a higher percentage of the average earnings of low income workers than the percentage replacement received by high income workers. But, if the reason that a person’s average lifetime earnings were low is because they worked part of their careers in non-Social Security covered employment, congress felt that it was unfair for such workers who receive a non-covered pension to also receive the higher percentage replacement in their Social Security benefit rate that was intended for long-time, low-wage earners.

As for whether or not the WEP law is fair, that depends on each person’s perspective. But regardless of whether or not you or I think it’s fair, the only opinions that matter are those of the people in congress. Congress added the WEP to the Social Security Act in the 1980s, and only congress has the power to rescind or amend the WEP. Best, Larry

Would I Be Able To Receive Survivor Benefits And Still Work?

Hi Larry, My husband passed away four years ago. I will be 60 in August and I still work full time. Would I be able to receive survivor benefits and still work? Is there a certain amount that you can have as income? I have to work full time to get my medical insurance. Thanks, Cara

Hi Cara, I’m sorry for your loss. If you file for benefits this year, Social Security would need to withhold $1 of your benefits for every $2 that you earn in excess of the exempt amount. So whether or not you could collect benefits once you reach 60 depends on your benefit rate and how much you’re earning.

Your best filing strategy could be either filing for reduced widow’s benefits early and then switching to your own record at 70, or filing for reduced retirement benefits on your own record early and then filing for unreduced widow’s benefits at full retirement age (FRA). Normally, you would want to start out drawing the lower benefit first and then switch to the higher record when it reaches its highest potential rate.

You may want to use my company’s software — Maximize My Social Security or MaxiFi Planner — to ensure your household receives the highest lifetime benefits. Social Security calculators provided by other companies or non-profits may provide proper suggestions if they were built with extreme care. Our software can also confirm your correct benefit amount, ensuring you aren’t being paid too little or too much, which could lead to potential clawbacks due to Social Security’s overpayment to you. Best, Larry


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