Dear Rusty: Should I take Social Security at 65? My date of birth is August 1953, and I just signed up for both Social Security and Medicare. My plan was to start Medicare and Social Security at age 65, but now I’m unsure if I’m doing the right thing. My earnings so far this year are about $21,000 and I plan to continue working full time (I expect to make about $37,000 this year). Since I’ve already made more this year than allowed, I’m told that I won’t see any Social Security payments this year; that they will hold all payments until January 2019. My estimated benefit at age 65 is $1,978. My wife was born in January 1949, and she is already on Social Security and Medicare with a monthly check of $1,200.

Is there a better strategy for me? Should I wait until I am 66 or go ahead and start Medicare coverage? Or should I hold off on Medicare and keep my company coverage? File and suspend? Should my wife file for a spousal benefit? Should I go ahead and take Social Security at 65 and have Medicare premiums taken out? Would the money withheld for exceeding the earnings limit be adjusted at age 66? — Uncertain What to Do

Dear Uncertain: By taking your Social Security at age 65, your benefit will be cut by about 6.7 percent because you are taking it before your full retirement age (FRA) which is 66. And because you haven’t yet reached your full retirement age you will, indeed, be affected by the “earnings limit.” For any month in 2018 that you earn more than $1420 you won’t receive a benefit payment, so considering your expected income it appears that Social Security will recover any benefits you receive for the rest of the year. Starting in 2019, your earnings limit will increase considerably; the limit goes up by about 2½ times in the year you reach your full retirement age and goes away once you attain age 66. So, if your earnings in 2019 are about the same as this year, you probably won’t exceed the 2019 limit.

Also, once you reach your full retirement age, Social Security will give you time credit for any months you did not receive benefits and adjust your benefit accordingly (you do not get withheld benefits back in a lump sum; rather they will add five months to your benefit start date and increase your benefit amount accordingly). Since it’s doubtful you’ll get any 2018 benefits due to your earnings, you may want to consider delaying the start of your Social Security until next year (it’s not too late to withdraw your application).

Regarding Medicare, if your employer’s healthcare plan allows you to continue past age 65, and that plan is considered “creditable” by Medicare, you can delay enrolling in Medicare Part B without penalty for late enrollment when you sign up later. By doing this, you can avoid the monthly Medicare Part B premium of $134 (2018 amount), but you should check with your human resources department or your healthcare insurance carrier before making that decision. Some plans require you to make Medicare the primary payer at 65.

“File and suspend” is not an option that would benefit you, but you could consider something called a “restricted application for spousal benefits only.” If you delay filing for Social Security now and wait until you are 66, you could file the restricted application and collect 50 percent of your wife’s benefit as her spouse, while allowing your own benefit to grow by 8 percent per year up to age 70 when it would be 32 percent higher than it will be at age 66. And since your wife is already receiving her own net benefit of $1200, she will not get a spousal benefit when you start collecting because 50 percent of your FRA benefit (about $2120) is less than her own current benefit amount.

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