When will I get my monthly Social Security check? It depends on these quirky rules.

·5 min read

If you haven't reached retirement age, be warned: Social Security has some pretty quirky rules.

And that's just the way the government works from time to time, says Jim Blair, a former administrator for the agency who now works with Premier Social Security Consulting,

You might think, for instance, that you’d receive your check on the first of every month after you’ve applied for the benefits. But no.

The benefits are paid in the month following the month in which they are owed to you, according to the Social Security Administration’s booklet, "What You Need to Know When You Get Retirement or Survivors Benefits." For example, you would receive your June benefit in July.

Another key fact: The day of the month you receive your check generally depends on the birth date of the person whose earnings record is the basis for your benefit, Social Security says. For instance, benefits are paid on the second Wednesday of the month if the date of birth is the 1st to the 10th; the third Wednesday if your date of birth is the 11th to the 20th; and the fourth Wednesday if your date of birth is the 21st to the 31st.

So, what are other quirky rules worth knowing?

How Social Security determines ages

A person “attains” a new age on the first moment of the day before the anniversary of his or her birth, says Joe Elsasser, founder and president of Covisum, a Social Security claiming software company. So people born on the first of the month are treated as though they are born the month before.

What’s more, if you’re born on Jan. 1, that means you were born on Dec. 31 the previous year in the eyes of the Social Security Administration, says Martha Shedden, the president and co-founder of the National Association of Registered Social Security Analysts.

If you were born on Jan. 1, 1955, Social Security treats you as though you were born in 1954, Elsasser says, meaning your full retirement age is 66 rather than 66 and two months, as would be the case if you were born on any other day in 1955.

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Social Security's 'throughout the month' rule

Do you plan to apply for Social Security at age 62? Then take a moment to learn about something called the “throughout the month” rule. For initial eligibility, Social Security requires that you be age 62 “throughout the month,” says Elsasser. “Because of how Social Security treats the day of birth for determining 'attained' age, only people born on the second of the month can actually claim Social Security at age 62,” Elsasser says. “Everyone else will technically claim at 62 and one month.”

Divorced and remarried?

Generally, if you are divorced, you could receive benefits based on your ex-spouse’s earnings record if your marriage lasted 10 years or longer. There are some other conditions as well.

But it also turns out that you can marry and divorce the same person twice if you were married at least part of 10 consecutive years, Shedden says.

“So, if the second marriage occurs in the same year as the first divorce, and the total is 10 years or more, you are eligible for divorced benefits,” she says.

What’s your full retirement age?

At one time, your full retirement age and Medicare eligibility age were the same: 65. That’s no longer the case.

“It’s a confusing topic and it’s so important for retirees to know their FRA,” Shedden says. “Many rules and benefit amounts depend on this age.”

For people born in 1954 or earlier, the full retirement age is 66. For those born in 1955 through 1959, FRA increases two months each birth year. For example, if you were born in 1957, your full retirement age is 66 and six months. And those born in 1960 and later reach full retirement at 67.

Social Security widow limit

Social Security survivors benefits are limited to the greater of either 82.5% of the deceased’s full retirement age benefit or the amount the worker would have received if alive.

What are some practical implications? Elsasser says:

  • If the deceased claimed benefits early and the widow or widower is at least full retirement age at their spouse's death, then the widow or widower will receive more than the deceased was receiving.

  • If the deceased claimed benefits at age 62, and the widow is newly eligible for survivors benefits but is currently under full retirement age, it may not make sense to delay the benefit as it will be limited to 82.5% of the deceased primary insurance amount or PIA.

Medicare’s 'hold harmless' provision

In most years, most Medicare beneficiaries have their Part B premiums deducted from their Social Security checks, Elsasser says. But if the cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, applied to the Social Security check is not greater than the increase in the Medicare premium, most will be “held harmless.” In other words, the increase in Medicare premiums cannot cause their net Social Security benefit to go down.

Debunking Social Security’s myths

Besides quirky rules, there are many myths about Social Security floating around the internet. Here are links to two articles debunking those myths: Debunking Some Internet Myths and Debunking Some Internet Myths- Part 2.

Robert Powell, CFP, is the editor of TheStreet’s Retirement Daily and contributes regularly to USA TODAY. Have questions about money? Email him at rpowell@allthingsretirement.com.

The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Social Security: Benefits check timing depends on quirky rules