Many people understand the basics of Social Security long before they retire: you pay into the program with your taxes throughout your working years, and then much of the change will await you afterwards.
We learn as we get older that things get more complicated than that. Much is written on everything from eligibility requirements for ex-spouses to how to maximize your Social Security checks.
There are also some things that it would have been good to know in advance, but that many people don’t realize until they start receiving benefits. Here is a brief overview of some of them.
1. You are paid in arrears
Uncle Sam is very demanding that you pay him on time, but of course, he’s not so considerate in return.
As the administration of social security freely admit, you can expect every Social Security check to be “paid within the month following the month for which it is due.” In other words, your May check will arrive in June.
But it’s not considered a late payment when the federal government does.
2. You get paid monthly
In our working lives, many of us get used to a weekly, biweekly, or at least fortnightly salary – and we build our budgets around that.
These pay periods describe the vast majority of U.S. paychecks, according to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Three-quarters of employers pay weekly or bi-weekly, while less than 5% of employers pay monthly.
Nonetheless, Social Security operates on the unpopular monthly frequency.
3. Your payment date usually depends on your birthday
Once upon a time – before 1997 – most people received their Social Security checks in the first three days of the month. It didn’t work out very well.
Because everyone was expecting their checks at the same time, it created a burden on the social security administration, banks, businesses, postal services, and the like.
The SSA found that departments were less overwhelmed when checks were spread throughout the month. This process is called “payment cycling, and today it works like this:
- If your birthday is from 1 to 10: Benefits are paid the second Wednesday of the month.
- If your birthday is from 11 to 20: Benefits are paid on the third Wednesday.
- If your birthday is from 21 to 31: Benefits are paid on the fourth Wednesday.
4. If you receive the SSI, your payment date is different
There is an exception to receiving social security based on your date of birth.
If you also receive additional security income (SSI) benefits – which are income supplements for the elderly, blind or disabled, and have little or no income – you will receive your social security payment on third of the month, like the good old times. Until then, you will receive your SSI payment first.
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