Ask Rusty – I’m 78 and Still Working; Should I Apply for Social Security?

National Social Security Advisor at the AMAC Foundation

Dear Rusty: I am 78, still working, have a good healthcare plan and I make a nice salary. Can I still get my Social Security check since I paid into it all these years? Signed: Still Working in My 70s

Dear Still Working: You not only can get your Social Security check now, I recommend you apply for it as soon as possible. Regardless of your current earnings, you’ll not suffer any penalty because you are still working. That’s because you stopped being subject to Social Security’s “earnings test” when you reached your full retirement age (FRA) of 66 some years ago. Indeed, your Social Security benefit continued to grow until you reached 70 years of age, at which point it reached your maximum benefit, which is 32% more than your benefit would have been at age 66.  

Since your benefit reached maximum some years ago at age 70, and since working now won’t hurt your payment amount, you should claim your benefits immediately. You should also ask for six months of retroactive benefits. Although your benefit stopped growing at age 70 and you’re now 78, Social Security will only pay up to six months of retroactive benefits, thus you have lost some of your benefits by waiting until age 78 to claim.

You can apply for your benefits either by calling SS at your local office or the national Social Security service center at 1.800.772.1213 to make an appointment to apply, or you can apply online at www.ssa.gov/retire. Applying online is by far the most efficient method, but you’ll need to first create your personal “my Social Security” online account to do so (simply go to www.ssa.gov/myaccount and follow the instructions). 

Since you’re still working, and assuming you have “creditable” healthcare coverage from your employer, you can delay enrolling in Medicare until you stop working (“creditable” coverage is a group plan with at least 20 participants). If you haven’t yet enrolled in Medicare and you’ve had creditable healthcare coverage since you were 65, you will not incur a late enrollment penalty for enrolling in Medicare now, but you can also continue to defer enrolling in Medicare without penalty if your employer coverage is “creditable.”

I strongly encourage you to apply for your Social Security benefits as soon as possible, because you will continue to lose money by delaying further. You will still get credit for your current earnings even after you start your Social Security benefits and, if appropriate because of your recent earnings, your benefit amount will be automatically increased, so there is no reason to delay claiming Social Security any longer. You earned your Social Security benefits, you aren’t subject to a penalty because you’re still working, and you’ll continue to get credit for your current earnings while still working, so you should apply for your Social Security benefits as soon as possible.