Minister wants to maximize Social Security benefit

Dear Rusty: I want to apply for Social Security, but I want to make sure I get all the benefits I have earned. I am a veteran with a 10 percent disability rating (not sure if that matters). I am 68 years old. I am a minister and have been exempt from Social Security taxes for most of my income since I was about 30, but I still have the 40 quarters needed. I have also worked off and on in the secular workplace and continued paying Social Security taxes.

One hears a great deal about those who want to “help” us apply for Social Security, but which turn out to be a scam or want a fee. How do I apply and maximize my benefits with my unique situation? Signed: Seeking Answers

Dear Seeking: Don’t worry about fees here at the AMAC Foundation – there is never a fee for the services we provide (we are nonprofit). And I want to thank you for your military service – you may find the “For Veterans” section at our AMAC Foundation website interesting – amacfoundation.org.

To your question: Your VA disability rating does not affect your Social Security benefit. At 68 years old, your Social Security benefit payment has been earning Delayed Retirement Credits since you reached your full retirement age of 66 years and 4 months in July 2022. That means that your benefit, if you claim now, will be about 13 percent more than it would have been had you claimed at your FRA. FYI, if you continue to delay, your SS benefit will continue to grow (by 8 percent per additional year you delay), up to the month you turn 70. At that time, your SS benefit will be 29 percent higher than it would have been at your FRA. Nevertheless, if you wish to claim a smaller amount now, you can do so in a couple of ways:

  • You can call Social Security at (800) 772-1213, or your local SS office) to request an appointment to apply. They will most likely set a date/time to call you to take your application over the phone (they discourage office visits these days). Once you have applied, it typically takes a month or two to process your application, but they will pay your benefits effective with the month you say you want them to begin. Note, they will likely also offer you six months of retroactive benefits but be aware that if you accept that offer your monthly payment will be permanently reduced by 4 percent.
  • You can apply for your SS retirement benefit online at www.ssa.gov/apply. Applying online is, by far, the most efficient method, as shown in this short video: ssa.gov/hlp/video/iclaim_r01.htm. However, to apply online you will need to first create your personal “my Social Security” online account at ssa.gov/myaccount. Once you have your personal online account set up, you will be able to see what your SS retirement benefit will be now, and at future ages should you plan to wait longer to claim. Your SS retirement benefit will be based on your lifetime record of earnings from which Social Security FICA taxes were withheld (or self-employment earnings on which SS payroll taxes were levied). In any case, your SS benefit will be based on your lifetime earnings record contributing to Social Security, as well as your age when you claim. You’ll get your maximum benefit based on those factors.

Although your situation is somewhat uncommon, it is not exceptionally unique. Your VA disability rating does not affect your Social Security benefit and, because you are a member of the clergy, you are not subject to Social Security’s Windfall Elimination Provision – a rule which reduces SS benefits for those with a pension earned while not contributing to Social Security. In other words, your SS benefit will be based entirely on your lifetime record of earnings from which Social Security payroll taxes were withheld, and your age when your benefit starts.