This will be a column about a special procedure that the Social Security Administration routinely uses, which aims to help people by protecting their rights to possible benefits. It’s called a “protective filing date.” In short, if you contact SSA and tell them that you intend to apply for some form of social security benefit, and give them your name and CPR number, it establishes a record that could possibly be used as the start date for any social security. Security application you may submit later. But the protective date is usually only good for six months.
The best way to explain this procedure in more detail is by answering some questions I got from readers about this issue.
Q: My wife has recently signed up for Social Security. She wanted her services to start in June, when she turns 65 years old. But then the social security representative got her completely confused because he said their records showed my wife called them back in January. And he said because she did, she would have to start her services in January at a lower rate than what she would have had if she had been allowed to start her services in June as she wanted. She got so confused that she just hung up and ended the call. Now we do not know what to do. Can you help us?
People also read …
ONE: I have a feeling your wife misunderstood what the SSA representative was telling her. Or maybe he just did not do a very good job of explaining the situation.
When your wife called the Social Security people back in January, they set a “protective application date” in January for her. And that simply means that if at some point within the next six months she decided to actually apply for benefits, she could start those benefits in January if she wanted to. That did not mean she should start those services in January.
So if your wife wants her benefits to start in June when she is 65, she can get them to start in June. It’s just that she could think of getting them to start in January if she wanted to. If she did, she would get about 3% less per month in ongoing benefits, but on the other hand, she would get a large repayment check.
Q: I’ve been reading your column for years and I’ve been reading your Social Security book. So I think I’m a pretty good social security expert. I have a girlfriend who is 64 years old and she recently started retiring. She told me she got a check for benefits retroactively. But I knew after reading your column and book that retroactive benefits can only be paid to people who have reached their full retirement age or older. So I told her it could not be when she was only 64 years old. But she showed me her bank statement, and quite rightly, there was a Social Security deposit of about $ 8,000 in arrears. So how did that happen?
ONE: It all has to do with this protective submission date. You are right that you can usually only receive benefits retroactively if you are over your full retirement age. Or to put it another way, the law says that no retroactive effect can be given if it involves the payment of reduced pension benefits.
I would bet with my next Social Security check that your friend contacted SSA a number of months before she finally decided to apply for benefits. And when she actually signed on the dotted line, they used the protected date as her filing date. So that’s why she got the early retirement check.
And even though she did get that refund check, it was technically not a retroactive payment. In other words, on Social Security’s books, it’s as if she actually filed her claim on the earlier date of protection.
Q: I will reach my full retirement age in two months. I’m still not sure if I should apply for my social security to start then or wait until I’m 70. I recently received a letter from the social security people telling me that if I do not apply for benefits before the end of this month I will lose all benefits retroactively to which I may be entitled. I called SSA right away and a representative told me something about a “protected date” because I called them last November and asked some questions. Now I am completely confused. What is this all about?
ONE: When you called them in November, it set a “protective submission date” for November. And because these dates are good for six months, the letter you received was just to inform you that you have another month to decide if you want to use November as a possible starting month for your benefits.
But it sounds like you do not mind. You said you want your benefits to begin, either when you reach your full retirement age or at age 70. I can understand why that letter confused you. But again, that was really just protecting your rights to the past benefits. But you do not want them, so just ignore the letter you received.
Q: I recently started my social security at my full retirement age. I have a neighbor who is about the same age and he did the same. But he got a performance check retroactively. He said it was because he first called Social Security about four months ago and they used that date as his starting month. I also called Social Security about three months ago with some general questions, but I got no refund. Why?
ONE: I’m really not sure. But here’s a qualified guess. I would bet that when your neighbor called, he expressed more interest in applying for benefits, and as part of that process, the SSA representative gave his name and CPR number. And it set in motion this whole protective application date process. On the other hand, when you called, I have a feeling you just asked some questions and never expressed interest in applying for benefits. So you never gave them your name and SSN and the call was not recorded and no protective submission date was established.
If you have a question about social security, Tom Margenau has a book with all the answers. It’s called “Social Security: Simple and Smart.” You can find the book on creators.com/books. Or look for it on Amazon or other bookstores. To find out more about him and to read previous columns and see features from other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.