In the last month or so, I’ve written two columns about Social Security “news” articles I’ve seen in various publications with misleading headlines that are intended to lure you into reading the rest of the story. What’s contained in the article is never as dramatic or newsworthy as the exaggerated headline would indicate.
These Social Security ruses also show up in the form of “pop-up” ads while you are online. For example, today I was online at a news website when an ad with this headline popped up: “Seven reasons why you may not get your Social Security check!” Even though I knew the content was going to be mostly bogus, I just had to click to see where this was going. I also wanted to save my readers the anxiety of worrying that they may never get any Social Security, or that their current benefits might stop.
As always, these come-ons contain little molehills of truth hidden among mountains of misleading information. So anyway, according to this particular pop-up propaganda, here are the seven reasons people may not receive Social Security benefits.
Reason No. 1: Moving to a foreign country
Well, that statement by itself is very misleading. You can move almost anywhere on the planet and your Social Security benefits will follow you. But there is a small list of countries where Social Security benefits cannot be sent. As the article eventually pointed out, your checks will be stopped if you move to Cuba, North Korea and most of those “-stan” countries that made up the former Soviet Union (Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, etc.) I’m sure 99.9% of the people who were lured into this pop-up ad have absolutely no intention of moving to any of those countries. So, my point is: Why scare all these folks with misleading information that doesn’t apply to them?
Reason No. 2: Dying before reaching age 62
Well, duh! Of course you won’t get any Social Security retirement benefits if you die before you are old enough to claim them. At least the article correctly pointed out that your spouse or minor children will probably be due survivor benefits on your record.
Reason No. 3: Divorce (sometimes)
Actually, the vast majority of divorced women (and 95% of these cases involve women) will almost assuredly get benefits on their own Social Security record, on the record of their former husband or on the record of their current husband. (Many divorced women remarry and end up getting benefits on their new husband’s account.) The only divorced women who would end up with no Social Security at all would be those who divorced before their 10th anniversary (you must be married 10 years to qualify for divorced spouse benefits), who never remarried, and who never worked, meaning they have no Social Security of their own. And in my 50 years of dealing with Social Security issues, I never met a single woman in that boat.
Reason No. 4: If you have too few Social Security credits
Well, this is another great big “Duh!” Who doesn’t know that you have to work and pay Social Security taxes for a minimum of 10 years to qualify for Social Security retirement benefits? And in my half-century of Social Security experience, I’ve learned there are only two groups of people who don’t have enough Social Security credits by the time they reach retirement age. One group is married women who choose to stay home and be full-time mothers and homemakers. However, they will always qualify for benefits on their husband’s Social Security record. The other group is made up of state, local and some federal government workers who pay into a separate retirement program and not into Social Security. But of course, they end up getting a pension from their own retirement system.
Reason No. 5: Being a noncitizen
If you entered this country legally and have worked and paid Social Security taxes, you will qualify for benefits just like anyone else. And legally residing noncitizens who have never worked could get dependent or survivor benefits from a spouse’s Social Security record (assuming they meet all the other eligibility requirements). However, their benefits may stop if they move out of the United States. The only noncitizens who will never get Social Security are those undocumented workers who came to this country illegally.
Reason No. 6: Having worked infrequently
This is just a rehash of the points made in Reason No. 4. (My hunch is the writer of this piece originally had six reasons, but his or her editor said seven were needed, so they added this redundant bit.) Anyway, once again, the rules say you must work and pay taxes for a minimum of 10 years to qualify for Social Security retirement benefits.
Reason No. 7: You failed the Social Security earnings test
Well, this might be the only bit of realistic and helpful information in the entire piece. The “earnings test” referred to says this: If you file for Social Security, if you are under your full retirement age and if you are still working, one dollar must be withheld from your benefits for every two dollars you earn over a prescribed annual limit. That limit is $19,560 in 2022. I’ve written many past columns explaining why I don’t like this law. Social Security beneficiaries under full retirement age who are working and making more than the earnings limit always end up getting more Social Security benefits than they are due, and then they must pay back the overpaid amounts.
Here’s some good advice for my readers. Instead of clicking on these misleading pop-up ads, you should read my new book: “Social Security: 100 Myths and 100 Facts.” I just read the book from cover to cover for the first time since turning it over to my syndicator for publication, and I forgot how really good and helpful it is. Try it. You can get it for less than 10 bucks on Amazon.com.
If you have a Social Security question, Tom Margenau has two books with all the answers. One is called “Social Security — Simple and Smart: 10 Easy-to-Understand Fact Sheets That Will Answer All Your Questions About Social Security.” The other is “Social Security: 100 Myths and 100 Facts.” You can find the books at Amazon.com or other book outlets.
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