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Understanding Social Security Benefits

Living has its benefits. Stay alive long enough and the government pays you back some of the money you loaned it during your working life.

We are New Yorkers. Usually, if someone does not pay us back in timely fashion, we can get a little testy.

Ida Fuller, the first Social Security recipient, only had to pay three years into the system before she collected her first check in 1940. Compare that to our 45 or 50 years of accumulated work credits, starting from that first teenage job slinging ice cream cones.  

Social Security is not flashy. It provides a basic monthly income stream at a time where defined benefit pension plans have disappeared from most private sector jobs. Benefits do increase based on cost-of-living factors (2023 saw an 8.7 percent jump in benefits). At age 62, you and your spouse can begin receiving Social Security benefits. There is a significant reduction in your benefit amount based on your age below full retirement age, should you choose that path.

A worker’s 25 to 30 percent reduction is likely with a 30 to 35 percent drop-off for a spouse. As an example, let’s say your full benefit amount taken at 67 would pay out $1,000 per month. At age 62, you will receive $700. Here is where all of that high school math you thought was silly has value: The present value of money received now and its uses must be contrasted with a larger amount waiting in the future that will now be greatly reduced.

Also, if you are still working, below full retirement age and make more than $21,240, a dollar in benefits will be deducted for each $2 dollars earned above $21,240.

Marriage is a favored institution under Social Security. Even if the marriage ended 10 years and one day after the wedding, a divorced spouse would be eligible for benefits. Following the death of a loved one, surviving spouses receive a one-time death benefit of $255. If the surviving spouse had a lower Social Security benefit than the deceased spouse, the survivor’s benefit will be raised to the higher amount.

The widowed spouse can be as young as 60; 50 if they are disabled – or any age if they are caring for a child younger than 16 or disabled.

With the advent of electronic direct deposit, Social Security may pull a deceased spouse’s final benefit payment out of the bank account depending on the timing of the death. We suggest not closing the checking account where Social Security deposits are made until the funds are withdrawn or are allowed to remain.

Reach out to your funeral director to discuss their notification process regarding Social Security. Many funeral homes offer that service to assist families.

Devoting time to understanding Social Security is worthwhile because it provides a basic support that is reliable, not subject to market fluctuations.

Alan D. Feller, Esq., is managing partner of The Feller Group, located at 625 Route 6, Mahopac. He can be reached at


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