In all, it is estimated that 64 million Americans received Social Security benefits in 2019. Not only does the program have a wide reach, it is also extremely meaningful to beneficiaries; over half of elderly recipients rely on Social Security for more than 50% of their total income. It comes as no surprise, then, that more than 1-in-3 Americans decide to claim benefits at 62, the earliest age at which it is possible to collect.
For many of those in a rush to start receiving this crucial source of income, the question then turns to “when will I actually receive my first Social Security check?” We’ve received this question numerous times, and so we decided to clear up the confusion.
SPOILER: You will NOT receive your first benefit check on your birthday when you turn 62.
When your first benefit will be paid
Only 7% of people can actually receive their Social Security earned income for the calendar month of their birthday, and of that small group, none will collect the benefit during the calendar month of their birthday. This is due to the odd way that the Social Security Administration segments people based on their birthday, and SSA rules around schedule of payments.
It helps to know that the SSA considers you to be born 24 hours before you were truly born. So, if you were born on April 1, the SSA considers you to have been born on March 31. If you were born on April 2, it considers you to have been born on April 1. This is important because Social Security benefits are not paid for partial months; in order to receive benefits for a given month, a beneficiary must be eligible for those benefits every day of that month.
Thus, for people who turn 62 in April, only those born on April 1 and April 2 are able to receive a benefit in the month when they turn 62. Otherwise, the first Social Security payment will be for the month of May.
But this is only part of the story, since receiving a benefit for the month of your birthday is not the same as receiving a benefit during the month of your birthday. Social Security benefits – including earned, survivor and disability – are paid a month late, meaning that a benefit that relates to the month of April will be paid out in May.
Finally, the Social Security Administration groups people based on the day of birth to determine the day of the month on which a beneficiary will receive Social Security. If you were born on the:
- First to tenth of the month, your payment will be deposited on the second Wednesday of each month.
- Eleventh to twentieth of the month, your payment will be deposited on the third Wednesday of each month.
- Twenty-first to the end of the month, your payment will be deposited on thefourth Wednesday of each month.
There are a couple of exceptions:
- If your payment is due on a holiday, it will come on the weekday prior to the holiday.
- If you are collecting based on someone else’s record – referring to child or spousal benefits – your payment is on the same day as that person.
- If you are receiving Social Security retirement benefits and Supplemental Security Income, your payment is made on the third day of the month.
When and how you can apply
The earliest you can claim retirement benefits is age 62, although you can apply for benefits as soon as you are 61 years and 9 months old if you want the benefits to start no more than four months into the future. For survivor benefits, the rules are different, as typically you become eligible at 60.
Whether you apply for benefits online, by phone or in-person, will largely depend on your personal preference. The SSA, however, recommends applying online as the fastest and easiest option. If you’re applying online, it should only take between 10 and 30 minutes to complete the application.
Regardless of how you apply, you’ll eventually receive a letter in the mail with the SSA’s decision on whether your benefits were approved or not.
How payments are paid
There are two primary ways to receive your Social Security benefit checks:
- Direct deposit to your bank account, or
- Direct Express debit card. In 2013, the Social Security Administration stopped mailing out benefit checks in order to reduce expenses.
To set up a direct deposit you have three options:
- Configure through “My profile” tab in your online Social Security account
- Call Social Security at 800-772-1213
- Ask your bank to do it
If you choose to receive through a Direct Express debit card, your benefits will be placed directly onto the card. From there, you can withdraw cash, make purchases or pay bills. To sign up, call Direct Express at 800-333-1795.
61% of Americans aged 60 to 70 view Social Security as an “extremely important” source of income. Nevertheless, a great deal of confusion exists around the rules and this often causes people to miss out on much needed money. Knowing how age impacts Social Security is important, but it is but a first step on a journey of education.
Increasingly, online Social Security blogs and free calculators are emerging to help people avoid costly mistakes. With better education around the topic, Americans can prepare themselves for retirement and maximize what they’ve earned.