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CPAs should know these Social Security basics

Written on Aug 5, 2021

By Jessica Salerno, OSCPA senior content manager  

For baby boomers approaching retirement age, Social Security can seem like an intimidating issue to understand.  

“We always want to make sure that the general public and CPAs are fully aware of all the services that can be accessed,” said Brandon Smith, public affairs specialist at the Social Security Administration in Cleveland.  

Man smiling for camera.Smith said often when peers casually share Social Security benefits, they do so to be helpful, but their well-intended advice can wind up creating confusion because one person’s situation might not be applicable to someone else. This is why it’s valuable to first understand the basics:  

To be eligible a person needs to be at least 62 years old. 

For every month an individual is willing to wait, their Social Security check would increase. 

An eligible individual needs to have worked and paid into the system for at least 10 years on a part time basis, and those 10 years do not have to be consecutive.  

For CPAs guiding clients with questions, Robert Fenn, public affairs specialist at the SSA in Akron, encouraged accountants to reach out to the Social Security office for any clarification. One of the questions he said they regularly receive is about working and receiving retirement benefits. Fenn said it’s possible, but there are other details to consider.  

Man smiling for camera. “We want individuals to understand that if they're retiring during that year, there is also an option for an individual to file for their benefits,” he said. “And it's critical to know how much they have made for the year.”  

Another popular question Fenn and Smith said they regularly receive is about spouses receiving Social Security benefits.  

“The most that a person's spouse could receive is half of the amount that the wage earner would have received at his or her full retirement age,” Smith said. “But the key word is the most they could receive; the percentage that a person is going to get as a spouse is going to be predicated on that person's own age. So, the age of the applicant is going to dictate the percentage that he or she receives.”  

Although Fenn acknowledged that sometimes people are hesitant to contact the Social Security office, he said there is nothing to be afraid of when it comes to understanding your benefits.  

“Social Security is a phenomenal agency,” he said. “We are going to be able to make sure that the right person is paid the right amount of money at the right time.” 

To hear more on Social Security benefits from Robert Fenn and Brandon Smith, listen to the podcast episode available now

And for additional learning on this topic, check out this virtual opportunity on Maximizing Your Social Security Benefits