Eligibility for retirement benefits through Social Security may begin at age 62, assuming the beneficiary has earned enough credits through employment. Over the span of a working lifetime, accrual of forty credits is the standard requirement for benefits at retirement. Exceptions apply for disability and survivor benefits.

The Social Security Administration will not process applications for retirement benefits submitted prior to four months in advance of eligibility, so the earliest age one can apply is 61 years and 8 months. Once the Social Security application is approved, payments are disbursed monthly in arrears, beginning no earlier than the month that follows the birthday month.

Schedule of benefit payouts

Each monthly payment represents the prior month’s benefits. Benefits are paid on Wednesdays, either the second, third or fourth Wednesday of the month depending on the birth date. In most cases, this would be the recipient’s birthday. However, in the case of spousal or survivor benefits, the benefit pay date is based on the birthday of the individual whose work record is used to determine benefits.

The rule is as follows:

  • For birth dates on the first through the 10th, benefits are paid on the second Wednesday.
  • For birth dates on the 11th through the 20th, benefits are paid on the third Wednesday.
  • For birth dates on the 21st through the 31st, benefits are paid on the fourth Wednesday.

Each year, the Social Security Administration publishes a calendar of disbursement dates. Visit ssa.gov/pubs/calendar.htm, and bookmark or print the current calendar to have it handy when you need a quick reminder of when your retirement benefits will arrive.

Benefits issued after death

Note that benefits are not prorated. If a beneficiary passes away after a payment was issued for benefits covering the month of death, the family is expected to return the funds to the SSA. For example, if the recipient dies in July, any check received in August, which represents the July benefit, must be refunded.

How benefits may be received

AARP explains that the SSA discontinued post mail of benefit checks in 2013. Now it is standard for beneficiaries to accept payment via direct deposit. Signing up for direct deposit is easy and quick on the SSA website.

As an alternative, the payment can be transmitted to a Direct Express debit card. Some cardholders enjoy the flexibility this form of payment allows, leveraging the card for purchases, bills and cash withdrawals. Unlike direct deposit, the debit card does not require a bank account. To explore this option, call the Direct Express hotline at 1-800-333-1795, or sign up at www.GoDirect.org.

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