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3 Things Seniors Need to Know About Social Security During COVID-19

By Katie Brockman – May 9, 2020 at 9:04AM

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It's crucial to understand how the coronavirus pandemic will affect your monthly checks.

The coronavirus pandemic has affected millions of Americans, not only from a health perspective, but financially, as well. More than 90% of U.S. adults are worried about COVID-19's impact on the economy, according to research from SurveyMonkey, and approximately 30 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits since mid-March.

While nearly everyone is at risk of being affected by the coronavirus pandemic in some way, retirees may be particularly vulnerable financially. If you've watched your savings take a hit over the last few months, that could lead you to depend more on Social Security benefits in retirement. That means it's extra important to understand how COVID-19 could affect your monthly checks. Here are three things you need to know about Social Security in the age of the coronavirus.

Older man looking at documents while sitting in front of his laptop.

Image source: Getty Images

1. COVID-19 will not affect how much you'll receive in benefits right now

If you're currently collecting Social Security benefits, you won't have to worry about your monthly checks getting reduced in the near future as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. You should still continue collecting your regular benefit amount, and if you're just now reaching retirement age, you can begin claiming benefits without difficulty.

The same rules still apply regarding your full retirement age (FRA) and how it affects your benefit amount, too. If you claim earlier than your FRA (as early as age 62), your benefits will be reduced, but if you delay claiming (up to age 70), you'll receive your full benefit amount plus a bonus amount. Even amid the coronavirus crisis, these standard claiming rules still apply.

2. Benefits could be reduced in the future

Although your current benefits won't be affected by COVID-19, there is the possibility that your future checks could be reduced as a result of the pandemic. The Social Security Administration (SSA) relies on payroll taxes to fund benefits, and with tens of millions of unemployed workers no longer paying these taxes, it could affect how much cash the SSA has to pay out in benefits.

The SSA is already facing a cash shortage, and the coronavirus crisis could exacerbate the problem. Over the last several years, the money the SSA has collected in payroll taxes hasn't been enough to cover the amount the organization pays out in benefits. To bridge the gap, the SSA has been tapping its trust funds to avoid having to make benefit cuts.

However, according to the SSA Board of Trustee's latest projections, those trust funds are expected to run out of cash by 2034 -- one year earlier than last year's estimate. At that point, the money coming in from payroll taxes will only be enough to cover around 76% of projected benefits. And if the mass layoffs due to COVID-19 continue, the trust funds could run dry even sooner (assuming Congress doesn't find a solution to the problem before then). If that happens, that means benefit cuts could come sooner than you think.

3. Scammers are out in full force

Even during times of crisis, scammers are trying to take advantage of others. There have been a slew of coronavirus-related scams reported over the last few months, from fraudsters selling fake COVID-19 cures to scammers impersonating charities to solicit donations. There's also a common Social Security scam targeting beneficiaries, so it's wise to keep an eye out for suspicious activity.

With this latest scam, you could receive an official-looking letter or email from what appears to be the SSA saying your benefits have been suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. You'll have to call the phone number listed to get your benefits reinstated, at which point the scammer may ask for personal information like your Social Security number or bank account information. Some may even say you have to pay to start collecting benefits again, asking for wire transfers, gift cards, or prepaid debit cards.

If you receive any type of communication asking for money or personally identifiable information, hang up or ignore it and report the scam to the Office of the Inspector General. The SSA will never ask for this information over the phone or in an email, and your benefits are not being suspended due to COVID-19. If you're unsure whether the communication is legitimate, call the SSA to ask.

The coronavirus pandemic has caused a lot of uncertainty, and it can be a scary time for retirees and older workers. However, by understanding how your benefits are affected by COVID-19, you may be able to rest a little easier.

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