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One Day Can Make a Difference for Social Security Payments


Q: I will turn 62 on Dec. 2. A Social Security representative told me that my first Social Security check would be paid in January. So, I understand Social Security holds back one month's pay. But why did my friend have to return her mother's April Social Security check when she died on April 30?

A: Remember that old song, "What a Difference a Day Makes?" Well, you'll be humming that tune by the time you finish reading this column.

There are three government rules at work here. And they demonstrate that just one day can make a huge difference when it comes to Social Security payments.

The first rule says you must be at least age 62 for an entire month in order to be eligible for Social Security benefits.

The second rule says that Social Security benefits are always paid in arrears. In other words, you get the benefit for July in August, August's benefit in September, etc.

The third rule says you must be alive for an entire month to be eligible for that month's Social Security check.

In the case of your friend's mother, she died on April 30. In other words, she wasn't alive the entire month of April — almost an entire month, but not quite. And as we all know, close only counts in horseshoes, certainly not in legal matters. So, the April Social Security check (the one that came in May) had to be returned.

In your case, you turn 62 on Dec.

2. So, the rules would normally say the first month you are 62 for an entire month is January, and the first Social Security payment would be the January check that is sent in February.

So, why did the Social Security representative tell you you'd get your first check in January? It's because you are helped by a strange little twist in the law. That legal twist says a person actually attains his or her birthday on the last minute of the day preceding the actual birth date. (That's not a Social Security law. It's some kind of old established common law.)

In other words, even though your birthday is Dec. 2, the law assumes you will attain your 62nd birthday on Dec. 1. That means you are 62 for the entire month of December, which is why you will get a Social Security payment for December, payable in January.

Had you been born just one day later, on Dec. 3, then you would not have been legally age 62 for the entire month of December. And your first Social Security check would have been the January check, payable in February.

And had your friend's mother lived one more day, until May 1, then her family would have received her April Social Security check, which would have been payable in May.

"What a difference a day makes,

Twenty-four little hours.

Brought the sun and the flowers

Where there used to be rain."

And it also brings you an extra Social Security check or takes one away, depending on the day you were born or the day you die!

To find out more about Tom Margenau and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at



18 Comments | Post Comment
In my case, (i.e. applied for benefits online 1-3-13, age 62, birthday 1-28-51), is the following correct?
My 1st SA benefit will arrive in March (assuming efficient processing by SSA). Thus I have to wait longer (March 1 to March 27) for my first benefit payment because Feb 2013 is counted as the 1st "full month" and March 27 would be the date when SSA has set up for the payment for February benefit.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Bev B
Thu Jan 10, 2013 5:58 AM
I will be 62, September 3, 2013. I just need clarification on when to apply. I can apply September 4, 2013; however, I would not receive the first check until October, 2013? Is the latter correct? If not, please clarify. Thank you very much. Also, is it faster to apply on line as opposed to going into the office? Which is the fastest procedure. Thank you for providing this service where one can ask questions.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Theresa Perry
Tue Mar 19, 2013 9:18 AM
I was told i was approved at my phone interview on 03/22/2013 i have not head from no one as of today ? how much time do it take to get me going ?
Comment: #3
Posted by: Leon Andrews
Mon Apr 1, 2013 12:35 PM
my sister husband got his s s check on the third of june he died on june 24 does she have yo send that check back
Comment: #4
Posted by: nancywinders
Sun Jun 29, 2014 5:20 PM
My father passed away June 3 and hiss social security check was posted to his checking account on June 3 do we need to return the checkto
Comment: #5
Posted by: Stephanie Reece
Thu Jul 3, 2014 4:58 PM
My mother died July 24th. She received a check August 3rd. Then on August 3rd they pulled the check back out. Are we expected to return the check that she received on July 3rd?
Comment: #6
Posted by: Linda Pottorff
Fri Aug 8, 2014 4:20 PM
My husband died in a nursing home one October 1, he got a ss check on oct. 8 they pulled it out of his account do I get that check back
Comment: #7
Posted by: Shelley Krowe
Fri Oct 24, 2014 4:24 PM
Im retiring from my job June 1, Can I tell Social Security that my retirement is May 1 so I can receive a SS check June 1.
Comment: #8
Posted by: Joanne Sudakow
Mon Jan 19, 2015 2:36 PM
My twin step children receive benefits through their father, my husband. They turned 19 on March 27. I understand they will continue to receive benefits for 2 months, but I'm trying to figure out exactly when their last check will be received. March benefits were paid on April 3 and since they weren't 19 for the entire month of March, does that month count as one of the 2 months past the 19 birthday or does that begin as of April? Ugh so confusing! Will May benefits payable in June or June benefits payable in July be their last check? And how exactly does that money get split between the remaining minor children (2) that he has? Will it be split evenly between the remaining children? Please help, I am so confused.
Comment: #9
Posted by: Mia Townsend
Wed Apr 15, 2015 7:20 AM
I am 63. I choose to retire in September so my first payout is in October. Question is can I still work the month of September without penalty?
Comment: #10
Posted by: Mike Moore
Tue Jun 2, 2015 2:18 PM
I will be 62 Dec 19th how much will I make in Social Security
Comment: #11
Posted by: Marla I Greenberg
Mon Jun 29, 2015 4:07 AM
I will be 62 Dec 19th how much will I make in Social Security
Comment: #12
Posted by: Marla I Greenberg
Mon Jun 29, 2015 4:07 AM
I will be 62 Dec 19th how much will I make in Social Security
Comment: #13
Posted by: Marla I Greenberg
Mon Jun 29, 2015 4:07 AM
I will be 62 Dec 19th how much will I make in Social Security
Comment: #14
Posted by: Marla I Greenberg
Mon Jun 29, 2015 4:07 AM
I will be 62 Dec 19th how much will I make in Social Security
Comment: #15
Posted by: Marla I Greenberg
Mon Jun 29, 2015 4:07 AM
Since I have been 64 for 5 months, if I applied on July 27, when would receive my first check?
Comment: #16
Posted by: Diane Scruggs
Sun Jul 26, 2015 10:32 AM
She died on June 1 and her check posted June 3 this year. The check was returned to SS by the bank the next day. I received a form 1724 from SS which stated the form needed to be returned immediately to determine if there would be any additional benefits paid. I filled out and returned on June 17 and haven't heard anything since (today is 9/6). If I understand Rule 2 and Rule 3, her estate should receive full benefits for the month of May, the month before she died. Am I correct? If so, what is a typical processing time for this kind of thing?
Comment: #17
Posted by: beesdot
Sun Sep 6, 2015 12:30 PM
Applied for retirement to start November (I did not know that its in arrears, need to retire asap severe job stress and health issues (stress and anxiety). Can I get Social security sooner? and when do I leave my job?
Comment: #18
Posted by: Libbysmom1
Mon Sep 28, 2015 5:52 AM
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