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The perks of aging … Social Security Benefits and Medicare!

Tracey Tracey's Blog

Guess what I found in my mailbox today? A letter from the Social Security Administration that began with these words: “You are entitled to monthly retirement and Medicare benefits beginning October 2016.” Wow.

Filled with a sense of disbelief, my mind flashed back to when, as a 16-year-old working the pony rides during the San Diego County Fair, I was first introduced to the concept of  Social Security contributions. Having just finished mucking out the stalls at the Del Mar racetrack, my boss arrived and handed me an envelope. He may have even joked, “don’t spend it all in one place.” A couple of the jockeys, kind men who had taken a shine to my lanky, inexperienced self, laughed knowingly.

I eagerly opened up the envelope … only to discover the deductions across the top of my very first paycheck.

I was stunned to realize that some of my hard earned money was going to be withheld by the Social Security Administration. And then my nice boss, who looked to me to be older than dirt, though he was probably no more than fifty, explained that this would happen with each and every paycheck I ever received, throughout my entire working lifetime. He said that every employer would match the contribution. Seeing my disappointment, he stressed that it was a really good thing, that one day when I turned 65, I’d appreciate having retirement benefits.

What? He had to be kidding! This was a good thing? No way. Day after hot day, I’d been mentally counting on every single penny for an entire week. (Trust me, there’s more to pony rides than cajoling a bored pony to walk around a small, circular corral while trying to comfort a terrified, screaming toddler so her Mom could take a picture on tiny Brownie camera!) Besides, it was incredible to imagine people actually lived long enough to collect their benefits. Not even my dear Granny was that old!

My adolescent brain couldn’t comprehend any of it. As my face dropped even closer to the soiled hay, those dear little jockeys fell silent. One of them tried to lighten the moment, offering something like, “welcome to the real world, kid.”

Fast forward and there I was today, standing at my mailbox, holding the letter that represented my required retirement savings plan based on 49 years as a worker bee. (Is it safe to now admit that my pony ride tenure had been preceded by four years of babysitting and ironing, all paid under the table? Thank goodness none of those mothers deducted anything from that $.50 an hour job.)

Yep, the arrival of this letter was a moment to remember, as well as a moment to savor. I’m thrilled to be receiving those benefits!

But I also want to reassure any of you who are poised to apply for your Social Security benefits that the process is really quite manageable. I offer this opinion even after a small problem had to be cleared up.

Imagining a horror story at our local Social Security office, I arrived just as the office opened, mid-week and mid-month. (I had been told Mondays and Fridays at the beginning of the month tend to be the busiest times.) Two friendly security guards met me and within five minutes I was sitting across from a very pleasant, knowledgeable woman who was nothing but smiles and solutions.

Though everyone has the option to apply for benefits in the office, I opted for the online application, discovering that this agency really knows what it’s doing. The process was clear and easily understood. The first thing you’ll find is a list of all of the documents required for your application. What a time-saving approach! Once these were gathered, I sat down to start the application and was finished in about 30 minutes.

A short time later I received a letter confirming my application and instructing me to call within a certain number of days to verify some information. But the Social Security office beat me to the punch by actually calling me a couple of days later. The man I spoke with was professional and extremely friendly. It was a quick and thoroughly painless call.

Now, here I am, just weeks from the beginning of the application process. Everything for both my Social Security and Medicare benefits is confirmed and ready to begin in October.

What fun it’s going to be to open my mailbox and find a check in there every month!