Dear Rusty: I just turned 64 and now get stuff about Medicare and Medigap and so on. I really don’t know how to retire when it’s time. What should I do? What am I looking for? Am I eligible for anything as of now? I’m so confused about all this that I don’t even know if I can retire when it’s time. Maybe I should just continue working so I don’t have to try to figure this out. Signed: Confused
Dear Confused: Deciding when to retire from work is usually a difficult decision for everyone, so don’t feel alone as you struggle with deciding what’s best for you personally. I’ll try to provide some insight into what you should be looking at now, at age 64:
The reason you’re now getting all that unsolicited information about Medicare and “Medigap” is because you’re approaching the magic age of 65, when you first become eligible for those senior healthcare services.
But if you are still working and now have “creditable” healthcare coverage from your employer, you don’t need to enroll in any Medicare plan until your employer coverage ends (If your employer healthcare coverage is a group plan with at least 20 participants, that coverage is “creditable”).
So, if you plan to continue working and have creditable healthcare coverage, you can simply ignore all those healthcare solicitations. You don’t need to worry about enrolling in Medicare until your creditable employer coverage ends, at which point you will be able to enroll in a Medicare program without incurring a late enrollment penalty.
You also do not need to apply for Social Security now (or at age 65) - you can wait until you retire from working full time to apply for Social Security. In fact, you probably should wait until you fully retire from working to claim Social Security, because at age 64 (or 65) you will be subject to Social Security’s “earnings test” if you claim SS benefits.
The earnings test limits how much you can earn before Social Security takes away some of your benefits and, if your earnings are high enough, it could even disqualify you from getting SS benefits while you are still working. Social Security’s earnings test applies until you reach your full retirement age, which is 66 years and 6 months.
If you claim Social Security before that and exceed the annual earnings limit ($19,560 for 2022), SS will take away benefits equal to $1 for every $2 you are over the limit. So, if you’re working full time and plan to continue that, waiting to apply for Social Security would be prudent. Delaying Social Security would also mean a higher benefit when you later claim because your benefit will grow for as long as you delay (up to age 70). And although you will become eligible for Medicare when you turn 65, if you’re still working and have creditable healthcare coverage from your employer at that time, you can defer enrolling in Medicare until your employer coverage ends