Retirement

There’s a Reason for All the Rules

BY Tom Margenau TIMEMay 19, 2022 PRINT

Sometimes readers take me to task for not explaining a particular facet of the law when I write a column about some Social Security topic or another. I usually respond by pointing out that if I tried to cover every “if, and, or but” associated with whatever Social Security topic I am trying to explain, my column would fill up half the newspaper or website in which it appears. And I recently came across a good example of this.

A reader asked me when benefits to his daughter would end. He’s getting retirement benefits and has one minor daughter left at home collecting dependent benefits on his record. I responded by saying this: “Student benefits end when the child reaches age 18 but can continue until 19 if the child is still in high school.”

But then out of curiosity, I checked the Social Security Administration rule book about this issue. And that rule book went on for about 10 pages answering the same question I answered in that one sentence!

It started out by going over the general policy (essentially my one-sentence answer), but then it went on and on and on to cover all the possible exceptions that could occur. Here is just a brief summary. (In the sections below, “FTA” means full-time attendance.)

No. 1: Student graduates and benefits terminate before age 19.

James attained age 18 in March and graduated from a secondary level program in May. He has no plans to continue attendance in a secondary level program, so his benefits terminate in June.

No. 2: Student graduates before age 19 and continues in FTA in a secondary level course. Her student benefits terminate before age 19.

Emily attains age 18 in April and graduates from a secondary school in June. She is on vacation in July and August and plans to continue FTA at a secondary school September through December. Her benefits terminate in January because she is no longer in FTA.

No. 3: Student graduates before age 19 and continues in FTA in a secondary level course. Her student benefits terminate at age 19.

Emily attains age 18 in April and graduates from a secondary school in June. She continues in FTA in a secondary level course in September, planning to attend through June. She receives benefits based on her FTA in a secondary level program through March. Her benefits terminate in April, the month she attains age 19, because she already graduated from secondary school.

No. 4: Student attains age 19 in a month of nonattendance.

Tony completes his junior year of high school in May, is on vacation in June and July, attains age 19 in July, and plans to return to secondary school in August. His benefits continue through June but terminate in July because he attains age 19 in a month of nonattendance.

No. 5: Student attains age 19 in a month of FTA and the school operates on a yearly basis; student benefits terminate the first day of the third month after the age 19 attainment month (payment to age 19 and 2 months).

Janice attains age 19 in February. Her school year runs September through June, and her school operates on a yearly basis. Janice receives payments through April, and her benefits terminate in May, the third month after the month in which she attains age 19.

No. 6: Student attains age 19 in a month of FTA; the school operates on a yearly basis; student’s benefits terminate the first day of the month after the month the student completes the school year in which he or she is enrolled.

Janice attains age 19 in April and attends high school through May. She is on vacation in June and July and plans to return for her senior year in August. She receives benefits through May, the month she completes the school year in which she is enrolled in the age 19 attainment month, and her benefits terminate in June.

No. 7: Student attains age 19 in a month of FTA; the school operates on a semester or quarterly basis and requires re-enrollment; and the first day of the third month after age 19 attainment and the end of course coincide.

Jacob attains age 19 on Sept. 3. Per the SSA-1372, his school operates on a semester basis and requires re-enrollment every semester. The semester begins Sept. 18 and ends Nov. 30. Jacob receives benefits through November (age 19 and 2 months), and his benefits terminate in December.

No. 8: Student attains age 19 in a month of FTA; the school operates on a semester or quarterly basis and requires re-enrollment; the student’s benefits terminate the first day of the month after the month in which he or she completes the course in which he or she is enrolled in the age 19 attainment month (payment past age 19 and 2 months).

Jacob attains age 19 in September. The school official certified on the SSA-1372-BK that the school operates on a semester basis and requires re-enrollment each semester. The semester begins in September and ends in December. Jacob receives benefits through December, the end of the semester, and his benefits terminate in January because the semester in which he attains age 19 ends in December and his school operates on a semester basis and requires re-enrollment.

I’m already out of space. And this section of the rule book went on for many more pages giving even more examples of when student benefits should terminate. People often complain that Social Security laws are so complex. I put all of this in today’s column just to show you why they have to be so. There has to be some rule to cover every possible scenario that can occur for every potential Social Security situation.

Tom Margenau
If you have a Social Security question, Tom Margenau has a book with all the answers. It's called "Social Security -- Simple and Smart." You can find the book at www.creators.com/books or look for it on Amazon or other book outlets. To find out more about Tom Margenau and to read past columns and see features from other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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