Your Retirement Benefits Checklist

You've worked hard for a long time, paying contributions into your employer's retirement plan and this country's social system throughout your working years. You've earned the benefits of these programs; they're paid to you because you labored for them. And if you're an older American facing retirement and a fixed income, there's a good chance that you may need all of the financial support that these programs are designed to provide. What's more, you're entitled to it. Listed below are a number of major issues that you'll need to consider as you move closer and closer to retirement.

If you're age 55 or older and not yet retired, you'll need to:

  • Find out at what age you'll become eligible for Social Security retirement benefits.
  • Learn how much your Social Security retirement benefits will be reduced if you retire early, or increased if you retire later.
  • Determine how much income you can earn without affecting your Social Security benefits.
  • See whether you can claim civil service retirement benefits if you've ever worked for the federal, state, or local government or any public agency or institution.
  • Check the rules of your private pension plan (if you worked for a private company that had a pension plan, or if you belonged to any union), including whether your pension will be affected by your Social Security benefits.

If you're within six months of your 65th birthday, you'll need to:

  • Obtain a current estimate of what you'll receive in retirement and dependents benefits from Social Security; your civil service retirement system; any private-company pension plan that you're entitled to; and, if you're a veteran, the Department of Veterans Affairs.
  • Be ready to claim your Medicare coverage as soon as you become eligible.
  • Look into ways to supplement your Medicare coverage, including Medigap insurance, a Medicare Managed Care Plan (also known as Part C), and a Medicare Drug Coverage Plan (Part D).
  • Check your eligibility to receive medical-bill assistance from Medicaid if you have very few assets and a low income.

If you're 65 or older and retired, you'll need to:

  • If you have very few assets other than your home and a low income, determine if you're eligible for Medicaid or expanded Medicare coverage for prescription drugs. Also, see if you qualify for financial assistance from the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program.
  • Arrange for your access to medical treatment, after familiarizing yourself with Medicare's rules as well as those of your Medicare Managed Care- or Medigap insurance plan.
  • If you're a veteran, see if you can claim financial or medical benefits from the VA.

If you're partially or totally disabled because of a physical or mental condition, you'll need to:

  • Look into whether you might qualify for Social Security disability benefits.
  • Determine if you qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) if you have very few assets and a low income.
  • If you're a veteran and your physical condition is in any way related to your service time, determine if you qualify for veterans' disability benefits and medical care.

If you're a surviving spouse or former spouse of a worker who's of retirement age, you'll need to:

  • Learn whether you're eligible for Social Security or civil service survivors and dependents benefits.
  • Obtain an estimate of your own retirement benefits, and compare them to estimates of survivors or dependents benefits.
  • Investigate the pension plan rules of any company or government entity at which your spouse was employed for more than three years.
  • If you or your spouse is a veteran, check into whether you're entitled to any veteran's benefits.