Will the Government Shutdown Delay My Social Security Benefits?

Offices remain open and monthly Social Security checks will go out on time despite the partial shutdown.

Retirees who depend on their monthly Social Security checks to make ends meet can breathe a sigh of relief: Benefits won't be affected by the partial government shutdown. The Social Security Administration is already funded through September 2019, so services remain in effect and benefits checks will continue to arrive on time, according to the Social Security administration.

Good thing, too, considering those Social Security checks are bigger in 2019 thanks to a 2.8% cost-of-living adjustment. It's the largest COLA increase since 2012, when benefits rose 3.6%. In the two years prior to 2012, there were no COLA increases at all due to the impact of the Great Recession.

Social Security branch offices are operating at normal hours during the government shutdown; typically 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. But even without the impact of the shutdown, those offices can get crowded. You can avoid the wait by applying for benefits online. Go to www.ssa.gov/myaccount (opens in new tab) to set up an online account. You'll need to enter some personal details, answer questions to confirm your identity, and choose a unique username and a complex password.

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It's a good idea to set up an online account with Social Security even if you're not yet eligible for benefits. Once you've done so, identity thieves will be unable to create a fraudulent account in your name and use it to apply for benefits. In addition, you can check your earnings history against your W-2 forms or tax returns to make sure there are no gaps in your earnings record that could reduce your Social Security benefits. You can also look up estimated retirement, disability and survivor benefits and, in certain cases, request a replacement Social Security card.

QUIZ: True or False? Test Yourself on Social Security Basics

You can apply for Social Security retirement benefits as early as age 62, but your monthly check will be bigger if you wait until your full retirement age. (Use our simple Social Security calculator to determine your full retirement age.) In 2019, the estimated average monthly Social Security benefit is now $1,461, up from $1,422 in 2018. The average monthly benefit for a couple who are both receiving benefits is $2,448, up from $2,381. And the maximum Social Security benefit for a worker retiring at full retirement age is $2,861, up from $2,788 in 2018.

Sandra Block
Senior Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance

Block joined Kiplinger in June 2012 from USA Today, where she was a reporter and personal finance columnist for more than 15 years. Prior to that, she worked for the Akron Beacon-Journal and Dow Jones Newswires. In 1993, she was a Knight-Bagehot fellow in economics and business journalism at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She has a BA in communications from Bethany College in Bethany, W.Va.