This week I started signing up for Social Security. The benefits are better and not as great as I expected. The process is easier and harder than I expected. I’m not done yet; and I’m sad and glad to be doing it. The train wreck happened when I was asked about my job. Ha!
As I wrote on my Bio page; Real Estate Broker, Consultant, Writer, Speaker, Teacher, Photographer, Engineer, Entrepreneur, etc.
“So, what company do you work for?” Mine? Many? Do you want the biggest one, the one that’s biggest and most recent? Frustration ensued until she checked an official resource she could’ve used earlier instead of asking me.
Life in the Gig Economy has been strange enough. I think my record before becoming a real estate broker (required disclosure: Dalton Realty, Inc.) was nine gigs in one day. Social Security expects one job, one answer. The IRS is a little more accommodating because each job can ‘simply’ be another set of duplicate forms. Part of the frustration was caused by her use of pronouns. “OK, use that company.” That? We just mentioned several possibilities, which that is that? After several minutes of a conversational round-about she brought up the IRS database, read my tax returns and said to use ‘that’ company – without ever mentioning Trimbath Creative Enterprises. Suddenly all I had to do was list my one company, not every one where I’ve been an independent contractor. Good.
Aside from that sticky set of nomenclature, the rest seems to be remarkably easy. For much of the information they’ll willing to accept my memory: marriage date instead of Marriage License, divorce date instead of Dissolution Document. The one they seem to care most about is my Birth Certificate (maybe because I wasn’t very aware when one day old), which I serendipitously have because I recently had to clear out my safety deposit box. (My local bank was bought out by a larger bank which said it would keep things local – and recently announced they are closing the branch.)
The system is modern enough to be available online. The system is anachronistic enough to assume people have one job. Like many governmental sites, the web sites are accurate and seemingly comprehensive but skip over details like whether a document has to be delivered in-person, by mail, or by email. Just enough answers are correct in ways that aren’t necessarily useful. No system is perfect, especially systems that have decades of history, hundreds of millions of records, and are probably underfunded.
I expected barely any benefits. One of the consequences of retiring at 38 and being un-retired at about 50 is missing out on 12 years of income and 12 years of contributions to the system. A few years after being un-retired I signed up for a temporary and early accelerated pension from Boeing, where I spent 18 years as an aerospace engineer. That acceleration doubled my pension, but only until – hmm – next year? After that it halves the original value, a quarter of what I’ve been receiving.
At the start, it took care of my mortgage. Now, the ARM of my mortgage has risen just as the pension will fade. Until Covid hit, it looked like real estate business would more than make up the difference. Maybe real estate will, but I don’t want to live that risky of a life. So, sign up for Social Security at an early date, know I’ll miss out on larger payments later, but fill a gap that’s too drastic to leave unfilled and unprotected.
The good news is that the reduced pension and the early Social Security will almost cover my frugal lifestyle. A bit more income, or even a lot more income, or maybe an unexpected windfall (hey, it happens) could reduce major anxieties in my life. Social Security living up to its name.
I’m glad for the benefits, and sad that I have to take them. And I wonder about others who aren’t as fortunate. And I wonder about younger people living with a government that may be so large that it may not change to reflect the way they live, earn, and age.
As I type this, I’m finishing yet another twelve hour work day. As an artist and a real estate broker and a sometime member of the Gig Economy it is common to work hard and maybe get paid eventually. Great exposure! Good work! Keep it up! But books take a long time to write, and may not sell well. Photos can accumulate Likes and Shares, but usually not sales. Consulting is gratifying, but many clients prefer anonymity because they don’t want to reveal the fact that they asked for help, making word-of-mouth a difficult advertising option. And while real estate is crazy busy, not every offer is accepted and not every deal successfully concludes. Another broker commented about a situation I was in. I helped my clients submit an offer on a very nice house. There were about sixteen offers. The seller and their broker had good news. One of the buyer/broker combinations had good news. That leaves fifteen clients and fifteen brokers moving on to the next listing with greater urgency, all good work gone to nothingness. Twelve hour days, working hard, sometimes seven days a week, is no guarantee of earning a living.
I am fortunate. It took a bite out of my pride to apply for an early pension, to ask for help keeping my house, to accept substantial support in starting yet another career, and to apply for Social Security. That’s a lot of bites. How many folks don’t have an early career to tap, who weren’t lucky enough to find the right phone number when the Default notice is stuck to the front door, and to not have an amazing support network that provides more than nice words? Too many do not have those things.
Old adages like work hard have a good basis, but nothing is a panacea. Individualism and independence are admirable virtues, but sometimes a bit of “We the People” and community help regain self-sufficiency. My business is improving. My name recognition is reaching far beyond family and friends. I have good reason to hope. But first, I’ll be glad, yet again, for a little help.
First, though, I have to put aside signing up for the benefits because a client just made an offer on a house and was accepted! Good news for us. A few more twelve hour workdays, but with more promise. Sorry news for the other offers. This paperwork before that paperwork, and the work continues.