Actress Patty Duke signed up for Social Security and Medicare benefits on December 14, her 65th birthday. In a new online video, Duke, clad in red plaid pajamas, and her husband, Mike Pearce, sit at home with their laptop as they navigate the sign up process online.
Claiming her payments after decades of paying into the system was a surprisingly emotional experience for Duke. "My heart is beating fast," she says after a few clicks. "I had no idea this would be such a momentous occasion." She tears up near the end of the edited video. "All this time that I have been telling you to file online, I never knew what an emotional, triumphant, somewhat melancholy experience it would be," Duke says.
Duke also reflects upon the work that went into receiving these payments. "I've known my Social Security number since I was seven years old," she says. "That's 58 years and it's finally paying off."
Duke has been encouraging retirees to claim Social Security benefits online for the past three years in a series of public service announcements for the Social Security Administration. In some of the advertisements she reprises her roles as Patty and Cathy Lane from the 1960s sitcom The Patty Duke Show. She also stars as a Star Trek crew member with actor George Takei.
The Social Security Administration reports that the commercials have been extremely effective. The percentage of seniors who claim their retirement benefits online has more than doubled since Duke volunteered to perform in the ads. "All of us at Social Security wish Patty a very happy birthday," says Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue in a statement. "True to form, she is the one giving us the birthday present by showing her fellow baby boomers the easiest way to apply for benefits."
Duke, 65, elected to begin receiving Social Security benefits early instead of waiting until her full retirement age. For baby boomers like Duke who were born between 1943 and 1954, the full retirement age is 66. Duke will get 93.3 percent of the monthly benefit she would have gotten at age 66 because she will be receiving payments for an additional 12 months.
"It's a personal decision that everyone must make for themselves. For me, it was the right decision," Duke told U.S. News about her decision to claim at 65. "I earned the right to those benefits after a lifetime of work, so I took them. While it's true I'm collecting benefits, I don't consider myself retired and I still enjoy working."
Duke's Social Security payments will be temporarily withheld if she continues to work and earns too much. Social Security beneficiaries under age 66 who earn more than $14,640 in 2012 will have 50 cents of each dollar above that limit deducted from their Social Security payments. The earnings limit increases to $38,880 the year you turn 66 and the proportion withheld declines to 33 cents for each dollar earned. Once Duke turns age 66 there will be no penalty for working and collecting Social Security payments at the same time.