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Social Security benefit you’ve never heard of

Q: I will admit I am a bit of a wonky nerd. I like researching arcane bits of historical minutiae. Recently, I got interested in Social Security BIC codes. I was able to figure out most of the benefits associated with each code. But one puzzled me: the “J” BIC, which my limited research said are “special age 72 benefits.” I know about the enhanced benefit you can get if you wait until age 70 to claim your benefit. But is there some hidden extra benefit you can get at age 72?

A: Gosh, talk about a blast from the past. I haven’t heard any mention of Special Age 72 benefits, usually referred to as Prouty benefits, for about 30 years. It makes for an interesting story, which I will share in a minute. But first, I will give a quick answer to your question. No, there are no longer any hidden benefits you can get at age 72.

Also, before I get into the story about Prouty benefits, I should explain your reference to “BIC” codes. BIC stands for Beneficiary Identification Codes. They are simply letter codes that designate the various kinds of Social Security benefits. There is no alliteration attached to these code assignments. In other words, you might think that “R” would designate retirement benefits or “S” might refer to spousal benefits. But that’s not the way they were set up. It’s just a straight alphabetical progression of all Social Security benefits.

For example, “A” stands for retirement benefits. “B” was assigned to designate benefits to a wife. (Later, when benefits to husbands were added to the law, they became “B1” benefits.) “C” is for children’s benefits. “D” is for widows. And it keeps on going, all the way to “W,” which refers to benefits for disabled widows. If you are curious about these codes, just Google “Social Security BIC codes” and you will find the complete list.

Anyway, there in the middle of the pack of codes you will find “J” benefits. You will also find “K” benefits. “J” is used to designate a Prouty beneficiary, and “K” is the wife of a Prouty beneficiary.

In a nutshell, Prouty benefits were set up in the 1960s to pay a small monthly stipend to people who were too old to have had a chance to work and pay enough taxes into the Social Security system to become insured for regular Social Security benefits. The sponsor of the legislation was Senator Winston Prouty of Vermont.

I have no idea if this story was true or not. But back in my early days of working for the Social Security Administration, when Prouty benefits were still being routinely awarded, the word being spread from one SSA rep to another was that Prouty had parents who didn’t qualify for regular Social Security, so he crafted this legislation to help out mom and dad (and eventually, hundreds of thousands of others).

I don’t recall all of the rules. But I believe a Prouty beneficiary with no Social Security work history had to be age 72 before 1968 in order to qualify for a monthly check that I think was less than $100. There also were other rules for people who had some Social Security covered work, but not enough to qualify for regular Social Security benefits. Or they might have had enough work to get a very small Social Security check. But if the Prouty rules would pay them more money, they would get a Prouty benefit instead of their regular Social Security check. But no matter what their situation, the rules were always tied to the attainment of age 72. Thus the term “special age 72 benefits.”

Because almost all the people who were eligible for these benefits were born before 1896, it is highly unlikely there are any Prouty beneficiaries still alive today. So I’m sure that all “J” and “K” BIC codes are now just historical footnotes.

Q: My mother’s Social Security award letter has my stepdad’s Social Security number on it followed by “B3.” Can you explain what that is all about? Is her own Social Security number still valid?

A: Last question answered first. Yes, her own Social Security number is still valid. She would use it any time she is asked for her number, like on a tax return or if she ever applies for a job.

But she is claiming Social Security benefits off of your stepdad’s record, so her Social Security “claim number” is his Social Security number followed by the BIC “B3.” And checking that list of codes online, I see that “B3” designates an “aged wife, second claimant.” So what that means is that your mom must be the second wife who is claiming benefits on your stepdad’s record. So maybe he had another wife who was getting benefits on his record and then she died? (I’m guessing she’s dead and not divorced because there is a separate BIC for the latter status.)

By the way, some readers may be wondering what happened to B2. I mentioned earlier that B is the code for a woman getting wife’s benefits, and B1 is the symbol for someone getting benefits as a dependent husband on his wife’s Social Security record. And now we just learned that B3 is the code for a woman who is the second person to file for spousal benefits.

A B2 is listed as “a young wife with child in care.” So who exactly would that be? Well, if a retiree was married to a younger woman and if they had a child (hey, it happens), then the child would get benefits until he or she was 18 years old. That child’s BIC code would be C. And if the mother was not working, she would also be due benefits on the retiree’s record, and her BIC would be B2. I know from experience that many readers are surprised (and usually upset) to learn that those kinds of benefits are paid. But there simply aren’t that many B2s out there. When an older guy is married to a younger woman, more often than not, she is working, and her earnings would prevent her from collecting B2 benefits.

By the way, what is even more uncommon than a B2 benefit? Well, that would be a BY benefit. The BIC list says that a BY beneficiary is a “young husband with child in care.” In other words, that would be a situation in which an older woman getting Social Security benefits is married to a younger man, and they had a child. For obvious biological reasons, it would be very unlikely that an older retired woman would have minor children of her own. More likely, the husband had a child from a previous marriage, and that minor child would legally be due benefits on the woman’s account as a stepchild. And if the young husband/father wasn’t working, he could get a check, too. It’s all possible, but highly unlikely. In my almost 50 years of working on Social Security matters, I have never met or even heard of a BY beneficiary.