Waiting To Claim Social Security Can Increase Your Payout
Let’s say John, who was born in 1955, is in good health and enjoys his job. John’s full retirement age is exactly 66 and two months, at which point he can claim 100% of his monthly Social Security benefit of $1,500. John decides to continue working for a few more years, until his 69th birthday, and delays his benefit.
By the time John claims his Social Security benefit at 69, his monthly payout will be $1,840, 122.7% of his full retirement-age benefit. By delaying, John increased his monthly Social Security income by about $340. Note that the rules are different for spouses consult the Social Security website for details.
Anyone can create a free My Social Security account to find out what their pretax monthly Social Security benefit will be, based on current earnings, and see how that could change depending on the date they leave work. For those in good health or with a greater chance of longevity, it may be worth it to hold out.
Research from United Income found that elderly poverty could be cut in half if every retiree claimed Social Security at the “financially optimal time.” The report said retirees stood to lose a collective $2.1 trillion in wealth, or about $68,000 per household, because they chose to claim Social Security benefits at the wrong time, which, for many, is before their full retirement age.
Should You Take Social Security At Full Retirement Age
There are tons of factors to consider in deciding when to start your Social Security benefits.
For people with serious health problems, it might make sense to start benefits early. Someone who was disabled before full retirement age and can no longer work might consider forgoing a higher monthly benefit to start collecting monthly Social Security benefits immediately. Meanwhile, maximizing Social Security benefits is a strategy thats most relevant for people who expect to live longer than average.
Consider a hypothetical beneficiary who lives to 79, which is the average American life expectancy:
If they started collecting Social Security at age 62, with a $1,400 monthly payment, they would receive a lifetime total of $285,600 in benefits.
If they waited until their full retirement age, theyd receive a $2,000 monthly benefit, for a lifetime total of $300,000.
If they waited as long as possible to claim benefitsto age 70they would get a monthly benefit of $2,600, or a lifetime total of $280,000.
For this hypothetical American, no matter when they choose to start receiving Social Security benefits, the differences in lifetime total benefits isnt very large. Deciding when to start Social Security isnt always as simple as aiming to maximize your monthly payment.
How The Full Retirement Age Affects Social Security
Full retirement age also affects the Social Security program as a whole. Americans are living longer and the working-age population is shrinking. Some have proposed raising the FRA to 70, based on predictions that the Social Security reserve fund could run out of money by 2034.
Even if the reserve fund is depleted, however, future retirees should expect to get something from Social Security. Social Security income is taxable, which generates revenue. Plus, the Social Security program gets funding from the interest generated by trust funds. So future retirees will likely receive around 75% of every dollar that they currently contribute to the program.
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Can You Still Work While Receiving Social Security
You can continue to work while you receive Social Security benefits. But there is a limit to how much you can earn and still receive full benefits. The earning limit may be adjusted each year.
If you earn above the limit, Social Security will deduct a certain amount of your benefits each year.
Social Security Benefits, Earning Limits and Penalties
|SSA deducts $1 from your benefits for every $3 you earn above the limit|
Claiming Social Security At Age 65
Those whose Full Retirement Age is 65 are already that age or older. For those born after 1955 and before 1960, Full Retirement Age is 66 and some months. By retiring at age 65, those beneficiaries lose at least 12 months worth of increases. For those born in 1960 or after, Full Retirement Age is 67, so they lose up to 24 months of increases if they retire at age 65.
Below, we show how a person born in 1960 and entitled to a full benefit of $2,500 could see his or her monthly benefit change based on claiming age:
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You Can Undo A Social Security Benefits Claiming Decision
There aren’t many times in life you can take a mulligan. But Social Security offers you the chance for a do-over. Let’s say you claimed your benefit, but regretted the decision and wished you had waited. Within the first 12 months of claiming Social Security benefits, you can withdraw the application. You will need to pay back all the benefits you received, including any spousal benefits based on your record. But you can later restart your Social Security benefits at the higher amount youll earn by waiting.
Early claimers have another opportunity for a do-over: They can choose to suspend their Social Security benefit at full retirement age. Say you took your benefit at age 62. Once you turn full retirement age, you can suspend your benefit. You don’t have to pay back what you have received, and your benefit will earn delayed retirement credits of 8% a year. Wait to restart your benefit at age 70, and your monthly payment will get up to a 32% boost — which could erase much of the reduction from claiming early.
Age : Wait And Accumulate Delayed Retirement Credits
At 70, you will get the maximum amount of benefits that you can get from Social Security. It does not make sense to delay your Social Security retirement age past 70 because your benefit amount will not increase. Waiting until 70 to begin your Social Security if you are married and are the higher earner results in a higher survivor benefit for your spouse.
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What Happens If You Claim After Your Fra
If you wait until your age 70 to start claiming benefits, then youll get an extra 8% per yearor, in total, 132% of your primary insurance amount for the rest of your life. Claiming after you turn 70 doesnt increase your benefits further, so theres no reason to wait longer than that.
The longer you can afford to wait after age 62 , the larger your monthly benefit will be. Nevertheless, delaying benefits doesnt necessarily mean that youll come out ahead overall. Other factors should be considered, including your expected longevity and whether you plan to file for spousal benefits. You should also consider the tax, investment opportunity, and health coverage implications.
You Can Claim Social Security Benefits Earned By Your Ex
Just because you’re divorced doesn’t mean you’ve lost the ability to get a Social Security benefit based on your former spouse’s earnings. You can receive a benefit based on his or her record instead of a benefit based on your own work record if you were married at least 10 years, you are 62 or older, and you are single.
Like a regular spousal benefit, you can get up to 50% of an ex-spouse’s benefit — less if you claim before full retirement age. And the beauty of it is that your ex never needs to know because you apply for the benefit directly through the Social Security Administration. Taking a benefit on your ex-spouse’s record has no effect on his or her benefit or the benefit of your ex’s new spouse. And unlike a regular spousal benefit, if your ex qualifies for benefits but has yet to apply, you can still start collecting Social Security based on the ex’s record, though you must have been divorced for at least two years.
Note: Ex-spouses can also take a survivor benefit if their ex died after the divorce, and, like any survivor benefit, it will be worth up to 100% of what the ex-spouse received. If you remarry after age 60, you are still eligible for the survivor benefit.
A claiming strategy if youre divorced: Exes at full retirement age who were born on January 1, 1954, or earlier can apply to restrict their application to a spousal benefit while letting their own benefit grow.
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Change In How You Report Earnings
The Social Security Administration bases its benefit calculations on earnings reported on W-2 forms and on self-employment tax payments. Most individuals are not required to send in an estimate of earnings.
However, the Social Security Administration does request earnings estimates from some recipients: those with substantial self-employment income or those whose reported earnings have varied widely from month to month, including people who work on commission. Toward the end of each year, Social Security sends those people a form asking for an earnings estimate for the following year. The agency uses the information to calculate benefits for the first months of the following year. It will then adjust the amounts, if necessary, after it receives actual W-2 or self-employment tax information in the current year.
Once a beneficiary reaches full retirement age, his or her income will no longer be checked. Because there is no Social Security limit on how much a person can earn after reaching full retirement age, there is nothing to report.
Benefits May Be Taxable
You will have to pay taxes on your benefits if you file a federal tax return as an individual and your total income is more than $25,000. If you file a joint return and you and your spouse make more than $32,000 jointly, you will have to pay taxes on your benefits. For more information, call the Internal Revenue Service at 800-829-3676.
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When A Spouse Dies
When one spouse dies, the surviving spouse is entitled to receive the higher of their own benefit or their deceased spouses benefit. Thats why financial planners often advise the higher-earning spouse to delay claiming. If the higher-earning spouse dies first, then the surviving, lower-earning spouse will receive a larger Social Security check for life.
When the surviving spouse hasnt reached their FRA, they will be entitled to prorated amounts starting at age 60. Once at their FRA, the surviving spouse is entitled to 100% of the deceased spouses benefit or their own benefit, whichever is higher.
Watch Out For Hidden Costs
Youll also want to consider other lifestyle factors, especially Medicare. Americans become eligible for federal health insurance coverage at age 65, well after when you can begin to file for Social Security.
If you stop working at age 62 and lose health insurance, you have to get supplemental insurance to bridge the gap until you turn 65 and Medicare kicks in, Neiser says.
If you work during retirement, you have another incentive to delay collecting Social Security. Earning too much at a job after you begin collecting your benefit can reduce your payout, but only if you have yet to hit full retirement age.
However, when you hit full retirement age, your benefit will increase to account for any benefit that was withheld earlier due to working. Heres how much you can earn and not get hit.
If youre younger than full retirement age for all of 2021, the Social Security Administration will deduct $1 of your monthly check for every $2 you earn above $18,960 per year.
If you reach full retirement age in 2021, the administration deducts $1 of your monthly check for every $3 you earn above $50,520 until the month you reach retirement age.
Youll also owe Social Security and Medicare tax on your earnings, even if youre already receiving benefits.
So those are some potential pitfalls to claiming Social Security early.
Maximum Social Security Benefits Example
Say that someone who turned 62 in 2021 will reach FRA at 66 years and 10 months, with earnings that make them eligible at that point for a monthly benefit of $1,000. Opting to receive benefits at age 62 will reduce their monthly benefit by 29.2% to $708 to account for the longer time they could receive benefits, according to the Social Security Administration . That decrease is usually permanent.
If that same person waits to get benefits until age 70, their monthly benefit increases to $1,253. The larger amount is due to the delayed retirement credits earned for the decision to postpone receiving benefits past FRA. In this example, that higher amount at age 70 is about 77% more than the benefit they would receive each month if benefits started at age 62, or a difference of $545 each month.
Of course, the best time for someone to start taking Social Security benefits depends on a variety of factors, not just the dollar amount of the benefit. Things such as current income and employment status, other available retirement funds, and life expectancy must also be factored into the decision.
The Social Security Administration has several calculators to help you estimate your benefits.
Full Retirement Age: Figuring Out Yours
For the first several decades of the Social Security program, everyone had the same full retirement age: 65. But Congress introduced amendments in 1983 that would allow the normal retirement age to increase over time. Congressional leaders felt that a gradual adjustment of the full retirement age was necessary to ensure that there was enough money to keep Social Security from facing insolvency.
The result is that not everyone has the same full retirement age. The age at which you gain access to full Social Security benefits depends on the year you were born. If you were born between 1943 and 1954, your full retirement age is 66. If your birth year is 1960 or after, your normal retirement age is 67. Anyone born between 1955 and 1959 has a normal retirement age between 66 and 67 that is, 66 plus a certain number of months. For instance, if you were born in 1958, your full retirement age is 66 and eight months.
The day you were born could also affect your normal retirement age. If you were born on January 1, youll need to use the full retirement age for the folks who were born a year before you. If you were born on the first day of any month, your FRA will be the same as someone born the previous month. For example, if you reach your FRA on March 1, youll receive full benefits for the month of February, too.
Heres a complete breakdown of the full retirement age by birth year.
|Full Retirement Age|
|67 years old|
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Spouses Who Dont Qualify For Their Own Social Security
Spouses who didnt work at a paid job or didnt earn enough credits to qualify for Social Security on their own are eligible to receive benefits starting at age 62 based on their spouses record. As with claiming benefits on your own record, your spousal benefit will be reduced if you take it before reaching your FRA. The highest spousal benefit that you can receive is half of the benefit that your spouse is entitled to at their FRA.
While spouses get a lower benefit if they claim before reaching their own FRA, they will not get a larger spousal benefit by waiting to claim after their FRAsay, at age 70. However, a nonworking or lower-earning spouse may get a larger spousal benefit if the working spouse has some late-career, high-earning years that boost their benefits.
Early Benefits Can Still Pay Off
However, taking early benefits can still pay off despite the reduced monthly check. But youll want to be sure you budget for a reduced benefit.
No one can predict how long youll live, but if youre facing a potentially significant reduction in life expectancy and are short of income, taking Social Security early may be appropriate, Neiser says.
Married women are also good candidates for claiming early benefits because they are likely to outlive their husbands. Those widows then become eligible to receive the greater of either their benefit or their late husbands benefit.
However, this scenario works only if the husband does not claim his benefits early. By not claiming early benefits, the husband effectively increases the monthly benefit his wife eventually receives. So youll want to calculate how filing early will affect your spousal benefit here.
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What About Taxes On Social Security
Keep in mind that Social Security benefits may be taxable, depending on your “combined income.” Your combined income is equal to your adjusted gross income , plus non-taxable interest payments , plus half of your Social Security benefit.
As your combined income increases above a certain threshold , more of your benefit is subject to income tax, up to a maximum of 85%. For help, talk with a CPA or tax professional.
In any case, if you’re still working, you may want to postpone Social Security either until you reach your full retirement age or until your earned income is less than the annual limit. In no situation should you postpone benefits past age 70.
Bridge To Medicare At Age 65
Remember that while you are eligible for reduced Social Security benefits at 62, you won’t be eligible for Medicare until age 65, so you will probably have to pay for private health insurance in the meantime. That can eat up a large chunk of your Social Security payments.
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