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.
Beware The Social Security Earnings Test
Bringing in too much money in earned income can cost you if you continue to work after claiming Social Security benefits early. With what is commonly known as the Social Security earnings test, you will forfeit $1 in benefits for every $2 you make over the earnings limit, which in 2021 is $18,960. Once you are past full retirement age, the earnings test disappears, and you can make as much money as you want with no impact on benefits.
Any Social Security benefits forfeited to the earnings test are not lost forever. At your full retirement age, the Social Security Administration will recalculate your benefits to take into account benefits lost to the test. For example, if you claim benefits at 62 and over the next four years lose one full years worth of benefits to the earnings test, at a full retirement age of 66 your benefits will be recomputed — and increased — as if you had taken benefits three years early, instead of four. That basically means the lifetime reduction in benefits would be 20% rather than 25%.
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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Your Monthly Social Security Benefits Grow The Longer You Wait To Claim
You can collect Social Security benefits as soon as you turn 62, but taking benefits before your full retirement age results in a permanent benefits reduction of as much as 25% to 30%, depending on your full retirement age.
If you wait until you hit full retirement age to claim Social Security benefits, youll receive 100% of your earned benefits. Or you can keep waiting to claim your Social Security benefits all the way to age 70. There’s a big bonus to delaying your claim — your monthly Social Security benefit will grow by 8% a year until age 70. Any cost-of-living adjustments will be included, too, so you don’t forgo those by waiting.
Waiting to claim your Social Security benefits can benefit your heirs as well. By waiting to take his benefit, a high-earning husband, for example, can ensure that his low-earning wife will receive a much higher survivor benefit in the event he dies before her. That extra income of up to 32% could make a big difference for a widow whose household is down to one Social Security benefit.
Claiming Social Security At Age 70
If you are able to delay claiming your Social Security benefit until you reach age 70, you will earn a significantly higher benefit. After your Full Retirement Age of 66 , your benefit goes up by eight percent each year. Consequently, if your full retirement benefit at age 66 was $1,000 per month, and you delay claiming your benefit, it will be $1,080 per month by age 67 or an additional $960 per year. If you delay until age 70, it will be 124 percent of your expected benefit or $1,240 a month. That comes out to $2,880 more each year.
Delaying past age 70 will not increase your benefit, however.
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How Your Social Security Benefits Are Calculated
Your Social Security benefits are based on the 35 calendar years in which you earned the most money. If you have fewer than 35 years of earnings, each year with no earnings will be factored in at zero. You can increase your Social Security benefit at any time by replacing a zero or low-income year with a higher-income year.
There is a maximum Social Security benefit amount you can receive, though it depends on the age you retire. For someone at full retirement age in 2021, the maximum monthly benefit is $3,113. For someone filing at age 70, the maximum monthly amount is $3,895.
You can estimate your own benefit by using Social Security’s online Retirement Estimator.
Is It 62 67 Or 70 Three Retirement Experts Weigh In
Seniors have many choices for when to start receiving their Social Security checks. And the decision to claim at a particular age can impact both monthly and lifetime benefits.
Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to choosing the best time. To help you decide when you should file for Social Security benefits, three Motley Fool retirement experts make an argument for claiming them at three of the most common ages: 62, 67, and 70.
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No One Else Is Relying On Your Benefits
In the event of your death, a surviving spouse, minor or disabled child can receive money from the Social Security Administration based on the amount of your benefits. For example, a surviving spouse can receive between 71.5% and 100% of your benefit amount, depending on the surviving spouse’s age. A disabled child can receive 75% of your benefits each month even after you’re gone.
If no one else can qualify for benefits based on your record, you might want to retire early because no one is depending on that money. If everything else falls into place and you meet the minimum Social Security retirement age, consider collecting your benefits early and enjoying life.
No More File And Suspend
Note that the claiming strategy called file and suspend, which allowed married couples who have reached their FRA to receive spousal benefits and delayed retirement credits at the same time, ended as of May 1, 2016. However, spouses born before Jan. 2, 1954, who have attained their FRA may still be able to file a restricted application. It allows them to claim spousal benefits while delaying their own benefits up to age 70.
Social Security benefits can be taxable if your combined income is high enough.
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You Already Have Your 35 Highest
Your Social Security benefits are based on your earnings in the 35 years that you had the most compensation. If you’re in your peak earning years, you could boost your benefits if you keep working a few more years and delaying your benefits. However, if you aren’t going to increase your average earnings, such as if you’re only working part-time or you’ve had to retire early, you won’t miss out on the chance to boost your benefits with higher earning years. However, you’ll still receive a smaller benefit for not waiting until full retirement age.
If You Were Born Between 1943 And 1954 Your Full Retirement Age Is 66
You can start your Social Security retirement benefits as early as age 62, but the benefit amount you receive will be less than your full retirement benefit amount.
The chart below provides examples of the percentage of your full retirement benefit amount you and your spouse would receive from age 62 up to your full retirement age.
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The Problem: The Economic Toll From The Pandemic Will Very Likely Affect Social Security Benefits
The initial retirement benefits that Social Security beneficiaries receive in the first year of retirement are determined by a formula that depends, in part, on the growth of average wages in the economy. Due to the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, the key measure of average wagesthe average wage index is very likely to decline in 2020. As a result, the initial retirement benefits for those who are first eligible to receive benefits in 2022when they reach the age of 62would be significantly less than what was anticipated only months ago, before the pandemic began to exact its economic toll. The effect is very likely to be so significant that workers turning 62 in 2022 would receive initial retirement benefits that are less than those of workers who were born a year earlier and who had essentially the same earnings history. This incongruity is what Social Security experts call a benefit notch. Such a notch would be unfair to the beneficiaries who turn 60 in 2020 and first become eligible to retire in 2022 because benefits are normally expected to grow for each successive cohort of retirees. Moreover, the benefit reduction and notch would have long-lasting consequences, as they not only would affect benefits in the first year of ones retirement but also lower them for every year going forward, as annual benefits are determined by adjusting the initial level for inflation.
How Will Working Affect Social Security Benefits
In a recent survey, 68% of current workers stated they plan to work for pay after retiring.1
And that possibility raises an interesting question: how will working affect Social Security benefits?
The answer to that question requires an understanding of three key concepts: full retirement age, the earnings test, and taxable benefits.
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Increasing The Eligibility Age For Social Security Pensions
Social Security faces a long-term financing problem. Many young workers believe the problem is so severe they may never receive a Social Security check. The most logical solution to Social Securitys financing problem is to trim promised benefits and increase payroll taxes moderately. A sensible way to reduce future benefits is to increase the early eligibility age and normal retirement age for retirement pensions. This reform is justified by the substantial increase in life spans that has occurred since Social Security was established in the 1930s. An increase in life spans, when the normal retirement age remains unchanged, is equivalent to a sizable increase in lifetime Social Security benefits.
Increasing the retirement age is unpopular with voters. Unfortunately, so are all other reforms that would restore Social Security to solvency, including tax hikes and cuts in the formula for calculating full pensions.
Social Security Retirement Age : If You Are A Widow/widower
If you are a widow or widower, you can receive Social Security retirement benefits as early as 60. If you have not reached your full retirement age, and you are still working and earn more than the earnings limit, your benefits will be reduced. Once you reach full retirement age, no more reductions will apply, regardless of how much you work and earn. Those working will want to consider waiting until their full retirement age to begin widow/widower benefits.
One option available to widows/widowers is to file a restricted application, which means you can begin one type of benefit, such as a survivor benefit then when you reach 70, you can switch over to your retirement benefit amount if it would be larger.
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What Is Full Retirement Age
In addition to how much youve earned over the years, the size of your monthly Social Security benefit depends on when you were born and the age when you start claimingdown to the month.
Youll receive your full monthly benefit if you start claiming when you reach what Social Security considers your full retirement age , sometimes also referred to as normal retirement age. FRA was 65 when Social Security began, but it has been raised to 67 for anyone born in 1960 or later. To find your FRA, see the chart below.
|Finding Your Full Retirement Age|
How Being Older Helps
The medical-vocational grid rules are generally favorable if an individual is approaching advanced age . If those age 50-54 are limited to sedentary work or less, and don’t have work skills that transfer to other types work, they are likely to be approved for disability. Social Security does not expect these workers to go through a lot of vocational adjustment to learn a sedentary job when they are approaching advanced age.
The Social Security medical-vocational rules, however, are most favorable to individuals who are 55 and older. If an individual is 55 or older and is limited even to light work, or less than a full range of medium work, they may be approved for disability even if they have a high school education and their prior work was unskilled or their skills are not transferable. Social Security expects a worker to take on very little vocational adjustment at this age.
These are just examples. Even if you do not fit the medical-vocational classifications for an approval at your age exactly, there is still a chance that your disability claim is winnable. If you are 49, 54, or 59, and you would qualify for disability under the age grid for 50-54, 55-59, or 60 and older, Social Security may treat you as if you had reached the next age category. For more information, see our article on getting disability when you’re almost 50, 55, or 60.
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Taxes On Your Benefits
Your Social Security benefits may be partially taxable if your combined income exceeds certain thresholds. Regardless of how much you make, the first 15% of your benefits are not taxed.
The SSA defines combined income using this formula:
- Your adjusted gross income + nontaxable interest + half of your Social Security benefits = your combined income
If you file your federal tax return as an individual and your combined income is $25,000 to $34,000, then you may have to pay income tax on up to 50% of your benefits. If your combined income is more than $34,000, then you may have to pay tax on up to 85% of your benefits.
If youre married, filing a joint return, and your combined income is $32,000 to $44,000, then you may have to pay income tax on up to 50% of your benefits. If your combined income is more than $44,000, then you may have to pay tax on up to 85% of your benefits.
Congress Must Act Sooner Rather Than Later
In theory, the AWI problem could be fixed anytime before 2022, when, for example, workers who turn 60 this year are first eligible to retire at the age of 62. But that delay would cause significant anxiety for these workers, whose future benefits would be at risk. Moreover, people decide when to retire based on projections of their incomes in their initial year of retirement and in the remainder of their lives. It would be most unfair to workers decision-making processes to have the expectations of their future incomes be uncertain for some period of time while they are trying to make such an important decision.
Congress needs to act sooner rather than later to ameliorate this problem. One possibility would be to include a fix in the stimulus legislation to cope with the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic that Congress is currently considering.
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Reasons You Should Claim Social Security Early
Learn why Social Security at 62 might not be a bad idea.
Your retirement planning likely includes getting income from the Social Security Administration, but when you start collecting Social Security benefits can have a big impact on your planning. The earliest you can collect is age 62, but you’ll get more money if you delay your benefits past your initial Social Security eligibility. If you wait until after your full retirement age to start collecting Social Security you can earn delayed retirement credits, which will increase your benefits even more.
You might think that waiting for bigger benefits is better, but that’s not always the case. There is no definitive answer to when you should collect Social Security benefits, and taking them as soon as you hit the early retirement age of 62 might be the best financial move.
How To Calculate Social Security Benefits
Lets say your FRA is 66. If you start claiming benefits at age 66 and your full monthly benefit is $2,000, then youll get $2,000 per month. If you start claiming benefits at age 62, which is 48 months early, then your benefit will be reduced to 75% of your full monthly benefitalso called your primary insurance amount. In other words, youll get 25% less per month, and your check will be $1,500.
That reduced benefit wont increase once you reach age 66. Rather, youll continue to receive it for the rest of your life. It may go up over time due to cost-of-living adjustments , but only slightly. You can do the math for your own situation using the Social Security Administration Early or Late Retirement Calculator, one of a number of benefit calculators provided by the SSA that can also help you determine your FRA, the SSAs estimate of your life expectancy for benefit calculations, rough estimates of your retirement benefits, individualized projections of your benefits based on your personal work record, and more.
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