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This week’s question is from Debra:
I recently stopped working (age 63) and am not yet touching my Social Security benefits. Would it be better for me to wait until my full retirement age to collect? Or should I start now? I have no intention of continuing to work full time again. I am married, and my husband is four years younger and is still working. However, (living on) one salary is a big adjustment. I don’t want to compromise any future benefit possibilities by taking Social Security too soon if I don’t have to, but will not be contributing to it either.
How your spouse impacts this decision
Debra: You are right to worry about taking your Social Security benefits too soon and to be concerned about how your decision affects the joint decision with your husband.
The longer you wait before claiming your benefit, the higher the benefit you will receive, at least until age 70. Since you say that you are now 63, I will assume that your birth year is 1956. If this is the case, then your full retirement age (FRA) will be 66 and 4 months. Since your husband is four years younger his FRA is 67.
Suppose your benefit at FRA is $1,000 a month. If you claim your benefit now, you will receive somewhere between $780 and $840 a month. But if you wait until 70 to claim, you will receive $1,293 a month. (The exact amount that you will receive now depends on your age when you claim. Social Security benefits increase each month you delay.) Thus, waiting until 70 will increase your benefit by about 58%.
Note that I have not said much about taking benefits at FRA. If you are considering only your own benefits, there is nothing special about FRA. Your benefits will increase every month you delay between now and age 70.
However, it is also important to consider your husband’s benefits. While he will not be eligible to claim Social Security benefits before he reaches 62, you might be better off claiming a spousal benefit after he claims his benefit if his benefit is more than double yours. The reverse might be true if you are the higher earner.
Because there are so many possibilities here, you may want to go to our Social Security benefit planner so that you and your husband can see which strategies will maximize your benefits. Our planner will not only tell you the optimal strategy given your situation, it also has tables that show you how much you will lose in benefits if you choose a nonoptimal strategy.
Debra, you mention that it will be challenging to live on one salary. Our tables will tell you how much you will sacrifice if you choose to take benefits now, rather than pursue an optimal strategy which might require delayed claiming.
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The questions I’m likeliest to answer are those that will interest other readers. So, it’s better not to ask for super-specific advice that applies only to you.
I hold a doctorate in economics from the University of Pennsylvania and taught economics at the University of Delaware for many years. I now do the same at Gallaudet University.
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Disclaimer: We strive to provide accurate information with regard to the subject matter covered. It is offered with the understanding that we are not offering legal, accounting, investment or other professional advice or services, and that the Social Security Administration alone makes all final determinations on your eligibility for benefits and the benefit amounts. Our advice on claiming strategies does not comprise a comprehensive financial plan. You should consult with your financial adviser regarding your individual situation.