Social Security Q&A: Should We Wait to Claim Benefits?

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This week’s question comes from Clare:

My husband, Mike, is 62 years old and I am 61 years old. Neither one of us has a “retirement” (pension) from our jobs. We both work and have minimal savings. What age would you suggest we take our Social Security? Would it be best for Mike and I to work until we can claim the full amount at age 66?

The pros of waiting to claim Social Security benefits

If you and Mike are in good health and you have enough income now to wait and claim Social Security benefits later, this is usually a good idea. Social Security benefits increase for each month you delay after 62, and this can make a big difference in your retirement.

The full retirement age (FRA) increases by two months for each birth year between 1954 and 1960. For people born in or before 1954, the FRA is 66. For people born in 1960 or after, the FRA is 67. For both you and Mike, you will have to wait a few more months to reach FRA than people who are older than you.

The really significant factor here is not so much that your FRA is somewhat later, but that your benefits will be somewhat lower than for older people, no matter when you claim.

For example, suppose you both claim at 62. Since Mike is a year older than you, he will get 73.3 percent of his full benefit. But because you were born a year later, you will get 72.5 percent of yours if you claim at 62.

None of this is surprising once you realize that increasing the FRA was designed to help save money for the Social Security retirement system, and politically it was more acceptable because people are living longer.

The trade-off of waiting

Still there are major benefits from delayed claiming, and FRA is not a special age unless there is a benefit to claiming spousal benefits. If Mike waits until FRA to claim his benefits, his benefits will be 36 percent higher than if he claimed at 62.

But Social Security benefits increase for each month you delay until you reach 70. Thus, if he waits until 70 to claim, his benefits will be 76 percent higher than at 62.

There is a trade-off here, of course: You will get higher benefits if you wait, but you do not get benefits until you claim. Since benefits stop when you die, the trade-off between claiming early and claiming later depends on how long you expect to live. For people who have a normal life expectancy, delayed claiming is usually beneficial.

One important point to consider when deciding when to claim is that the surviving spouse gets the higher of the two benefits. Thus, when considering when to claim, the higher-earning spouse should consider not only their own life expectancy, but also the fact that their spouse might outlive them. The longer this higher-earning spouse delays claiming, the higher the benefit the surviving spouse will receive.

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About me

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.

In 2009, I co-founded SocialSecurityChoices.com, an internet company that provides advice on Social Security claiming decisions. You can learn more about that by clicking here.

Got any words of wisdom you can offer on today’s question? Share your knowledge and experiences on our Facebook page. And if you find this information useful, please share it!

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 SSA 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.

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