Social Security Q&A: What’s the Best Strategy to Get the Highest Benefit?

One strategy to increase Social Security benefits is to claim spousal benefits at retirement age, then claim your own benefits after reaching age 70. Does it work?

Social Security Q&A: What’s the Best Strategy to Get the Highest Benefit? Photo by wavebreakmedia / Shutterstock.com

Welcome to “Social Security Q&A.” You ask a Social Security question, and our guest expert provides the answer.

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This week’s question is from Paul, and it is about when to start collecting Social Security:

I am 65, and my wife is 66. I am now retired. My wife is continuing to work and has also decided to start collecting her Social Security. Between her salary, her Social Security and some dividends, we are fine financially. Our plan is for me to collect a spousal benefit on my wife’s record when I reach full retirement age at 66, allow my own earnings record to continue to grow, and then start collecting on my own record when I reach age 70. While working I had the higher salary. Does this ͚plan͛ make any sense?

When delaying Social Security makes sense

Paul, a simple answer to your question is “yes” — under most circumstances. What you plan to do is called a restricted application. The advantage of a restricted application is that it lowers the cost of delayed claiming because you are receiving a spousal benefit while you wait. If you did not apply for a spousal benefit, then you would receive no income from Social Security until you claimed at 70.

To know for sure whether this is the best strategy, I would need more information about what benefits Social Security will pay you and your wife, and whether you and your wife are in good health. For example, if you both had major medical problems, then it might be wise to take your benefits sooner. But if even one of you is in good health, you’ll want to consider the impact on your survivors benefit of claiming before 70.

When the first member of a couple passes, the survivor gets to take the larger of the two benefits. Since you have the higher benefit, you will want to maximize this benefit so the survivor continues to receive a large Social Security check. So, in general, what you plan to do is probably the best strategy. (Editor’s note: To find out for sure, Paul could get a personalized report here.)

Unfortunately, the restricted application you plan to pursue is only available to people who were born on or before Jan. 1, 1954. People born after that date cannot claim a spousal benefit and then claim their own benefit later. They will have to choose between a spousal benefit or their own benefit. They cannot claim one and then switch to the other. Fortunately, you are old enough to pursue a restricted application.

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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.

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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.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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