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This week’s question comes from Karen:
“I am 60. My husband is 67, and he is planning to wait until 70 to collect Social Security. If I collect my Social Security at 62 and — hope this doesn’t happen — he passes at 72, would my benefit be bumped up to his benefit, or would I get a reduced amount because I did not wait until full retirement age to collect my benefit?”
Playing the Social Security game right
Karen: You can get your husband’s full benefit if you play the “game” right. Social Security is very flexible when it comes to survivors benefits.
If your husband waits until 70 to claim his benefit, he will get the maximum benefit — and he will be able to pass this on to you if you wait until your full retirement age (FRA) to claim survivors benefits.
If you claim your own benefit at 62, this will not affect your survivors benefits as long as you do not switch to the survivors benefits before your FRA. If you switch before your FRA, this will reduce your survivors benefits.
If your husband is the higher earner, it sounds like you are planning to pursue a reasonable strategy — that is, taking your benefit at 62 while your husband waits until 70. Whether this is actually the best strategy depends on the relationship between your benefits and your husband’s benefits, and how long you and your husband might live. If you want to learn more about your optimal strategy, you could get a report from us.
Our report lets you enter information about your earnings and provides you with different strategies that depend on how long you and your husband expect to live. For example, if your husband is in poor health, the strategy may be different than the strategy you would want to pursue if he has no health problems.
Another consideration is the earnings test. If you claim before your FRA, you will be subject to the earnings test and lose $1 in benefits for every $2 you earn over $18,240 (in 2020). The penalty is less severe in the year you reach FRA. Normally, your benefits will be increased at FRA if you experience this penalty. But if you claim survivors benefits at FRA, there will be no adjustment, and the money you lose because of the earnings test will just be lost.
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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 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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