Will Claiming Survivors Benefits Hurt My Social Security Later?

Senior man
Photo by AJR_photo / Shutterstock.com

Welcome to our “Social Security Q&A” series. You ask a question about Social Security, and a guest expert answers it.

You can learn how to ask a question of your own below. And if you would like a personalized report detailing your optimal Social Security claiming strategy, click here. Check it out: It could result in receiving thousands of dollars more in benefits over your lifetime!

Today’s question comes from Jeff:

“I am 58 years old. My wife passed away a year and a half ago. We were married for 34 years.
I retired from teaching last May. If I claim a Social Security survivors benefit on her record at 60, will that affect my Social Security retirement benefit when I am ready to take mine? Given my birth year, my full retirement age (FRA) is 67. I am hoping to delay claiming my own retirement benefits until age 70.”

When should you claim survivors benefits?

Jeff, I have good news for you. You can indeed claim widow(er)s benefits — one type of survivors benefit — as early as age 60 without having any negative effect on your retirement benefits. Alternatively, you can claim your retirement benefits as early as age 62 without having any negative effect on your widow(er)s benefits.

Keep in mind that claiming widow(er)s benefits at age 60 involves a steep early claiming penalty of 28.5%. Nevertheless, it is often worthwhile to accept that penalty and claim at age 60 (assuming you will switch to retirement benefits later on).

Jeff, you do have the option of claiming retirement benefits first. So, which benefit should you claim first? The answer partly depends on the earnings test, which we will ignore for the moment. (In Jeff’s case, he retired at age 58, so the earnings test is irrelevant.)

In many instances, the answer is obvious: If retirement benefits are significantly larger (say, at FRA) than the widow(er)s benefits, then claiming widow(er)s benefits at age 60 makes good financial sense. The next move would be to switch to retirement benefits at age 70 or thereabouts.

Alternatively, if widow(er)s benefits clearly dominated retirement benefits at one’s FRA, then the best move would be to claim retirement benefits at age 62, and then switch to widow(er)s benefits at FRA. That is because widow(er)s benefits reach a maximum at FRA.

As widow(er)s benefits (at FRA) grow closer to retirement benefits (at FRA), the choice of which benefit to start first becomes more complicated. I do not see any easy rule-of-thumb that can deal with cases of this sort. One really needs to do some careful calculations or turn to some inexpensive professional advice to reach a reliable conclusion.

Finally, for those who continue to work past age 60, the earnings test will play a role. For 2021, earnings above $18,960 result in a $1 reduction in benefits for every $2 in earnings (a higher limit applies for the months leading up to one’s FRA).

So, anyone with significant earnings will find their benefits reduced substantially, perhaps to zero. This fact further complicates the decision about the timing of claiming benefits.

Got a question you’d like answered?

You can submit a question for the “Social Security Q&A” series for free. Just hit “reply” to the Money Talks News newsletter and email your question. (If you don’t already receive the newsletter, you can sign up for free, too: Click here, and the sign-up box will pop up.)

You also can find all past answers from this series on the “Social Security Q&A” webpage.

About me

I hold a doctorate in economics from the University of Wisconsin and taught economics at the University of Delaware for many years.

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.

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.

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

Read Next
19 Things You Should Never Buy at a Grocery Store
19 Things You Should Never Buy at a Grocery Store

These household necessities are overpriced at the grocery store. Get them cheaper at these places instead.

If My Spouse Dies, Can I Get Her Social Security?
If My Spouse Dies, Can I Get Her Social Security?

If a spouse dies, will the survivor collect the other’s share in addition to his or her own?

The Most Common Reason That Older Adults Fall Down
The Most Common Reason That Older Adults Fall Down

The good news: It’s possible to avoid potentially devastating falls.

7 Ways Anyone Can Cut Their Health Care Costs
7 Ways Anyone Can Cut Their Health Care Costs

Here’s how to lower your medical expenses without skimping on care.

8 Products That Make It Easier to Get Fit
8 Products That Make It Easier to Get Fit

Amazon reviewers give high marks to these tools that can help you get in shape without a gym.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
7 Kirkland Signature Items to Avoid at Costco
7 Kirkland Signature Items to Avoid at Costco

Even if it seems you save a bundle buying Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand products, they may not be the bargain they appear to be.

How to Buy Gas At Costco Without a Membership
How to Buy Gas At Costco Without a Membership

The warehouse club often has some of the cheapest gas in town. Here’s how you can get it as a nonmember.

10 Things to Stop Buying If You Want a Clutter-Free Home
10 Things to Stop Buying If You Want a Clutter-Free Home

If you like to keep things simple, avoid these purchases.

If You Find This Thrift Shopping, Buy It
If You Find This Thrift Shopping, Buy It

Vacuums from this brand can last a half-century, if not longer — and they’re hot on the resale market.

A Simple Way to Silence Robocalls Today
A Simple Way to Silence Robocalls Today

A few steps can keep your phone from ringing when a spammer calls.

This Company Makes the Best Tires in America
This Company Makes the Best Tires in America

Driver satisfaction with tires is at an all-time high, but one brand stands out.

Can I Switch to Spousal Social Security Benefits When My Ex Dies?
Can I Switch to Spousal Social Security Benefits When My Ex Dies?

Knowing when to claim can help you maximize benefits.

36 Things That Will Be Obsolete Soon
36 Things That Will Be Obsolete Soon

The writing is on the wall for dozens of things we have grown up with.

This Health Issue Can Hint at Dementia Years in Advance
This Health Issue Can Hint at Dementia Years in Advance

One type of pain is especially associated with cognitive decline.

8 Things You Should Always Buy on Amazon
8 Things You Should Always Buy on Amazon

The giant retailer shines when it comes to these things, from basics to hard-to-find specialty goods.

Medicare Will Not Cover These 6 Medical Costs
Medicare Will Not Cover These 6 Medical Costs

Don’t let these health care expenses catch you off guard in retirement.

8 Federal Income Tax Breaks for Homeowners
8 Federal Income Tax Breaks for Homeowners

Some of these deductions and credits are available to a wide swath of homeowners.

5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free
5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free

Hesitant to drop $119 a year on an Amazon Prime membership? Here’s how to get it for free.

3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free
3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free

With a little ingenuity, you can cut Office costs to zero.

5 Ways to Fill Your Pantry With Free Food
5 Ways to Fill Your Pantry With Free Food

Anyone can take advantage of these resources.

10 Types of Retirement Income That Are Not Taxable
10 Types of Retirement Income That Are Not Taxable

There are lots of things Uncle Sam can’t touch — so long as you play by the rules.

10 Deep Discounts Available on Amazon This Friday
10 Deep Discounts Available on Amazon This Friday

These items are steeply discounted — but the deals won’t last long.

6 Reasons You Should Stop Hiding Cash at Home
6 Reasons You Should Stop Hiding Cash at Home

Stashing money around the house is anything but harmless.

5 Products You Should Never Buy Generic
5 Products You Should Never Buy Generic

Sometimes the brand-name version is clearly superior.

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.