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Ask Larry: Can I Get Social Security Widow’s Benefits At 60 Before Retirement Benefits At 62 Or 67?

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Today’s column addresses questions about taking survivor’s benefits early before retirement benefits once they’ve increased, potential negative repercussions of taking spousal benefits and how to claim retirement benefits after taking spousal benefits. Larry Kotlikoff is a Professor of Economics at Boston University and the founder and president of Economic Security Planning, Inc, which markets Maximize My Social Security and MaxiFi Planner.

See more Ask Larry answers here.

Have Social Security questions of your own you’d like answered? Ask Larry about Social Security here.


Can I Get Social Security Widow’s Benefits At 60 Before Retirement Benefits At 62 Or 67?

Hi Larry, I am 58 and I am wondering if I should begin to collect my widow’s benefit 60 or wait until 67 and collect my own retirement benefit. My retirement benefit is $1,650 if I take it at 67 or $1,155 at 62. My widow’s benefit would be $1,517 at full retirement age. Can I collect my widow’s benefit at 60 and then switch to my retirement benefit at 62 or 67? Thanks, Marth

Hi Martha, You could certainly apply for widow’s benefits at 60 and then switch to your own higher retirement benefit rate at 62 or 67, but it would probably be smarter to wait until you reach 70 to switch to your retirement benefits. Your Social Security retirement benefit rate would be 24% higher at 70 than it would be at 67, and roughly 76% higher than if you started it at 62

You don’t mention whether or not you plan to work between 60 and 67 but if you do work, your benefits may need to be fully or partially withheld if you earn too much due to Social Security’s earnings test.

You may want to consider using my company’s software — Maximize My Social Security or MaxiFi Planner — to fully analyze all of the options available to you in order to determine your best strategy for maximizing your benefits. Social Security calculators provided by other companies or non-profits may provide proper suggestions if they were built with extreme care. Best, Larry


Is There A Downside To My Husband Applying For Spousal Benefits?

Hi Larry, My husband is 69 and collecting his Social Security retirement benefits. I am 63 and will continue to work until my full retirement age of 66 and eight months. Is there a downside to my husband applying for Social Security spousal benefits? Will this in any way affect my applying for my Social Security retirement benefits when I reach full retirement age? Thanks, Cecilia

Hi Cecilia, First, note that your husband could only qualify for spousal benefits if 50% of your primary insurance amount (PIA) is higher than his PIA. A person’s PIA is equal to their Social Security retirement benefit rate if they start drawing their benefits at full retirement age (FRA). Furthermore, even if your PIA is more than twice as much as your husband’s PIA, he couldn’t be paid spousal benefits at least until you start drawing your retirement benefits

Your husband could apply for spousal benefits at any time, but unless you’ve already applied for your retirement benefits and your PIA is more than double the amount of his PIA, his application will be disallowed. When and if your husband does qualify for spousal benefits, though, it would have no adverse effect on your benefit amount. Best, Larry


Is There A Special Procedure That I Need To Follow To Apply For My Own Benefits?

Hi Larry, I’m receiving spousal benefits and plan to switch to my retirement benefits from my own record at 70. Is there a special form or procedure that I need to follow when applying for benefits on my own record? Thanks, Ha

Hi Hal, Not really. What you’ll need to do is file an application for Social Security retirement benefits. When you file a restricted application for spousal benefits only, you specifically exclude your own retirement benefits from the scope of your application.

So if you’re collecting just spousal benefits, then you haven’t yet applied for your retirement benefits and you must file a separate application in order to claim your retirement benefits.

Social Security allows people to apply for benefits up to four months in advance of the month that they want to claim benefits, so you can initiate filing your application around that time. Best, Larry


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