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 Fonda:
“I have a question regarding Social Security. My husband is 64, soon to be 65. I am 55. I earn more money than he does, so my benefit would probably be larger. Right now, we plan on him starting his benefits at his FRA (full retirement age) of 66, and I would wait until my FRA of 67. What is our best claiming strategy?”
Fonda, this is a great question. I only wish I had an easy answer. While the best strategy for a husband and wife is to take into consideration the relationship between their ages and benefits, in your case the age difference is large enough that we can consider the two decisions somewhat separately.
Things a couple should consider
The most immediate decision is when your husband should claim his benefits. You can probably put off your decision on claiming until you are at least 62. Without additional information about the exact size of the benefits you and your husband have earned, it is not possible to say exactly when he should claim.
His best strategy is probably to wait until he is 70 to claim benefits. But the advantage to delayed claiming is actually small, so if you need the extra money now, claiming at full retirement age is fine. The main advantage in his claiming later is that he will be able to pass on a higher widow’s benefit if he dies before you claim your own benefits.
Fonda, even if you told me your present projected benefits, there would be uncertainty at this point as to when you should claim. The best information on your future benefits can be found at the My Social Security page at the Social Security Administration website.
What every worker should do right now
In fact, I recommend that everyone go to the SSA website and sign up for a My Social Security account. Why? Because if you don’t, mistakes could linger on your record.
In the past, Social Security sent out annual statements to everyone. But now, going to My Social Security is the best way to find your projected benefits and catch any mistakes in your record.
With a My Social Security account, you will see a number that reflects the SSA’s estimate of what benefits you will receive at full retirement age. In formulating this estimate, the SSA assumes that you will continue working and earn the same salary that you are earning now. If you expect that your pay will rise in the future, this will be an underestimate of your eventual benefits.
On the other hand, if you stop working and you have not paid into Social Security for 35 years, then this will be an overestimate of your eventual benefits. When determining your actual benefits, the SSA takes your 35 years of highest earnings adjusted by a kind of inflation index. If you worked and paid into Social Security for less than 35 years, then zeros are entered for the missing years. So, if you stop work after 30 years, there will be five years in the calculation where there are zeros.
Fonda, while your claiming decision is several years away, you will want to reflect on how these calculations will affect your finances in retirement.
As for everyone else, go sign up at My Social Security. Need more convincing? Check out “This Is the Best Way to Guard Your Social Security From Thieves.”
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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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