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When to claim Social Security benefits

Written by Jill Braunstein

When deciding when to stop working and when to claim Social Security benefits, there is a lot to consider. Individuals and families should weigh personal circumstances, health, financial need, and marital and family status. The National Academy of Social Insurance’s toolkit on When to Claim Social Security Benefits includes a new brief, Different People, Different Choices, that walks you through a range of possible scenarios and decisions about when to claim benefits to help you get started on this important decision.

If you need benefits to make ends meet: Take them – you’ve earned the benefits and Social Security is there for you. But if you can wait, doing so can increase your monthly benefit for the rest of your life. Here are some helpful tips:

If you claim Social Security benefits before your full retirement age because you are not working: If you get a job and do not need your Social Security benefits, you can request at your full retirement age that your benefits be suspended. When you reclaim Social Security benefits, you will get a higher benefit based on the number of additional months you delayed receiving benefits.

If you’re working and claim Social Security benefits before your full retirement age: Social Security may withhold some of your benefits temporarily, depending upon how much you earn. But, Social Security will increase the amount of your benefit when you reach your FRA, to take account of the number of months in which benefits were not paid.

If you’re working and claim Social Security benefits after you reach your FRA: Social Security will not reduce your benefits, no matter how much you earn. However, if you have an adequate income, you might consider waiting beyond your FRA to claim benefits to increase your monthly benefits for the rest of your life.

If you are married: Each partner is entitled to up to 50% of his/her spouse’s Social Security benefit, or his/her own worker benefit, whichever is higher. (A surviving spouse is entitled to up to 100% of his/her spouse’s Social Security benefit or his/her own worker benefit, whichever is higher.)

If you are divorced: If your marriage lasted at least 10 years, you may be eligible for the same benefits as if you were married, based on your ex-spouse’s work record.

If you are a widow or widower: You may be eligible for Social Security ‘life insurance protection,’ known as survivor benefits.

If you are under 18 and have a parent or sometimes a grandparent who retires, becomes disabled or dies: You may be eligible for Social Security dependent benefits.

Claiming benefits at the appropriate time can help you and your family members achieve a more financially secure retirement. Social Security is the safest and most secure income that many retirees have, and benefits last for life and keep up with inflation. Download Different People, Different Choices to get more information relevant to your particular personal circumstances, health, financial need, and marital and family status; you can also find details on the above claiming decisions. Visit the Academy’s toolkit, When to Take Social Security, for more information.

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