If you are widowed and wondering what to do about your Social Security retirement benefits, it’s worth taking some time to learn more about this important benefit and the filing options that are available. Learning about your benefits becomes even more important if you are caring for your deceased spouse’s qualifying child. The filing decisions you make today are likely to have a permanent impact on the benefits that you receive.
Timing is a key variable for everyone, but especially for someone who is widowed. Collecting benefits early, before reaching full retirement age, permanently reduces your monthly benefit.
Of course, there may be good reasons for filing before your full retirement age. Health concerns, a reduced life expectancy and financial need are all important considerations.
As the chart below shows, your full retirement age is determined by the year you were born.
As a widowed spouse you may be eligible to receive a survivor’s benefit based on your deceased spouse’s work history.
As a widow or widower, you may be eligible to receive:
- Your own benefit, or up to 100% of your deceased spouse’s benefit, whichever amount is greater;
- Reduced benefits as early as age 60, or full benefits at full retirement age or older;
- Benefits as early as age 50 if you are disabled and the disability starts before or within seven years of your spouse’s death.2
If you are widowed and remarry after reaching age 60 (age 50 if disabled), the new marriage will not affect eligibility for survivors benefits. Widows and widowers who have not remarried can receive survivors benefits at any age if they care for the deceased spouse’s child. That child must be under age 16, or disabled and receiving benefits based on the deceased spouse’s record.
Remember…it’s your Social Security and your decision
For simplicity, this example reflects limited benefit filing variables. Many factors can affect the amount of your Social Security benefit, including:
- Whether you have your reached full retirement age;
- Whether you have remarried;
- Whether you care for your dependent child who is under age 16 or who is disabled; and
- Whether you have earned income if you are younger than full retirement age.
Contact the Social Security Administration for information that can help you make an informed filing decision.3 When you visit or call, ask for the amount of your survivors benefit and, if you are eligible to receive an individual retirement benefit, what that benefit amount would be at different filing ages.
Now let’s look at an example of how survivors benefits might work for one widow–Kathy.
Kathy is 66 years old and recently lost her husband of 35 years, Bill. Kathy would very much like to retire and move closer to her children. Her full retirement age benefit is $1,500. On the other hand, Kathy is concerned about having enough income in retirement. She wonders whether she should continue working a bit longer and delay taking her Social Security benefit.
At the time of his death, Bill was 66 and had just begun receiving his full retirement age benefit of $1,800 each month. As a new widow, Kathy has some important decisions to make – including how and when to file for her Social Security benefits. Her benefit filing strategy can have a significant impact on her monthly cash flow – and on the benefits she receives over her lifetime.
2 Source: Social Security Administration, Retirement Planner: Survivor Benefits for Your Widow or Widower, http://www.socialsecurity.gov/survivorplan/onyourown2.htm
3 Social Security publication SSA Publication No. 05-10077, What you Need to Know When You Get Retirement or Survivors Benefits provides a good foundation of information on retirement and survivors benefits.
Let’s take a high-level look at how two different filing strategies might affect Kathy’s benefits.
3 Delayed retirement credits may accrue for each year beyond full retirement age that individual benefits are delayed. People born in 1943 or later who have reached full retirement age can earn delayed retirement credits equal to 8% of their full retirement age benefit, up until age 70. This can increase monthly benefit amounts by up to 32%. Spousal benefits are not eligible for delayed retirement credits.
Take the guesswork out of your Social Security filing decision.
Your Social Security retirement benefit is too important for guesswork. Learn more about your retirement benefits at www.socialsecurity.gov or contact your local Social Security office.
One of the most important steps you can take is to set up your own “My Social Security” page on www.socialsecurity.gov. This is an easy and secure way to view your estimated benefits and earnings history. The Social Security Administration will use this information when it calculates your benefit, so be sure that it accurately reflects your work history.
We’re here to help.
Once you and your spouse have set up your individual Social Security pages, your financial professional can help you explore different filing strategies. With this information, you will be better able to make an informed Social Security filing decision.