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Social Security Basics

Social Security Knowledge Center.

 
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Deciding how to claim Social Security is arguably one of the largest
financial decisions a person will make in his or her lifetime.

Making a mistake can be devastating, cost you thousands of dollars
over your lifetime, and impact your loved ones after you are gone.

We are experts in Social Security and retirement. We understand the
nuances of Social Security. Our experts deliver a strategy that's right for you.

Our team is comprised of trained specialists and their one goal is to help you evaluate and select the best Social Security benefits for your personal situation.

Our tools deliver reliable education, help, & guidance to assist you in making
sound, informed decisions about when to start your Social Security benefits.

The best strategy to collect benefits in line with your retirement goals.

Married? Single? Divorced? Widowed?
What to Do. Now.

Deciding how to claim Social Security is arguably one of the largest financial decisions a person will make in his or her lifetime.

After years of research we became alarmed as we realized Americans are foregoing billions of dollars in lifetime income because they are not well informed about the choices available to them.

We are experts in Social Security and retirement. We understand the nuances of Social Security, and we can help you determine your best strategy for collecting benefits in line with your retirement goals. Work with the experts who can help you personalize a strategy that's right for you.

As a married couple, here is the most important lesson to follow when deciding how and when each of you should file:

  • If at least one spouse lives well beyond the age that the higher earner turns 80, your joint lifetime income will be highest if the higher earner delays starting their benefits until age 70.
  • This is the most important lesson for married couples as, due to survivor benefits, the higher benefit amount is the one that will continue for as long as either of the couple lives.

The answer is.

  • For a couple, both age 62 today, there is a 40% chance that one or the other of you will live to age 90. It is easy to look at life expectancy in isolation, but when it comes to claiming Social Security benefits, that would be a mistake. You must account for the possibility one or the other of you could live longer than you may expect.
  • In many ways, the right Social Securty choices act as a form of life insurance, providing a solid source of income for a surving spouse.

A spouse is eligible for spousal benefits, and when done correctly, switching strategies can be applied. Such strategies allow a spouse to switch from a spousal benefit to their own, or vice versa. Using such switching strategies in a smart way can result in even more joint lifetime income.

Your best filing strategy depends on your relative ages, benefit amounts and life expectancies. As a general rule of thumb, to get the most lifetime income and provide a potentially higher benefit to a surviving spouse, here is what to do:

  • Higher earner: begin spousal benefits at Full Retirement Age (FRA) or as soon as eligible thereafter, and switch to your own benefits at 70.
  • Why? This maximizes the monthly benefits that continue for your joint life expectancy, since due to survivor benefits, the higher benefit amount is the one that will continue for as long as either of you lives.
  • If one or both of you live a long time, your benefits are maximized when the higher earner delays the start of benefits based on their own record until age 70. If the higher earner is eligible to take a spousal benefit at their FRA, they should do so, then at 70 switch to a benefit based on their own record.
  • Lower earner: in general, start benefits as soon as possible, as long as your earnings would not eliminate the benefits. (If you file before you reach FRA and have earnings in excess of the Social Security earnings limit, your benefits will be reduced until you reach FRA.) If you plan to work until FRA or later, consider beginning spousal benefits at FRA, and at 70 switching to benefits based on your own record if that would be more than your spousal benefits.

As a married couple it is important to coordinate with each other as to how and when you each file for your Social Security benefits. To make a smart choice answer all of the following questions before you decide when you should each file:

  • Which spouse has the higher PIA (typically the higher earning spouse)?
  • Who will reach FRA first, and by how many years?
  • Who should get spousal benefits, the husband or the wife, or perhaps one spouse first followed by the other spouse?
  • Can you use switching strategies, where a spouse may begin spousal benefits and later switch to benefits based on his or her own earnings record at a later date?
  • How will the selection of one spouse's beginning date affect the level of survivor's benefits for the other spouse?
  • What is each of your standard life expectancies, and how do you think your family and personal health history and lifestyle will affect this?
  • What happens if one of you dies early and the other lives for many more years?
  • What happens if you both live a long time, or both die sooner than expected?

The following qualify:

  • A current spouse as long as you have been married at least one year.
  • A former spouse if you were married to them at least ten years.

See additional details on spousal benefit qualifications below:

  • If you do not have enough work to qualify for your own benefits, you can still collect a monthly Social Security check based on your spouse's (or ex-spouse's) earnings record.
  • If you do have enough work to qualify for your own benefits, you are entitled to receive either a benefit based on your own earnings record or a benefit based on your spouse's earnings record.

Spousal Benefits and Former Spouses

  • If you had a prior marriage of at least ten years in length, you can claim a spousal benefit based on your former spouse's earnings record. It will not affect their benefit, or the benefit of their current spouse, in any way.
  • If your spouse had a prior marriage of at least ten years in length, their ex-spouse can claim a spousal benefit based on your spouse's record. As a current spouse, you are also eligible for a spousal benefit, and any claims paid to a former spouse do not affect your spousal benefits in any way.

You must be at least age 62 to collect benefits on either your own record or your spouse's earnings record, and your spouse must have filed for his or her own benefit for you to collect a spousal benefit.

Your spouse can choose to "file and suspend" or "claim and suspend" which allows you to collect a spousal benefit while they delay the start of their own benefit so they accumulate something called Delayed Retirement Credits. For most couples the result of using this advanced strategy is that they receive significantly more lifetime income.

As a spouse you are entitled to receive either a benefit based on your own earnings record or 50% of your spouse's Social Security benefit at their Full Retirement Age. You are automatically eligible to receive the higher amount, but not both amounts.

If you apply for a spousal benefit before your Full Retirement Age, you will receive a reduced spousal benefit, so the amount you receive would be less than 50% of your spouse's benefit at their Full Retirement Age.

If you collect a spousal benefit and you have not yet reached Full Retirement Age, you can lose some of your benefits by working. This happens if your earnings are in excess of the Social Security earnings limit.

Social security pays survivor benefits to a surviving spouse. The amount you receive will depend on your age, your spouse's age and whether your spouse had already started receiving benefits or not.

If you were both already receiving benefits here is how it works:

  • If your spouse's benefit amount was higher than your own, you can continue to receive their full benefit amount, but you will no longer receive your own.
  • If your benefit amount was the higher of the two, you will continue to receive your benefit amount, but not your spouse's.

If you are not yet receiving benefits:

  • It is not always in your best interest to file for a Social Security survivor's benefit, even if you are immediately eligible. A widow or widower's survivor benefit will continue to accumulate delayed retirement credits, so you may be able to receive substantially more by waiting to file until the time your deceased spouse would have reached age 70.
  • You can find more details on Social Security survivor benefits in the Widow/Widower section.

When used properly, spousal benefit switching strategies can get you and your spouse additional lifetime income. The rules are outlined below.

  • If you apply for a spousal benefit before you reach Full Retirement Age, the Social security office automatically calculates which benefit would provide you with the most income - either a benefit based on your own record or one based on your spouse's record, and that is what you will get at that time.
  • If you start off collecting your own benefit because you are not yet eligible for a spousal benefit (because your spouse is not yet 62 for example), and later you become eligible for a spousal benefit and the spousal benefit is higher, you can switch to the spousal benefit.
  • If you wait until you reach Full Retirement Age to start collecting benefits, you can CHOOSE to take a spousal benefit, even if it results in a lower initial payment, and later you can switch to your own benefit. Why would you do this? Because your own benefit would continue to accumulate something called a Delayed Retirement Credit, and using such switching strategies frequently results in a higher amount of lifetime income for you and your spouse.
  • Your spouse must have filed for his or her own benefit for you to collect a spousal benefit (this is not true for an ex-spouse). However, your spouse could have chosen to "file and suspend" or "claim and suspend" which allows you to collect a spousal benefit while they delay the start of their own benefit so it can accumulate something called Delayed Retirement Credits. Why would they do this? Because using such switching strategies frequently results in a higher amount of lifetime income for the two of you.

To claim a spousal benefit you must have been married at least one year.

For most married couples the goal is to get the most joint lifetime income . To do this, you must work together to decide how and when each of you should file. Without knowing who is the higher earner, your relative ages, benefit amounts and life expectancies, it is impossible to tell you what to do. Our software and experts gather the necessary information and provide you with a clear, concise answer as to what you should do.

Consider the couple in this example:

  • Sally, age 63
  • Jack, age 66
  • Both have a Full Retirement Age of 66
  • Based on her earnings record, Sally has a Primary Insurance Amount (PIA) of $1,500
  • Jack has a PIA of $2,000

Now consider Sally's Social Security benefit possibilities:

  • Based on her own record, Sally could begin benefits today at $1,200 a month. Since she is 36 months short of reaching FRA, she receives 80% of $1,500, as explained in our article entitled "Full Retirement Age."
  • Alternatively, Sally may receive spouse's benefits based on Jack's earnings record if this amount is larger than benefits based on her own record. But the calculations get a little tricky here. If she had attained FRA, Sally would be entitled to 50% of his PIA or $1,000. But spouse's benefits are reduced by 25/36% for each of the first 36 months that benefits are begun before reaching FRA, and by 5/12% for each additional month. Since Sally just turned 63 and is 36 months shy of reaching her FRA, she would be eligible to receive spouse's benefits of only 75% of $1,000 (or $750 a month).
  • In this example, Sally would receive benefits based on her own earnings record since this amount, $1,200, is larger than her spouse's benefit of $750 per month.

If you live to age 80, the lifetime benefits you receive will be approximately the same whether benefits begin at 62, 63, 64, or any age through 70.

Considering this, follow these guidelines as to when to file:

  • If you have a short life expectancy, begin benefits early or as soon as they would not be lost due to the earnings test.
  • If you have an average or long life expectancy, delay benefits as long as possible, preferably until 70. This will likely maximize the present value of total benefits. In addition, since it provides the largest monthly benefit level at age 70 and beyond, it will minimize the risk of your portfolio running out of money in your lifetime.

After you have been married for at least one year, you and your new spouse become eligible for spousal benefits on each other's records.

You will only receive a spousal benefit if it is larger than your own. This may occur if your new spouse has a significantly higher benefit amount than you do.

After nine months of marriage you are also eligible for a survivor benefit based on your new spouse's earnings record.

Find details on Social Security spousal benefits under the Married Couples section and details on survivor benefit under the Widow/Widowers section.

You qualify for Social Security benefits based on an ex-spouse's record if you were married to that person for 10 years or longer, are currently unmarried, and are age 62 or older.

If you remarried and your second spouse is deceased, you may qualify for benefits from either your first or your second spouse's record, as long as each marriage lasted at least 10 years.

Find additional details about benefits based on a former spouse's record in our Divorced section.

To make a smart choice answer all of the following questions before you decide when you should file:

  • When is your Full Retirement Age (FRA)?
  • How long do you think you will live?
  • How is your health now?
  • What other assets do you have for retirement?
  • Do you qualify for benefits from a former spouse?

You qualify for Social Security benefits based on an ex-spouse's record if you:

  • Were married to that person for 10 years or longer.
  • Are currently unmarried. If you remarried and your second spouse is deceased, you may qualify for benefits from either your first or your second spouse's record, as long as each marriage lasted at least 10 years.
  • Are age 62 or older. If your former spouse is deceased, you can collect at age 60 as a surviving divorced spouse. If your former spouse is deceased and you are disabled, you can collect at age 50.

  • You will qualify for benefits on an ex-spouse's record even if your ex-spouse has remarried.
  • When you collect divorced Social Security spousal benefits, it does not affect or reduce the benefits of your ex-spouse in any way, and it does not affect the benefits their current spouse is eligible for, nor is your ex-spouse notified that you are collecting a benefit based on their earnings record.
  • You do not have to wait until your former spouse files for benefits before you can qualify. If your former spouse has not applied for benefits but can qualify for them and is age 62 or older, you may receive benefits on their record if divorced for at least two years

If your former spouse is deceased and you were married to them at least ten years, you can collect as early as age 60 as a surviving divorced spouse. You will need to decide if you should collect on your own benefit or their benefit, or if you can use switching strategies to your advantage.

No. If you are currently married, you cannot claim a benefit based on a former spouse's Social Security record. (You can collect on a deceased ex-spouse's record if your remarriage occurred after you reached age 60.)

When you collect divorced Social Security spousal benefits, it does not affect or reduce the benefits of your ex-spouse in any way. It does not affect the benefits their current spouse is eligible for, nor is your ex-spouse notified that you are collecting a benefit based on their earnings record.

  • The Social Security office cannot release information about your ex-spouse's benefits. Once you are eligible (age 62 if your ex-spouse is living, age 60 if they are deceased), you can apply and the Social Security office can tell you how much you would get. You can withdraw your application if you are not ready to file yet.
  • If you know your ex-spouse's date of birth and can estimate their average earnings, you can use one of the Social Security calculators to estimate what you think their benefits may be. You can then use the spousal benefit formulas to estimate what you think your divorced spousal benefits may be.

  • Your goal is to get the most lifetime income and to do so you may need to use switching strategies, such as claiming your benefit first, then later switching to a benefit based on an ex-spouse's record, or vice versa.
  • Without knowing which of you was the higher earner, your relative ages, benefit amounts, and your life expectancy, it is impossible to tell you what to do. Our software and experts gather the necessary information and help provide you with a clear, concise answer as to what you should do.

  • The benefit calculations for an ex-spouse are identical as those for a current spouse.
  • You are entitled to receive either a benefit based on your own earnings record or 50% of your ex-spouse's Social Security benefit at their Full Retirement Age. You are eligible to receive the higher amount, but not both amounts.
  • If you apply for a spousal benefit on your former spouse's record before your full retirement age, you will receive a reduced spousal benefit, so the amount you receive would be less than 50% of your ex-spouse's benefit at their Full Retirement Age.
  • If you collect a spousal benefit and you have not yet reached Full Retirement Age, you can lose some of your benefits by working. This happens if your earnings are in excess of the Social Security earnings limit.

As a widow(er) you are entitled to your spouse's full benefits at your Full Retirement Age (FRA), or reduced benefits as early as age 60.

Since the reduction in benefits from starting benefits before FRA continues for the rest of your life, when economically feasible and if you are below FRA when your spouse dies, you should delay benefits until FRA. Usually, the widow(er) is FRA or older when the spouse dies.

Depending on the difference between your and your spouse's benefit amounts and relative ages, you may also be able to use switching strategies where you claim your benefit first, then later switch to a survivor benefit, or vice versa.

If you were married to the deceased worker at least nine months, you are eligible for a widow or widower's survivor benefit.

You can claim benefits based on your own earnings record or claim a survivor benefit based on the earnings record of a deceased spouse (or ex spouse if you were married to them at least ten years and you did not remarry before age 60.)

You qualify for full survivor benefits after reaching Full Retirement Age, or you can receive reduced benefits as early as age 60.

If you are a disabled widow or widower, you can begin benefits as early as age 50.

If you wait until your Full Retirement Age or older to apply for Social Security survivor benefits, you will receive 100 percent of the amount your deceased spouse would receive at their then current age if they were living.

If you apply for Social Security survivor benefits between age 60 and your full retirement age, you will receive somewhere between 71 - 99% of your deceased spouse's basic benefit amount. (The amount scales up for each month that you are closer to your Full Retirement Age.)

If you collect a survivor benefit and you have not yet reached Full Retirement Age, you can lose some of your benefits by working. This happens if your earnings are in excess of the earnings limit.

Once you and your spouse are both receiving Social Security benefits, upon the death of your spouse, you will continue to receive the larger of your benefit or your spouse's, but not both.

At any age, if you are caring for a child younger than age 16, you will receive 75 percent of the worker's benefit amount.

You are eligible to receive an immediate one-time lump sum payment of $255 upon the death of your spouse.

You qualify for full survivor benefits after reaching Full Retirement Age or you can receive reduced benefits as early as age 60.

If you are a disabled widow or widower you can begin benefits as early as age 50.

If you were married to the deceased worker at least nine months, you are eligible for a widow or widower's survivor benefit.

If your former spouse is deceased and you were married to them at least ten years, you can collect as a surviving divorced spouse as early as age 60. You will need to decide if you should collect on your own benefit or their benefit, or if you can use switching strategies to your advantage.

If you are remarried, you can still collect on a deceased ex-spouse's record (if you met the ten year length of marriage requirement) if your remarriage occurred after you reached age 60.

Yes, you can switch between your own benefit and a survivor benefit. One key difference between widow/widower benefits and spousal benefits is that, as a widow or widower, you can begin benefits based on your own earnings record and later switch to survivor's benefits, or begin survivor's benefits and later switch to benefits based on your own record, even if you file before Full Retirement Age. Such switching strategies are not allowed for spousal benefits.

Survivor benefits can be very complicated. Without knowing your ages and the relative benefit amounts, it is difficult to tell you exactly when you would use switching strategies. Our online tool can help you determine which claiming strategy is best for your situation.

If Social Security is your only source of income, your benefits will not be taxable. If you have other income from sources such as continued work, a pension, investment income, annuities, rental income, etc., then you could owe taxes on up to 85% of your Social Security benefits each year.

You can determine if your Social Security benefits will be taxable and estimate your tax liability by going through the following steps.

First, add up all of your annual income sources other than Social Security. For most people, this is the sum of wages, taxable interest, realized capital gains, and other income, and it is called your "Modified Adjusted Gross Income" or MAGI.

Next, use this number to calculate something called "Provisional Income" or "Combined Income", using the formula below.

Provisional Income = Modified adjusted gross income + tax-exempt interest + 50% of Social Security benefits

You will owe taxes on a portion of your benefits if your Provisional Income is greater than:

  • $25,000 for single, heads of household, or qualifying widow/widower with a dependent child.
  • $25,000 for married individuals filing separately and who did not live with their spouses at any time during the tax year.
  • $32,000 for married couples filing jointly.
  • $0 for married individuals filing separately who lived together at any time during the tax year.

If your provisional income exceeds the base amount for your filing status, your Social Security benefits are taxable. For some filers, the taxable portion can be as much as 85%.

Determining the Amount of Social Security Income That is Taxable

The tricky part is determining the final amount of your Social Security benefit that is taxable. To determine the taxable portion of your Social Security benefits, you take the smallest of the three numbers below:

  • 1. 85% of your Social Security benefits; or
  • 2. 50% of benefits plus 85% of Provisional Income beyond the second threshold amount; or
  • 3. 50% of Provisional Income beyond the first threshold plus 35% of Provisional Income beyond the second threshold amount.

What are threshold amounts?

  • The first and second thresholds mentioned above are set amounts of $25,000 and $34,000 for singles
  • The threshold amounts for couples filing jointly are $32,000 and $44,000.
  • Threshold amounts are not indexed for inflation.

If you think it sounds complex, it is. Tax rules are rarely simple.

The important thing to know is Social Security benefits may affect your marginal tax rates, but careful planning can reduce the impact.

Embedded in our sophisticated models of one of our related companies, Retiree Inc., are the complex formulas for Provisional Income and the three tax formulas for taxation of Social Security benefits including the appropriate threshold amounts. We use these models to develop specific withdrawal strategies that reduce the taxes you pay, which means your money lasts longer.

Let us take the guesswork out of your Social Security benefits and help you minimize your related taxes.

Many individuals in federal, state or other government-related jobs are covered by a retirement system other than Social Security. Although they have been employed enough years to qualify for Social Security, they have not been contributing to the Social Security system (or may have done so for short periods of time or early in a career), so their eligibility for Social Security benefits is significantly reduced. In addition, Social Security spousal benefits for the spouse of a worker covered by a retirement system other than Social Security may be reduced.

Although their eligibility for Social Security benefits may be reduced, the Social Security statement they receive each year is unlikely to reflect the reduced benefit amount they will actually receive.

If you worked in a federal, state or other government-related job which had a retirement system other than Social Security, do not rely blindly on the information in your Social Security statement. Your benefits may be offset by either the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) or the Government Pension Off-set.

The Windfall Elimination Provision applies to benefits based on the worker's earnings record when he or she also receives pension benefits from an employer that does not withhold Social Security taxes, and the Government Pension Offset applies to spousal or survivor's benefits for widows and widowers.

As a result of financially tragic events during the Great Depression, many elderly and disabled Americans were left in poverty. Social Security was created as a minimum threshold of income for workers who had paid into the system. It has always been funded by payroll taxes, and it accounts for a larger retirement asset than most people realize.

While Social Security is often politically charged and the debate about its longevity is heated, reform efforts are already underway to keep it solvent. It's a safe assumption that, even though the administration and rules may change somewhat, Social Security benefits will be available for Baby Boomers.

Social Security provides a lifetime monthly retirement benefit to individuals who meet these requirements:

  • You must have 40 credits of covered work, generally satisfied by at least 10 years in which you had earnings that were subject to Social Security tax or self-employment tax.
  • You must be at least 62 years old.

In addition, you may qualify for benefits as a spouse, former spouse or survivor of a covered worker.

A widow or widower who was married to the deceased worker at least nine months.

Your unmarried minor or disabled children are eligible to receive a Social Security survivor benefit based on your or your spouse's earnings' record.

Your dependent parents are also eligible.

The formula for calculating your monthly benefit is quite complex. However, you can estimate your monthly benefit by examining Your Social Security Statement that is mailed to you annually by the Social Security Administration.

You can also estimate your benefits on the Social Security Administration website at www.ssa.gov.

Your monthly benefit is based on a combination of your work history, earnings, and age at which you file for benefits.

Your benefit will be reduced if you file for benefits earlier than your Full Retirement Age, and your benefit will be increased if you file for benefits after your Full Retirement Age.

For years you may have received your annual Social Security Statement and paid little attention. But as you near retirement, the statement becomes more important because it provides a concise, easy-to-read record of the earnings on which you've paid Social Security taxes. It also provides an estimate of the benefits you can expect to receive after a qualifying event.

Until recently, the Social Security Administration sent out these earnings statements to all workers over the age of 25 several weeks before their birthdays. But these statements will soon be sent only to workers over age 60. If you do not have a recent Social Security Statement, you can use the estimation tool at www.ssa.gov/estimator.

To explain the information that your statement conveys, let's look at a typical example.

A month or two before Joe's 59th birthday he receives a "Your Social Security Statement" from the Social Security Administration, which says:

  • You have earned enough credits to qualify for benefits. At your current earnings rate, if you stop working and start receiving benefits...
  • At age 62, your payment would be about $1,633 a month.
  • If you continue working until...
  • your Full Retirement Age (66 years), your payment would be about $2,165 a month.
  • age 70, your payment would be about $2,858 a month.

The statement presents the levels of projected monthly benefits in today's dollars if Joe were to begin benefits at age 62, at his Full Retirement Age (66 in this example), or at age 70.

It is important to understand that these projections assume that, should he continue working beyond age 62, he will continue to earn his current level of inflation-adjusted income (or at least the maximum annual income subject to Social Security taxes) until benefits begin.

If Joe retires at age 62 and begins receiving benefits at age 62 - which are two separate decisions - then he can expect an inflation-adjusted monthly income of $1,633 for the rest of his life.

If he continues to work until his Full Retirement Age (FRA) of 66 and then begins receiving payments, he would get $2,165 a month. This payment amount at FRA is called the Primary Insurance Amount, and its calculation is discussed in a separate article.

If Joe works until 70 and then begins receiving payments, the projected monthly income is $2,858.

In short, when you begin your benefits can make a material difference in your monthly and lifetime benefit amounts.

Your Primary Insurance Amount, or PIA, is the amount of monthly Social Security benefit you will receive if you file for benefits at your Full Retirement Age (FRA).

It is calculated with a formula that accounts for your 35 highest earning years of work history. If you have fewer than 35 years, zeroes are entered for the missing years. Your early years of income are adjusted for inflation, then your 35 years of inflation adjusted earnings are averaged to get your Average Indexed Monthly Earnings, or AIME.

Next, the formula gets more complicated, because it is designed to replace a larger portion of earnings for people with lower incomes than for those with higher incomes.

You can begin receiving benefits as early as age 62, but your monthly benefit will be less than your PIA. Conversely, if you wait to file until after your FRA, your monthly benefit will be greater and reaches a peak if you don't receive benefits until age 70.

You can find your Primary Insurance Amount on Your Social Security Statement, or at www.ssa.gov.

Full Retirement Age (FRA, also known as Normal Retirement Age) is determined by the Social Security Administration, and is based on the year you were born.

It is the age at which you receive your full Primary Insurance Amount (PIA) each month if you file at that age.

If you file earlier than FRA, your monthly benefit will be reduced, and if you file after your FRA, your monthly benefit will be increased.

The FRA for individuals varies by birth year:

  • If you were born in 1937 or earlier, Full Retirement Age is 65.
  • If you were born in 1960 or later, Full Retirement Age is 67.
  • If you were born between 1938 and 1959, your Full Retirement Age will be between age 65 and 67. You can see Social Security's full retirement age chart for details on every year between 1938 and 1959.

Because your benefits will be reduced if you begin before FRA, and because once you start taking benefits, your decision is irrevocable after the first 12 months, it is important to look carefully at your expected lifetime and determine your best course of action.

When determining the best time for you to begin benefits, factors other than FRA are critical: life expectancy for you and your spouse, family health history, personal health, other sources of income, marital status, etc. must all be carefully analyzed to determine how your Social Security benefits will be best managed in your situation.

Example: Ben, age 60, was planning to retire and begin collecting Social Security at 62. After he received his Social Security Recommended Solution, Ben realized he could collect substantially more lifetime income if he began collecting benefits at his FRA of age 66. Had he begun at 62, over his expected lifetime, he would have received much less.

The short answer is yes, you can continue to work and receive benefits. However, if you begin receiving benefits prior to your Full Retirement Age, there are restrictions on the amount you can earn without a reduction of your monthly benefits.

The amount of the reduction will be $1 for every $2 you earn over (view) $14,160.

In the year you reach Full Retirement Age, the income threshold increases to $37,680, and the reduction decreases to $1 for every $3 earned above the threshold.

If you wait until after reaching Full Retirement Age to begin Social Security benefits, there is no limit on the earnings you can have and no reduction in your benefits.

The Social Security Handbook, created by the Social Security Administration, is described as a "readable, easy to understand resource for the very complex Social Security programs and services."

The handbook is no longer available in print; however, it was more than 700 pages and is more than 1.5 million bytes in a downloadable format. That does not sound "readable and easy to understand" to us.

Our goal on this site is to answer a few key questions about Social Security benefits, but the advice you need in order to make the best possible choices gets complex. There are many factors that impact your benefits:

  • How can I integrate Social Security with my other retirement assets to make them last longer?
  • If you are single, do you qualify for benefits from a prior spouse?
  • If married, who is the higher earning spouse? Who will reach FRA first, and by how many years?
  • Who should get spousal benefits the husband or the wife or perhaps one spouse first followed by the other spouse?
  • Should you explore the possibility of switching strategies, where a spouse may begin spousal benefits and later switch to benefits based on his or her own earnings record at a later date?
  • How will the selection of one spouse's beginning date affect the level of survivor's benefits for the other spouse?

It is important to take all of these questions and more into account before determining your personal Social Security solution. We can help you determine the impact of all of these factors so you can make a smart choice and get the most lifetime income.