Social Security Matters

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Ask Rusty – Should I take Widow’s Benefits or Retirement Benefits?

Dear Rusty: I am 58 years old. My spouse passed away last year, and I am entitled to survivor benefits. I am trying to plan for when I can retire from working, but don’t know if I should take my widow’s benefit or my own Social Security. I called Social Security twice and have received two different answers. If I claim Social Security at 62, will I receive 70 or 80% of the full amount? This makes a huge difference in deciding when I should retire. Signed: Widowed Worker

Dear Widowed Worker: There are two different types of Social Security benefits that you need to be concerned with – your benefit as a survivor; and your own SS retirement benefit which you have earned from working all your life. The thing to keep in mind is that any time any Social Security benefit is taken earlier than one’s full retirement age, it is reduced (born in 1960 your normal full retirement age (FRA) is age 67).

You will be eligible for your survivor’s benefit when you reach age 60 (unless you’re disabled in which case it’s 50). But if you take the survivor’s benefit at 60 it will only be about 71.5% of what you would get by waiting until your full retirement age to claim it. Your FRA as a widow is less than your normal FRA; your widow’s FRA is 66 years and 8 months. The reduction for claiming the survivor’s benefit earlier than your widow’s FRA is about 4.75% per year early. Your survivor’s benefit will reach its maximum (100% of what your husband was entitled to at his death) when you reach your widow’s full retirement age, but it does not continue to grow if you wait beyond that to claim it.


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