Ask the Expert: A widow's Social Security benefit

A widow's Social Security benefit depends on her A widow's Social Security benefit depends on her age when she takes it. Photo Credit: iStock

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I'm 60 years old and work full-time. When I retire, I plan to collect on my late husband's Social Security. Will his benefit increase the longer I work? Or will it remain the same since he's not contributing to Social Security?

 

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The size of your benefit based on his record depends on how old you are when you take it.

If you postpone your application until age 66 (your full retirement age), you receive the full amount your late husband would have collected at 66. If you apply earlier, you receive less. The earliest you can collect a widow's benefit is age 60 (unless you're disabled or caring for a child younger than 16). But at 60, you receive only 71.5 percent of his benefit.

The fact that you work is another reason to wait. Before your full retirement age, if you work while collecting Social Security, this year you forfeit $1 of benefit for each $2 you earn above $15,480. There's no forfeit after you turn 66.

In one important respect, surviving spouses have more flexibility than other Social Security applicants. During your spouse's lifetime, if you take Social Security before your full retirement age, you lose the option of switching between the benefit based on your own record and the benefit based on your spouse's record. But surviving spouses can apply early for either benefit and switch to the other at full retirement age. For example, you could take a discounted widow's benefit at 60 and change to your own full benefit at 66; or take your own discounted benefit as early as age 62 and switch to your full widow's benefit at 66. To maximize your retirement income, postpone the larger benefit.

The bottom line A widow's Social Security benefit depends on her age when she takes it.

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Websites with more information 1.usa.gov/18z1lVM and 1.usa.gov/1igpPH1

 

TO ASK THE EXPERT Send questions to Ask the Expert/Act 2, Newsday Newsroom, 235 Pinelawn Rd., Melville, NY 11747, or email act2@newsday.com. Include your name, address and phone number. Questions can be answered only in this column. Advice is offered as general guidance. Check with your own advisers for your specific needs.

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