I am a 56-year-old widow. My late husband collected Social Security disability. I worked full-time until five years ago. I haven’t remarried. I now live with my daughter and my only income is a tax-free surviving spouse benefit from the Veterans Affairs. I understand I’ll be eligible to collect a Social Security benefit on my late husband’s record when I turn 60. Will his receipt of Social Security Disability benefits change my eligibility? What’s the best strategy for applying for benefits? Do I wait until full retirement age and meantime just collect my own benefit? Does my extended unemployment affect my eligibility? Lastly, does my VA benefit impact my eligibility for Social Security in any way?

Your Social Security eligibility isn’t affected by your VA benefit, your extended unemployment or your late husband’s Social Security Disability.

But your VA benefit by law is offset by your “countable income,” which includes Social Security. If the maximum annual VA benefit is $8,000 a year, for example, and you start getting $10,000 a year from Social Security, your VA benefit will stop. (To learn more, call the VA at 800-827-1000.)

You can collect a reduced Social Security widow’s benefit as early as age 60, or a reduced benefit based on your own record as early as age 62. You can’t receive both at the same time — but you can start collecting either one, and later switch to the other. The best strategy usually is to take the smaller benefit first, postponing the bigger benefit while it keeps growing. An uncollected widow’s benefit grows until you reach full retirement age; your own uncollected benefit grows until you’re 70.

THE BOTTOM LINE Before choosing an application strategy, make an appointment at a local Social Security office where they’ll crunch your numbers and show you the dollar amounts involved.

WEBSITES WITH MORE INFORMATION

nvf.org/pensions-for-survivors-of-deceased-wartime-veterans

ssa.gov/planners/retire/retirechart.html

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