I've waited until 70 to start taking Social Security. To get the maximum amount, must I wait until the day after I turn 70 to apply, or can I apply anytime during the month I turn 70? Also, my wife won't reach her full retirement age (FRA) until 75 days after I turn 70. Must she wait until her own FRA to claim the spousal amount? I believe her spousal benefit is based on my FRA benefit, not on my 70-year-old stipend.
You can apply for your benefit as early as three months before your 70th birthday, but specify that you want your benefit start date to be your birthday. To receive the maximum monthly amount, you should also state that you want your benefit to include all the Delayed Retirement Credits (DRCs) that have accrued between your FRA and your birthday.
DRCs are a bonus for postponing Social Security after you reach your FRA. They boost your benefit amount by 8% a year for up to four years of delay. If your FRA benefit is $2,000, for example, and you postpone it for four years, your starting benefit will be $2,640, plus any inflation adjustments during those four years.
Your wife can apply for her spousal benefit at the same time, asking that her start date be her FRA. You're right that her benefit based on your work record won't include your DRCs. She'll received an amount based on the benefit you'd have received at your FRA. If your FRA benefit was $2,000, for example, her FRA starting spousal benefit will be $1,000. But if you predecease her, her widow's benefit will be 100% of your Social Security benefit, including the DRCs.
The bottom line
You can apply for Social Security three months before your benefit start date.
TO ASK THE EXPERT Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your name, address and phone numbers. Questions can be answered only in this column. Advice is offered as general guidance. Check with your own consultants for your specific needs.