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Ask the Expert: How do I collect Social Security widow's benefits before 70?

In 2018, working and collecting benefits while under full retirement age means forfeiting $1 for each $2 earned over $17,040.

I am 62. My husband of 22 years died 10 years ago at 56. I haven’t remarried. I’m still working. I hope to work to age 70, when I’ll collect my maximum Social Security benefit. I make more than my husband did, and don’t want to impact my benefit amount. Can I collect widow’s benefits until I’m 70 without impacting the size of my own benefit? I’ve heard there may be a retroactive payment if I could have applied earlier is this true? Social Security said I wasn’t eligible for the widow’s benefit until age 66.

You probably got that answer because you’re still working.

Let’s start with three basic rules:

  • Collecting a widow’s benefit won’t affect your own future benefit amount.
  • A widow, or widower, can apply for survivor benefits as early as age 60.
  • Social Security pays up to six months of retroactive benefit to people who could have applied earlier.

But in 2018, someone who works and collects Social Security while under full retirement age forfeits $1 of benefit for each $2 she earns over $17,040. 

At 66, however, you can work while you collect Social Security no matter how much you earn. And at 66, you qualify to receive the maximum widow’s benefit — 100 percent of what your deceased husband was entitled to collect at his full retirement age, or FRA. If you applied at 62, your widow’s benefit would be only 81 percent of his FRA benefit.

Your best plan is to delay applying for your widow’s benefit until you’re 66. Then you can collect that benefit while working, and switch to your own bigger benefit at 70.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Special Social Security rules apply to widows and widowers.

MORE INFORMATION

nwsdy.li/widowed

nwsdy.li/survivorplanning

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect hypothetical salary.

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