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Tips for taking Social Security benefits for widows

I’ll turn 65 this month. I’m an unemployed widow and would like to apply for Social Security, but I’m not sure of my options.

My widow’s benefit is 50 percent greater than my own benefit. Even if I postpone taking my own benefit until I’m 70, it will be less than my widow’s benefit.

Some Social Security representatives have said I should take my widow’s benefit now because it’s the higher amount. Others say I should take my smaller benefit now, and switch at 66 to my widow’s benefit. I’d collect much less in the first year, but after switching, I’d get about $1,200 more per month for life, and I hope to live another 15 years. But a third Social Security rep said that taking my own benefit at 65 will reduce the widow’s benefit I’d get at 66. Is that correct?

No. Taking your own benefit at 65 won’t affect the size of your widow’s benefit at 66.

If you’re entitled to a benefit based on your own earnings and another based on a deceased spouse’s earnings, you’re allowed to take either one before reaching your full retirement age, and later switch to the other with no penalty. (You can’t do this when claiming benefits based on a living spouse’s or living ex-spouse’s record.)

Unless you have a shorter-than-average life expectancy, it’s almost always sensible to postpone the bigger benefit.

If you postpone your own benefit, it grows until you’re 70. A postponed widow or widower’s benefit keeps growing only until you’re 66. But your own benefit at age 70 will be smaller than your widow’s benefit at age 66. Your best plan is to take your own smaller benefit now and switch to your maximum widow’s benefit at 66.

THE BOTTOM LINE Widows and widowers have special Social Security options.


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