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Retirement: When to take Social Security survivor’s benefit

I’ll be 60 years old in August. My husband of 26 years died in 2011. I now work full time, earning $55,000, and I haven’t remarried. My late husband’s Social Security benefit was much higher than mine will be. Can I collect my own smaller benefit as soon as I’m eligible, and then, at my full retirement age, switch to my husband’s benefit? Does my income impact my benefit if I’m still working?

The earliest you can apply for your own reduced Social Security benefit is age 62. (It will be reduced because you’ll be under your full retirement age.) As a widow, you can later switch to your late husband’s benefit. The same is true for widowers; all Social Security rules are unisex.

It’s sensible for anyone who has this option to postpone the bigger of the two benefits until it grows to the maximum amount.

But this strategy won’t pan out for you until you stop working, or reduce your income by working part time, because before you reach full retirement age, there’s a limit to how much Social Security you can collect while you earn income from work.

Here are the rules: In 2017, workers temporarily forfeit $1 of benefit for every $2 they earn over $16,920. In other words, you can’t collect a Social Security benefit while you’re under full retirement age if you earn $33,840 — unless you reach full retirement age in 2017. In that case, the rule is that you forfeit $1 for each $3 earned above $44,880 until your birthday month. Then your benefit is recalculated to make up for what was forfeited. Thereafter, you can collect a full benefit regardless of your earnings.

THE BOTTOM LINE If you work while collecting Social Security before reaching your full retirement age, your benefit may be temporarily reduced.


ASK THE EXPERT Send questions to Ask the Expert/Act 2, Newsday Newsroom, 235 Pinelawn Rd., Melville, NY 11747. Email Include your name, address and phone numbers. Advice is offered as general guidance. Check with your professional consultants for your specific needs.

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