Q&A: The Social Security waiting game

Dear Liz: I am 66 and had always planned to delay starting Social Security until I was 70. I do not need the income at this point of my life. I am no longer working as my husband has health issues and I do not expect to have any earned income.

But the latest statement I received from Social Security told me that the projected higher amount I would receive at age 70 is based on taxable earnings similar to what I was making before I retired. Now I have concerns that my lack of income will lower the amount of my benefit. Is it best for me to just start Social Security now?

Answer: No. You won’t increase your benefit. In fact, you’d be giving up the guaranteed 8% annual boost you would otherwise get.

Knowing how Social Security calculates your benefit can help you understand why this is true. Social Security bases your check on your 35 highest earning years. If you worked this year, then your 2019 wages could conceivably become one of those highest earning years, displacing a year when you earned less. That typically results in a slight increase to your benefit.

If you don’t work, however — or do work and don’t earn more than you did in one of those 35 highest earning years — your benefit remains the same.

Social Security projections assume you work until you claim benefits, so its estimates may slightly overstate the check you’ll actually get. But you will still receive the delayed retirement credit that boosts your check by 8% for each year you delay starting Social Security after your full retirement age of 66. That’s a 32% increase if you wait until age 70, when your benefits max out, to start. And that is definitely worth waiting for.

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Comments

  1. Since the questioner is 66 years old, and thus was born before the Social Security cut-off date of 1954, she should look into the possibility of collecting spousal benefits via restricted application, if she has not already done so.