Delay collecting Social Security for a bigger benefit

Dear Liz: My spouse started collecting Social Security in 2002 at age 63. I am 59, and not working, so my future benefits are unlikely to increase very much, even if I wait until age 70. If he dies before I do, will I get same amount he would be collecting at that time? If I collect Social Security at 62, would Social Security combine our records to calculate my benefit? In other words, should I try to wait or just start collecting at 62?

Answer: Your presumption that your benefit wouldn’t increase much by waiting is incorrect. Even if you aren’t working now, your benefit amount will grow the longer you can wait to apply. That’s true whether you ultimately get benefits based on your own work record or your husband’s.

When you apply, the Social Security Administration will compare your earned benefit with your spousal benefit and give you the larger of the two. Your spousal benefit starts at half of what your husband’s benefit would have been at full retirement age. That amount is reduced significantly if you apply for benefits before your own full retirement age (which is 66 for you, although it rises to 67 for anyone born after 1959).

Also, if you apply for spousal benefits before your full retirement age, you wouldn’t have the option of switching to your own benefit later, even if your benefit grows to a larger amount than what you’re receiving based on your husband’s record.

When your husband dies, you can switch to survivor’s benefits, which equal what he was receiving. Since he started benefits early, however, his checks have been permanently reduced to reflect that early retirement. In other words, if he had waited longer to retire, you would have been entitled to a larger survivor’s benefit.

The Social Security system is designed to reward people for delaying retirement, which is why it often makes sense to do so.

Related Posts


  1. Jay Hartnett says

    I have followed your site Liz, and we actuly talked scouple years ago about breaking the credit score mystery formula! Social Security!!!!! I agree 100% that the longer you wait the greater the monthly benifit! However, the sooner you start drawing SS, the more money you will recieve over time! I have calculted my situation, on the gov. web site with my untimely death at 73, 75, 80, & 85. In each case I would recieve more total money by starting at age 62! rather than to delay to age 66! Draw now and pack the money away in a fixed financial accout! By the way, I believe you can also start SS at age 59 & 1/2
    although the monthley amount drops even furthur!!!

    • lizweston says

      A lot of people seem to have trouble with the math when it comes to Social Security, but AARP has a helpful calculator that can help:

      The breakeven point between taking early benefits (at 62) and waiting for full retirement age (currently 66) is generally age 77 or 78, said Jonathan Peterson, who’s book “Social Security for Dummies” goes into detail about these calculations.

      As for age 59-1/2, that’s the age you can start taking money from retirement funds such as IRAs without having to pay early withdrawal penalties. Social Security retirement benefits aren’t available before 62.

  2. jay Hartnett says

    I am aware of the 59 & 1/2 rule for withdrawels without penalty. ( I am in Insurance sales, IRA,annuities) A friend who works for the fed gov recieved a memo regarding the benifits at age 59 & 1/2??? The SS web sit does offer benifits prior to age 62 for some special situations!Thanks for doing a great job informing the public on finacial matters!!!

    • lizweston says

      Survivor’s benefits are available at age 60, or earlier if the widow/widower is caring for dependent children. Disability benefits don’t have age limits. For retirement benefits, though, 62 is the earliest age you can get a check.

  3. Avid Reader says

    I’m not sure the assertion that the wife cannot switch from survivor’s benefits to her own social security benefit at full retirement age is correct.

    According to the website,

    “In many cases, a widow or widower can begin receiving one benefit at a reduced rate and then, at full retirement age, switch to the other benefit at an unreduced rate.”

    It sounds as though a widow/er can collect survivors benefits early, then switch to his/her own benefit at full retirement age.

    • I was talking about spousal benefits, not survivor benefits. If she starts spousal benefits early, she loses the option to switch to her own record later. Also, if her husband starts his retirement benefits early, that means she would get a smaller survivor’s benefit when he dies, since survivor’s benefits are based on what he was actually receiving.