Social Security: Don’t Lose Money by Delaying Benefits in This Common Scenario

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In most cases, waiting as long as you can to start collecting Social Security retirement benefits helps ensure you get the biggest check possible. But that’s not always the case. If you qualify for spousal benefits, waiting too long to apply for Social Security can end up costing you a lot of money.

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Spousal benefits are available to those who have not worked or don’t have enough Social Security credits to qualify for their own Social Security benefits, according to the Social Security Administration website. To qualify for your spouse’s benefits, you must be either:

  • At least 62 years old
  • Any age and caring for a child entitled to receive benefits on your spouse’s record and who is either younger than age 16 or disabled

Your full spousal benefit could be up to one-half the amount your spouse is entitled to receive at their full retirement age. If you choose to begin receiving spouse’s benefits before you reach full retirement age, your benefit amount will be permanently reduced. Full retirement age for those who have not yet applied for Social Security is either 66, 67 or somewhere in between, depending on your birth year.

That doesn’t mean you should wait until the oldest qualifying age — 70 years old — to start collecting Social Security spousal benefits. For most Social Security recipients, waiting until age 70 guarantees a bigger check, but this doesn’t apply to spousal benefits.

Retire Comfortably

When it comes to spousal benefits, you can’t boost your monthly payment by waiting until age 70. Your benefits hit a ceiling when you reach full retirement age. For example, suppose your spouse collects $2,400 a month in Social Security and you sign up for spousal benefits at your full retirement age of 67. Your monthly payment will be up to $1,200 — and it won’t go any higher beyond that age.

Waiting until you turn 70 to collect benefits won’t make your monthly payment any bigger. The payment will still be $1,200 a month. All you’ll be doing by waiting is foregoing three years’ worth of benefits — up to $43,200 total — by failing to apply for benefits at 67 years old.

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It’s important to ensure you get the most out of your benefit, and the only way to do that with spousal benefits is by collecting them no later than your full retirement age.  

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About the Author

Vance Cariaga is a London-based writer, editor and journalist who previously held staff positions at Investor’s Business Daily, The Charlotte Business Journal and The Charlotte Observer. His work also appeared in Charlotte Magazine, Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal and Business North Carolina magazine. He holds a B.A. in English from Appalachian State University and studied journalism at the University of South Carolina. His reporting earned awards from the North Carolina Press Association, the Green Eyeshade Awards and AlterNet. In addition to journalism, he has worked in banking, accounting and restaurant management. A native of North Carolina who also writes fiction, Vance’s short story, “Saint Christopher,” placed second in the 2019 Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition. Two of his short stories appear in With One Eye on the Cows, an anthology published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2019. His debut novel, Voodoo Hideaway, was published in 2021 by Atmosphere Press.
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