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Ask Bob: Will Taking My Social Security Spousal Survivor Benefits Early Affect My Benefit Amount?

Our Social Security expert helps a reader understand how her choice of Social Security benefit start date impacts her benefit amount as a widow.

Question

I did not know that SPOUSE BENEFITS and SPOUSE SURVIVAL BENEFITS (upon death) were two different benefits. If I was 62 years of age and my FRA [full retirement age] was 67, is the following true?

When taking the SPOUSE SURVIVAL BENEFIT (upon death of spouse) does this formula still work? Example: At 62, I would be 60 months short of FRA. So, 60 divided by 84 would be .714% x 28.5 which equals 20.357. Subtract 20.357 from 100 to then equal .79%. If this is correct, I would receive 79% of my husband's monthly benefits. ($2700 x .79% = $2133).

[I read an article] that mentioned that your percentage would be based on when the husband started taking his [Social Security benefits]. My husband started taking his Social Security at the age of 59 due to disability. He was given 100% rating at that time and when he reached 67, they moved him to FRA. Would that affect anything?

Also, with the Spouse Survival Benefit, if I'm taking 79% of his benefit at my age of 62 when he dies, would I be able to get it increased to 100% FRA when I reach 67 or would the 79% stay in effect throughout the rest of my life?

Answer

Joseph Stenken, Qualified Plan counsel at McHenry Advisers, tackles this question for our reader.

To answer the last question first, he says, “If you take survivor benefits at age 62 the reduction in benefits is permanent. The 79% (or 21% reduction) stays in effect for the rest of your life.”

Stenken confirms that the formula the reader used to reach the 79% is correct and said the Social Security Administration has an explanation on this page.

“If your husband started taking benefits due to disability and then was switched over to retirement benefits at age 67 (full retirement age),” adds Stenken, “you would not affect your survivor benefits. It is taking retirement benefits before full retirement age that can reduce benefits.”

Got questions? Get answers!

Email Robert.Powell@maven.io.

Question

I did not know that SPOUSE BENEFITS and SPOUSE SURVIVAL BENEFITS (upon death) were two different benefits. If I was 62 years of age and my FRA [full retirement age] was 67, is the following true?

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