Ask Larry: Should I Restart My Social Security Retirement Benefit From An Earlier Date?

Today’s column addresses questions about whether it’s possible to reapply for a retirement benefit so it starts earlier, the procedure for switching from a spousal benefit to a retirement benefit at 70 and the earnings test’s potential effects on survivor’s benefits. Larry Kotlikoff is a Professor of Economics at Boston University and the founder and president of Economic Security Planning, Inc, which markets Maximize My Social Security and MaxiFi Planner.

See more Ask Larry answers here.

Have Social Security questions of your own you’d like answered? Ask Larry about Social Security here.

Should I Restart My Social Security Retirement Benefit From An Earlier Date?

Hi Larry, I turned 66 on January 1 and according to what I understand from SSA, that is my FRA. I didn’t retire until April 2. After that, it took me a month to decide I didn’t want to collect a lump sum for retroactive benefits and wanted to add two-thirds of a percent for each month I delayed filing.

I bit the bullet and applied online on May 2. When choosing a benefit start date, it defaulted to 5/21 and told me I had two other choices, 12/20 and 9/21. I didn’t know what to do, so I chose 9/21. Nothing ever came up about a retroactive benefit or the lump sum option. What have I done to myself? Thanks, Brya


Hi Bryan, It doesn’t sound like you’ve done anything that’s necessarily bad, but it’s not too late to change your mind and choose a different month to start your benefits. Starting your benefits effective September 2021 would mean that you’d get your first payment in October. If you turned 66 on 1/1/2021, Social Security would consider you to have reached full retirement age (FRA) in December 2020.

So by choosing to start your benefits in September 2021, your eventual benefit rate will include credit for nine months of delayed retirement credits (DRCs). Each month of DRCs adds 2/3 of 1% to your benefit rate, which would mean a total increase of 6% if you start your benefits in September

However, your benefit rate initially wouldn’t include credit for all of your DRCs. When you file for benefits between FRA and 70, you’re initially only credited with the DRCs you earned through December of the prior year. In your case, that would be 1 DRC (i.e. December 2020). You couldn’t be credited for your other 8 DRCs (i.e. January thru August 2021) until your benefit payment for January 2022

It sounds like you may want to consider using my company’s software — Maximize My Social Security or MaxiFi Planner — to fully analyze your options so that you can choose the best possible strategy for maximizing your benefits. Social Security calculators provided by other companies or non-profits may provide proper suggestions if they were built with extreme care

If you decide to change your month of election to start your benefits, you would need to contact Social Security and either amend your application or submit a signed request to change to a different month to start your benefits. Best, Larry

When Do I Need To Contact Social Security?

Hi Larry, When I turned 65, I filed for my spousal benefit so I could get my increased retirement benefit when I turn 70. When do I need to contact SSA to make sure there is no lapse and the increase is applied correctly? I will be 70 in March 2022. Thanks, Ne

Hi Ned, Since you were apparently born in 3/1952, you didn’t reach full retirement age (FRA) until 66. So, hopefully you didn’t actually file for your spousal benefits until then. If you really did apply for spousal benefits when you turned 65, you would have been deemed to have also filed for your own Social Security retirement benefits at the same time.

Assuming that you didn’t start drawing spousal benefits until FRA and if you restricted your application to spousal benefits only, then you can file to start your Social Security retirement benefits at 70. Social Security allows you to file an application up to four months in advance, so if you reach 70 in 3/2022, the earliest that you could apply is in 11/2021. Best, Larry

Would I Draw My Monthly Benefit Amount If I Have Met The Allowable Wages For The Year?

Hi Larry, I will be 60 this year and want to draw widow’s benefits. Would I draw the monthly amount if I have met the allowable wages for the first year? Thanks, Maud

Hi Maude, As long as you earn less than $18,960 for the calendar year of 2021, none of your benefits would need to be withheld due to your earnings. Even if you earn more than that though, you could still be paid for any months in which you earn no more than $1,580. If you earn more than $1,580 per month and more than $18,960 for the calendar year, Social Security would need to withhold $1 for every $2 that your earnings exceed $18,960. Best, Larry

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