Ask Larry: Should I Take Social Security Benefits Early In Case They Raise The Retirement Age?

Today’s column addresses questions about filing before 70 in case congress raises the retirement age, how benefits are calculated and can be similar despite different earnings records and SSA taxes paid and how the 10 year marriage requirement for divorced spousal benefits can potentially be met. 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 Take Social Security Benefits Early In Case They Raise The Retirement Age?

Hi Larry, I am currently 68.5, financially comfortable, single, and without a significant longevity gene. I have been planning to take Social Security at 70. However, I’ve been reading quite a bit of chatter online about increasing the retirement age which I believe would could reduce the payout at 70.

Should I take Social Security earlier, perhaps at 69? Or is it likely safe to wait until 70? Thanks, George

Hi George, If congress raises the full retirement age (FRA) for Social Security benefits, it won’t affect you. Your FRA was age 66, and that wouldn’t change even if congress decides to raise FRAs in the future.


When to start drawing your benefits is your choice alone of course, but if you wait until 70 to start drawing your Social Security retirement benefits, your retirement benefit will be 32% higher than your primary insurance amount (PIA).

Your PIA is the amount you’d have received if you had started drawing at your FRA. The 32% increase at 70 would be due to delayed retirement credits (DRCs), which add 2/3 of 1% to a person’s Social Security retirement benefit rate for each month, or 8% per year, that they don’t collect benefits from FRA until 70.

If you start drawing your benefits prior to 70, you won’t receive as many DRCs, meaning that your monthly benefit rate will be lower than it would have been if you’d waited until 70. 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 filing strategy that will be the best fit for you. Social Security calculators provided by other companies or non-profits may provide proper suggestions if they were built with extreme care. Best, Larry

Why Isn’t My Benefit Much Higher Than My Husband’s Even Though I Paid In A Lot More?

Hi Larry, I started taking Social Security last February, which was one month after I turned 62. I paid into Social Security $102,000 more than my spouse who is 17 years older than me. He started taking Social Security at 62 also which means he has been taking it since August 2003. He paid $56,044 in total.

This year the benefit total paid to me last year was $21,310. My husband’s benefit paid to him for 12 months was $2,1271. I can’t for the life of me figure out why I would be getting close to the same benefit as he when I earned so much more than him for many years. Thanks, Lucille

Hi Lucille, It’s complicated. Social Security retirement benefits are based on an average of a person’s highest 35 years of Social Security covered wage-indexed earnings, not their total lifetime earnings or the amount of Social Security taxes that they paid.

Indexing can result in a person receiving credit for a higher amount of earnings than the amount that they actually earned. Social Security uses indexing to convert a person’s actual earnings in years prior to the year they reach age 60 to reflect increases in average national earnings.

The bottom line is that comparing your and your husband’s total earnings or total Social Security taxes paid wouldn’t be an accurate indicator of what your Social Security benefit rate should be.

To calculate your benefit rates manually, you would need to index your earnings histories and calculate your benefits based on the formula used by the Social Security Administration. Best, Larry

Can I Claim Benefits From My Ex’s Social Security?

Hi Larry, My ex and I were married for 8.7 years but before that lived together for almost two years as man and wife. We entered into the agreement to live together while he was in Montana after her got out of the military from being stationed in California where we met.

He got out of the military and went back to Montana and then decided to return to California, he called me and asked to live with me and get married. We lived together for almost two years before getting pregnant and then getting married in Las Vegas and returning to our home in California.

We later moved to Nevada, where we later divorced. I have never remarried. Can I claim benefits from his Social Security record? He is nine years younger than me and I just tuned 62. Thanks, Lindsey

Hi Lindsey, Your ex would either need to be at least 62 or drawing his Social Security benefits in order for divorced spousal benefits to potentially be payable.

So since your ex is nine years younger than you, the only way that you might currently qualify for benefits as a divorced spouse is if your ex is drawing Social Security disability (SSDI) benefits.

But furthermore, you would need to have been legally married for at least 10 consecutive years to be able to ever qualify for benefits as a divorced spouse.

It sounds like you believe that you had a common law marriage in addition to your ceremonial marriage. Social Security follows state laws with regard to common law marriages, so if you can establish that you were legally married for at least 10 consecutive years then you may be able to qualify for divorced spousal benefits at some point in time. Best, Larry

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