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Ask Larry: Should I File The Month After I Turn 70 To Max Out My Social Security Retirement Benefit?

Today’s column addresses questions about what month to file to make sure you get the maximum age 70 retirement benefit rate, what happens when a protective filing date expires and whether survivor’s benefits include delayed retirement credits (DRCs) earned by the deceased. 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.

Which Starting Month Will Max Out My Social Security Retirement Benefit?

Hi Larry, I am filling out the application to claim my Social Security retirement benefit application and having difficulty finding answer one item on it.

I will turn 70 in June. Should I put down June as my benefit starting date or July? I waited to claim the benefit until I am 70 so I do not want to end up with the benefit for being 69 year and 11 months.

Would I get the maximum benefit by filing in my birth month or the month after? I searched all sorts of publications by SSA but could not find anything clear on it. Thanks, Nicola

Hi Nicola, You would want to begin benefits in the month you turn 70.

You don’t need to be 70 for the entire month in order to get your full age 70 rate. Social Security counts you as reaching your next age on the day before your actual birthday, so if you were born in June and on any day other than June 1, you would want to choose June as the month to start your benefits.

If you happen to have been born on June 1, you would want to start your benefits in May, since that’s the month Social Security would then count you as reaching 70.

By the way, Social Security pays benefits a month behind, so your payment for the month of June will not arrive until sometime in July. Best, Larry

Am I At Risk Of Losing Benefits?

Hi Larry, I’m 69 and recently I started applying for Social Security retirement benefits online, but then stopped because I ran in to some questions that I need help with. I never completed the application process or signed the form.

When I called the Social Security office for help, they said that I started my application process seven months ago and that it needed to be completed within six months. They made this sound like this wasn’t a good situation for me. They scheduled me for the next available meeting with one of the Social Security representative, but this will be two months from now.

I am starting to get worried. Am I at risk of impacting or even losing my benefits? Is there anything I should do now? Thanks, Emily

Hi Emily, Whether or not you’re at risk of losing any benefits depends on whether or not your intent is to claim benefits retroactively.

When you start an online application, you establish a protective filing date that’s protective for at least six months. During that time, you can complete your application and claim benefits retroactively for up to six months prior to the month in which you established your protective filing date.

It sounds like the protective filing date you would have established by starting an online application has now expired. Assuming that’s the case, a new protective filing date would have been established when you called to make your appointment to complete your application.

Based on that protective filing date, even if your actual appointment is two months from now, you’ll have the option of starting your benefits as far back as six months prior to the month of your protective filing date. In other words, if you called to make your appointment in April 2021, you could choose to start your benefits effective as early as October 2020.

However, you should be aware that the earlier that you start drawing your Social Security retirement benefits prior to age 70, the lower your monthly rate will be. This is because by filing retroactively, you’ll be giving up the delayed retirement credits (DRCs) you’d otherwise get for those months by not filing retroactively.

You may want to consider using my company’s software — Maximize My Social Security or MaxiFi Planner — to fully analyze the options available to you in order to determine your best 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. Best, Larry

Should I Receive 100% Of What My Husband Would Have Received, Or Only His Age 66 Amount?

Hi Larry, My husband just passed away at 68 1/2. He was working up until September 2020. He had delayed filing for his Social Security retirement benefit and was planning to take it at 70.

I just called Social Security to switch to my widow’s benefit from my own retirement benefit. I’m 67. The person I talked to told me I would only be able to draw what he would have received at full retirement age.

We were told the advantage of waiting until 70 would benefit us both. Do I receive 100% of what he would have received or is it reduced to his amount at 66?? Thanks, Helen

Hi Helen, I’m sorry for your loss. What the Social Security representative told you is wrong.

Your widow’s benefit rate would include credit for all of the delayed retirement credits (DRCs) that your husband earned by deferring his benefits from full retirement age (FRA) up until the month of his death.

Just to clarify, though, you can’t actually stop drawing your own benefits and collect just widow’s benefits instead.

What will actually happen, assuming that your husband’s benefit rate is higher than yours, is that you’ll continue collecting your own benefit plus a partial widow’s benefit equal to the difference between your benefit rate and the benefit rate that your husband would have received if he’d started drawing his benefits in the month of his death.

Your combined benefit rate will then add up to your husband’s higher benefit rate, including his DRCs.

If you’ve only been drawing your own retirement benefit and you haven’t been receiving any spousal benefits, you’ll need to file an application to become entitled to widow’s benefits. You’d want to claim the widow’s benefits starting with the month of your husband’s death, since your widow’s rate wouldn’t get any higher if you wait until later than then to claim them. Best, Larry

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