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  • Writer's pictureChris Stein, CFP®

Claiming Survivor Benefits

Reader question: 

“I am 58 years old and work full time. My spouse passed away in 2016 at the age of 51. I was told that at 60 I could apply for his Social Security benefits. Is that correct? If so, would I be able to collect his Social Security and work full time? Will I be taxed on it and how much? Would I be able to stop his and start collecting my own when I have reached my retirement age?”

Survivor Benefits questions, one at a time…

Yes, 60 is the earliest age you can collect Survivor benefits unless you are disabled, and then it can be age 50.

Earnings Test Will Apply

If you work while collecting benefits, you are subject to the Earnings Test until the month you reach your full retirement age. We don’t yet know what the earnings limit will be in 2020 when you turn 60, however in 2018 the limit is $17,040 (the limit is higher in the year you reach FRA, but in 2020 you will only be 60).  If you earn more than the limit, they will withhold $1 for every $2 you exceed this limit.

Taxation Depends on Total Income

The taxability of SS depends on your total income for the year. Most people working full time while collecting will have 85% of their SS included in the taxable income.  If your income is low enough, this exposure drops to 50% or even 0%.  For more details search our blog site for my previous posts about the taxability of SS.

Switch When Advantageous

Yes, you can delay your own benefit as long as you wish, then switch to it from your survivor benefit when you deem it advantageous. Some people delay it all the way to age 70 to get the greatest increase in benefits, all the while collecting the Survivor benefit.

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