Chris Stein, CFP®
Social Security Timeline
Most people know they are eligible for Social Security retirement benefits when they reach age 62, but there is a whole Social Security timeline from age 50 to age 70 to consider as you explore your benefit options. Not everyone will qualify for the benefits we will describe at these key ages, but knowing what the timeline is will help as you evaluate your Social Security options.
Age 50 is one of the earliest ages a person can begin collecting Social Security retirement benefits. However, eligibility rules are greatly limited and in our opinion, they involve too much misfortune and sadness that makes this key age benefit something most people would prefer not to qualify for. First, you must be a widow or widower of a spouse who worked long enough before passing away to have qualified for Social Security retirement benefits. Second, you must be disabled. Your disability must have occurred during the deceased spouse’s life, or within seven years of their death.
Age 60 is also for a widow or widower, but unlike the age 50 benefits, qualifying for this survivor’s benefit does not require you to be disabled. There are, however, a few items to keep in mind when evaluating whether or not you qualify for this age 60 survivor’s benefit. First, you must have been married for nine months before the deceased spouse‘s passing. Second, although benefits can begin at age 60, they will be permanently reduced if you collect before your Full Retirement Age. (There is a special Full Retirement Age for survivor’s benefits that differs from the Full Retirement Age for retirement benefits.) Also, if you remarry before the age of 60 you will not be eligible for survivor’s benefits under your deceased spouse. However, you can remarry after the age of 60 and remain eligible for survivor benefits. (You can also switch to spousal benefits under your new spouse’s earnings if they are higher).
Age 62 is the age most people equate with being able to first apply for Social Security. And that is true, as long as you have 40 credits and qualify for Social Security retirement benefits; or you have been married to someone for at least a year who themselves is eligible for (or receiving) Social Security benefits. Although you can receive retirement benefits as early age 62 it is important to remember your benefits will be permanently reduced.
Age 66 is known as your Full Retirement Age (FRA). If you were born between 1943 and 1954, your FRA is exactly age 66. If you were born between 1955 and 1959, your FRA will increase two months for each year. And for anyone born after 1960, their FRA is 67. Your FRA marks two milestones with your Social Security benfits: it’s the age you become eligible for many claiming strategies and benefit flexibility; it’s also the point where your Social Security retirement benefit equals your Primary Insurance Amount, or PIA. However, your “full retirement age” is a bit of misnomer. Even though they call it your full retirement age it is not your maximum benefit. If you delay your benefit past your FRA it will increase at 8% per year up until age 70.
Age 70 is when you have reached the maximum age for delaying your Social Security benefits. There is no benefit for delaying past this age as you will not receive any further delayed retirement credits. We strongly recommend everyone who hasn’t begun claiming yet turn on their Social Security benefits.
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