An individual’s Social Security benefits are generally calculated using “average indexed monthly earnings.” This averaged amount summarizes up to thirty-five years of an individual’s indexed earnings. A formula is then applied to this averaged figure to determine the primary insurance amount (PIA), which is the basis for the benefits paid to an individual.
The formula used in determining an individual’s PIA is reflective of changes in general wage levels to ensure that the worker’s future benefits will reflect the general rise in the standard of living that occurred during his or her lifetime.
As a general rule, an individual is eligible for retirement benefits upon reaching the age of 62. If you chose to retire at age 62, in 2019, your benefit will be 25% percent less than your PIA. However, if you choose to delay retirement, your retirement benefit will gradually reach eight percent per year for those born after 1942. However, no delayed retirement credit is given after the age of 70.
In the past, married individuals had another option as to how to receive Social Security benefits. The strategy known as “claim now, claim more later” or “double dipping” allows a married individual to claim some benefits immediately and then claim more benefits later. If an individual chooses this option, he or she would receive one-half of their spouse’s full retirement benefit, while accumulating retirement credits on their own benefit amount.
Usually, the higher earning individual in the couple would choose this approach in order to get the most possible retirement benefits. When the person receiving the spousal benefit reached the age of 70, they could then claim their maximum retirement benefit and stop receiving the spousal benefit.
In order to use this strategy, the lower-earning spouse must also be claiming benefits, you must have reached the age of 62, and you must file a restricted application. Therefore, a married individual cannot claim spousal benefits unless his or her spouse is receiving social security.
While this program has become wildly popular amongst married couples, this is the last year that spouses who are turning full retirement age can choose whether to take spousal benefits or to take benefits on their own record. In 2015 budget law began phasing out the strategy.
The 2015 changes eliminated this approach as well as other restricted applications, unless you are a widow or widower or you were born on or before the January 1, 1954 deadline. If you were 62 by the end of 2015, you are still able to choose which benefit you want at your full retirement age. Therefore, if a worker, who was not 62 by the end of 2015, applies for spousal benefits, the Social Security Administration will assume it is also an application for benefits on the worker’s record.
Here is an example:
Susan, age 66 is still working while her husband, Jim is collecting his Social Security retirement benefits. Susan was born before Jan. 1, 1954 so she files a restricted application for Social security spousal benefits based on Jim’s earnings record. Susan will be able to begin collecting her spousal benefit while she continues to work for the next four years. Once Susan reaches the age of 70, she retires, stops getting her spousal benefits, and switches to her own, now much larger, Social Security retirement benefit.
Keep in mind that if Susan was born after January 1, 1954, and she were to claim spousal benefits, the Social Security Administration would treat this as if she were receiving her own benefits, and stop the clock for the growth of them.
Each individual’s circumstances are different in terms of benefits and it is important to do your research before you begin applying for benefits. For more information about the specific Social Security retirement benefits available to you, please visit https://www.ssa.gov/.