Do I have to wait until 65 to get Social Security?

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Q. My husband passed in February of 2019. I no longer working because I am my mother’s caregiver. Do I have to wait until I am 65 before applying for my husband’s Social Security?
— Widow

A. We’re sorry to hear about your husband.

You don’t have to wait until you are 65 to be eligible for your husband’s Social Security benefits.

As a widow, you’re eligible for Social Security survivor benefits and you can start receiving them as early as age 60, said Jeanne Kane, a financial planner with JFL Total Wealth Management in Boonton.

Kane said the amount that you receive will depend on your age and family circumstances.

“If you start taking Social Security survivor benefits at your Full Retirement Age (FRA), then you would be eligible to take 100 percent of your spouse’s benefit,” she said.

Your FRA is based on your birth date. For people born between 1943 and 1954, full retirement age is 66. This gradually increases to age 67 for people born in 1960 and later, she said.

If you start taking survivor benefits earlier than your FRA, then the amount that you receive is reduced depending upon how early you claim.

“Claim as early as when you’re 60 and you’ll only get about 71 percent of his benefit,” Kane said. “Claim later and the percentage is higher, up to 100 percent when you reach your FRA.”

There are a few other items to consider.

If you are caring for a child under the age of 16, you would be eligible for survivor benefits as early as age 50, Kane said. Children under the age of 18 would be eligible too.

Also, you said you’ve been caring for your mom. If she qualified as a dependent of your husband, then she may also be eligible for survivor benefits, Kane said.

Just note that there are limits to the amount that family members can receive, so even if you have multiple members qualify, the Social Security Administration can reduce the benefit amount.

If you someday decide to remarry, this can impact your Social Security survivor benefits.

“If you remarry before you turn 60 then you can’t receive survivor’s benefits,” Kane said. “If you get remarried after you reach age 60 then you would still qualify.”

Also note that Social Security provides a one time $255 death benefit to survivors. This isn’t indexed for inflation so at one point it may have been a meaningful amount, she said.

The timing of when you take your survivor’s benefits can have a big impact in the long term.

Kane said if you don’t really need the money, then you should wait to take it.

“The average life expectancy for a woman is 86 years old,” she said. “If you take the survivor’s benefit before your FRA, then you lock in the reduced amount for the rest of your life.”

Before making any decisions about when to take benefits, we recommend you meet with a financial advisor and a representative from Social Security so you can decide what strategy is best for you.

Email your questions to moc.p1575880904leHye1575880904noMJN1575880904@ksA1575880904.

This story was originally published on July 31, 2019.

NJMoneyHelp.com presents certain general financial planning principles and advice, but should never be viewed as a substitute for obtaining advice from a personal professional advisor who understands your unique individual circumstances.