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Social Security Benefits | 10 Retirement FAQs

Trusts & Estate Planning

by Kira S. Masteller


We've all heard about the financial difficulties engulfing our nation's Social Security program.

Decades ago, there were nearly five workers paying into Social Security for every one person receiving benefits. Today, there are nearly three workers paying into the program for every one beneficiary, and that ratio is steadily decreasing.

But according to the Associated Press, we have over two decades before Social Security beneficiaries will see a cut in benefits, and there's some (albeit slim,) hope that Congress  will overcome the deficit hurdles in that time. Whether or not a viable cure for the program's ills can be found, it still may be strategic for baby boomers retiring in the next few years to wait to file for benefits.

But how do you know what to do and when to file?

Here are 10 Frequently Asked Questions regarding your filing for Social Security, whether your household has one working spouse or two.


Retirement Planning: Social Security Retirement Ages & Benefits


1. Why do people defer their Social Security benefits to age 70 when they can receive checks at age 66?

Under the current program, deferring the payments increases the benefits by eight percent annually. 


2. Why take benefits at an earlier age?

Consider your health. Currently, men who are aged 65 today can expect to live to 83, while 65 year old women can expect to live to 85. These are merely averages. If you think you are in poor health, you may want to take your Social Security benefits now, rather than wait until you are 70. 


3. Is a spouse who never worked entitled to a spousal benefit at age 66?

Yes. Spouses without a work history are entitled to half of his or her working spouse's benefit, but can't collect until the working spouse elects to receive his or her own benefit. 



Yes. The working spouse may "elect and suspend" Social Security benefits, which allows that working spouse to wait for the higher benefit at age 70, and still allow the non-working spouse to collect benefits at age 66. 


5. What if the non-working spouse doesn't collect benefits at age 66?

The spousal benefit deferred won't mean bigger checks. But a non-working spouse who waits to file for benefits may file for retroactive benefits. 


6. If one working spouse who earned less defers the benefit to age 70, and the other working spouse earned more but opted to take benefits at age 66 – can the deferring spouse receive a spousal benefit?

Yes. The deferring spouse can take a full spousal benefit, or 50 percent of the benefit of the spouse who is receiving Social Security at age 66, which won't affect or diminish the deferred benefits. 


7. Will the working spouse who opted

for benefits at age 66 be entitled to a spousal benefit when the deferring spouse turns 70?

Yes, though that spouse should ask the Social Security Administration to determine whether or not taking the spousal benefit would be beneficial. 


8. What if both spouses earned high incomes throughout their work histories?

You can still use the "elect and suspend" option above. The spouse who took the spousal benefit gets four additional years of income, and their own higher benefit at age 70. 


9. If both working spouses plan to defer to age 70, can each spouse elect to receive spousal benefits?

No. A married couple may only receive one spousal benefit at a time. 


10. What if I was forced to retire, but didn't really want to?

The Social Security Administration will allow you to collect benefits for up to a year, and pay them back so that you can receive higher benefits later. You can only do this once though, so when you retire after the first time, make sure you are ready!

According to the Social Security Administration website, the first person to receive monthly retirement checks from Social Security paid into the program for three years. Ida May Fuller's accumulated taxes in that period totaled $24.75. Fuller's first retirement check totaled $22.54, but since she lived to be 100 years old, she collected over $22,000 in Social Security benefits in her lifetime.

None of us will get that large of a return on our Social Security taxes anymore. But with a little planning for the future we may still make the best of retirement.


Kira S. Masteller is an estate and gift tax planning attorney. E-mail her at 

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