Dear Rusty: We served overseas for several years, not earning many quarters for Social Security. However, we have made sure that we paid in over time so we can receive a benefit, but it will not amount to much. For the past several years now, we have been back in the U.S., earning some professional salaries. Now it looks like at full retirement age my husband will get $1,147 a month, and I will get $1,026 a month. I was born in 1957 and my husband in 1956. Question No, 1: For the most financial benefit, when should we each start collecting SS (either now or at full retirement age)? And question No. 2: Will our amounts change because we are married and both collecting? Overseas Worker

Dear Overseas Worker: To answer your second question first, no, your benefit amounts will not change because you are married and both collecting. Based upon the numbers you provided, neither of you will be eligible for a “spousal boost” from the other because your benefit amounts at your FRA are too similar, so maximizing your individual benefits should be your goal.

As for your other question, when you should start collecting depends upon a number of factors, including your financial needs and, importantly, your expected longevity. Both of you can get the maximum benefit available to you by waiting until you are 70 years old to claim, but that only makes sense if you are in good health and expect at least average longevity (about 84 for a man and 87 for a woman).

If you claim benefits before you reach your full retirement age (66½ for you and 66 plus 4 months for your husband), those benefits will be cut. If you collect now, your benefit would be cut by about 27% and your husband’s by about 22% (based upon your respective years of birth). Further, if you claim before your full retirement ages and continue to work, you’ll be subject to Social Security’s earnings test, which limits the amount you can earn before they take back some of your benefits (the 2020 earnings limit is $18,240; if you exceed that they’ll take back half of anything you earn over the limit). The earnings limit changes annually but goes away at your FRA.

At your full retirement ages, you’ll be entitled to 100% of the benefits you’ve earned from your lifetime of working (approximately the amounts estimated now). If you can and do wait beyond your full retirement age (FRA), for each month you delay you’ll earn delayed retirement credits of ⅔ of 1% per month of delay (8% per year of delay), up to age 70 when your maximum benefit is reached. As a point of information, if you wait until your full retirement age to claim, you will have collected the same amount of money at age 78 as if you had claimed at age 62; and if you wait until age 70 to claim you’ll have collected the same amount of money at age 82 as if you had collected at your full retirement age. If you live at least until “average” longevity, you’ll collect more in cumulative Social Security benefits by waiting.

So, when should you claim? If you’re still working and earning “professional salaries,” then waiting at least until your full retirement age would be a wise choice. If you expect at least average longevity and don’t need the money right away, waiting until age 70 would be a prudent strategy. But if you don’t work and expect less than average longevity, then claiming at any time you need the money would be a reasonable decision. This is a choice only each of you can make.

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