What you don’t know about Social Security benefits can hurt you and your spouse for the rest of your lives. Here are three traps to avoid when taking your benefits.
1. Taking Money Too Early. It can be tempting to start taking your benefits as soon as you become eligible at age 62. But the longer you can wait, the higher your monthly benefit will be—and the more you will receive over your lifetime. Also, cost of living adjustments (COLA) are calculated on the amount of your monthly benefit, so if you take benefits at age 62, your COLA adjustments will be calculated on a lower amount.
2. Working Income. If you elect to take benefits early and you keep working, the amount of your benefit can be reduced. This reduction will continue until the year you reach full retirement age (66). In 2014, Social Security reduces benefits by $1 for every $2 of earned income above $15,480. For example, say you start benefits at 62 and you have earned income of $30,000. You are $14,520 over the annual limit, so you will receive $7,260 less in benefits (50% of the difference). However, the benefit reductions are not lost; they are deferred and credited to your benefits record when you reach full retirement age.
3. Spousal Benefits. Your decision when to start taking your benefit affects your spouse too. After you die, your spouse is eligible to receive your monthly benefit if his/her own benefit is less than yours. If you elect to receive your benefit earlier rather than later, your spouse’s benefit will also be lower. If you wait until you reach full retirement age (66), you can claim your Social Security benefits but delay taking them. This lets your spouse draw spousal benefits immediately, while you continue working and increasing the value of your future benefits.