Money & Policy

Social Security Tips for Unmarried Boomers

4 smart benefit-claiming strategies from a leading authority

(This article previously appeared on PBS NewsHour.org.)
Boston University Economics Professor Laurence Kotlikoff is one of the nation’s foremost authorities on Social Security and answers questions about Social Security claiming strategies weekly on PBS NewsHour.org. You can send him your Social Security questions here and get the basic version of his retirement planning software for free here.

Question: So far, all of your Social Security questions-and-answers pertain to people who have been married. Is there information that people who have never been married need to know? I am currently 69 and waiting until 70 and I’ve worked for about 50 years with no lapses or unusual circumstances even while changing jobs or careers. It all seems pretty straigh-forward. Am I wrong in assuming this?

Larry Kotlikoff: For never married people I suggest four things:

First, they should file for their retirement benefit at Full Retirement Age (which is between 66 and 67, depending on when they were born) and immediately suspend its collection.

The suspension of retirement benefits will permit the accumulation of delayed retirement credits while providing the option, as needed in an emergency, to take all suspended benefits in a one-time lump-sum payment.

(MORE: Social Security's Trickiest Claiming Rule)

Second, they should wait until age 70 to restart their retirement benefit.

Third, they should determine if working longer will ​raise their benefits through Social Security’s recomputation of benefits, which replaces the lowest of 35 years of indexed-covered earnings with current earnings if current earnings are higher.

If working longer will raise their benefits materially, it may lead them to do so.

And fourth, in the event that unmarried boomers find a mate later in life who’s a higher earner and older, they might want to marry.

In the event that they do, and the older spouse dies first (and if that happens after nine months of marriage), the previously unmarried younger spouse could collect a widow(er) benefit that may exceed his or her own retirement benefit.

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