Q & A
Ask Rusty – We took benefits early; can we get more now?
Dear Rusty: My birth date is 1947. My wife is 1950. We both took our Social Security years ago at age 62 due to health concerns because we questioned if we would live to age 78 to equalize the extra payout if we would have waited to age 66. Taking early at 62 may have been a mistake and I am wondering if there are any options available to maximize my and/or my wife’s monthly payment with a restricted application or any other available options? My gross monthly is $946.60, and my wife’s is $543.60 before the deduction for Medicare. Together our gross monthly is about equal to the per person individual average monthly payment of $1479. Signed: Regretful we took SS early.
Dear Regretful: I’m afraid the options for either you or your wife increasing your benefit at this point are extremely limited. You cannot file the restricted application you mentioned because that can only be done by someone applying for the first time (and who was born before 1/2/1954), and only by someone who has not yet reached age 70. Neither can you suspend your benefits to earn delayed retirement credits (DRCs) because DRCs are only earned up to age 70. Your wife has a very small window until she reaches 70 in March during which she could suspend her benefits, and by doing so immediately she could perhaps earn, at most, an additional 1% in DRCs (about $5 more per month). That leaves only two other things which could increase your benefits: 1) Annual Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs) granted each year depending upon inflation, and 2) returning to work and having substantial current earnings which may replace the earnings in a lower-earning year in your lifetime work record (SS uses the highest earning 35 years over your lifetime to compute your benefit amount).
If you have some years in that 35-year history with no or very low earnings, working now could replace one or more of those years. I have no way of determining whether that is a possibility; you would need to get your lifetime earnings record from Social Security and see if that is possible by examining your earnings for each year over your lifetime. But remember, all early years of earnings are adjusted for inflation, so for example, $10,000 earned in 1990 would be equal to about $25,000 in today’s dollars, and you’d need to earn more than the higher amount to have any effect on your benefit.
I wish I had better news for you, but the unfortunate reality is that once someone claims their Social Security, the benefit amount is quite fixed. Although it’s possible to withdraw an application within 12 months of initial filing, and it’s also possible to suspend benefits once FRA is reached, neither of those is available to you. And your wife only has a very short window to suspend her benefits, which will reach maximum when she reaches 70 in March. So, except for the COLA increases and returning to work options I’ve discussed above, I’m afraid you have no other opportunity to increase your Social Security benefit amounts.