Are You Leaving Social Security Benefits On The Table?


It happens more often than you think. Without a good understanding of the rules, you might make a move that results in leaving Social Security benefits on the table.

There are a couple of ways this can happen. Let’s start out by identifying the types of benefit we’ll be covering in this article: 

  • retirement benefits based on your own working record (RIB)
  • spousal benefits based on your spouse’s or ex-spouse’s working record (SRIB)
  • survivor benefits based on your late spouse’s or late ex-spouse’s working record (WIB)

Our first example of leaving Social Security benefits on the table relates to the interplay between the retirement benefit, which we’ll shorten to RIB, and the spousal benefit, which we’ll refer to as SRIB. (These acronyms stand for Retirement Insurance Benefit and Spousal Retirement Insurance Benefit, respectively.)

Ben and Anita are age 70 and 74 respectively. Anita has been collecting her RIB since she reached Full Retirement Age (FRA, age 66), but Ben has been delaying receipt of his benefit until he reaches age 70, which allows him to accrue the delayed retirement credits of 8% per year of delay.

The problem is that Ben and Anita didn’t know about the restricted application option available to folks born before 1954. Since Ben was born in 1949 (reaching 70 in 2019), he could have been collecting a SRIB (spousal benefit) from his FRA (also 66) while continuing to delay his own benefit to age 70. Because Anita had already filed for her own RIB at her age 66, when Ben reached age 66 he could have started collecting an SRIB equal to 50% of Anita’s benefit, with no affect on his future RIB.

Since they weren’t aware of this option, unfortunately it’s gone forever for them, now that Ben has reached age 70. It’s possible to retroactively file for the SRIB up to 6 months prior – which is something Ben should do ASAP. But that’s all the farther back he can go to correct this oversight. So he’s left 3 1/2 years’ worth of SRIB on the table.

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Disclosure: None.

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