How should my mother decide when to file for Social Security?

2 answers | Last updated: Sep 14, 2017
A fellow caregiver asked...

When should my mother file for social security benefits? My widowed mother is the beneficiary of my father's life insurance policy. Adding in their investment and retirement accounts, she now has about $250,000 in assets to support her for the rest of her life. She's 61 years old and still works as a legal secretary. Her income covers her living expenses, but she needs to decide this year whether to file for Social Security at age 62 and receive more limited benefits, or wait and file when she turns 65. What should she consider as she decides when to file for Social Security?

Expert Answers

Steve Weisman hosts the nationally syndicated radio show A Touch of Grey, heard on more than 50 stations, including WABC in New York City and KRLA in Los Angeles. He is a practicing lawyer specializing in estate planning and is admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court. He's a public speaker and commentator who has appeared on many radio and television shows throughout the country, and he's the legal editor of Talkers magazine, the preeminent trade publication of talk radio. His latest book is The Truth About Avoiding Scams.

The question your mother needs to ask herself is this: Do I need the money from Social Security to live on right now? If the answer to that is yes, she should go ahead and file this year and begin taking the money now. If she doesn't need it immediately, and she's healthy, she's probably better off waiting until the full retirement age.

Although the "full retirement age" (the age at which your mother will qualify for her full Social Security benefit) ranges from 65 to 67, depending on what year your mother was born, she can receive Social Security benefits as early as 62. If she does take Social Security early, the amount she'll get is reduced -- but she'll still get that amount for life. Your mother can also put off filing for Social Security until as late as age 70 and get a 7 to 8 percent higher monthly benefit. Frankly, though, I don't see much benefit in waiting until age 70 -- she can do better investing the money on her own.

So if there's any chance that she'll have to dip into her retirement accounts before she ends up filing for Social Security at her full retirement age, she should go ahead and file now. That way, she can leave her IRA to compound tax-free (if it's a Roth IRA) or tax-deferred (if it's a traditional IRA).

But if she can wait until her full retirement age -- assuming that she has no health issues and can cover her living expenses without Social Security -- she'll get a bigger payout from the government than if she files at age 62.

Your mother also should be aware that she doesn't need to wait until she retires to file for Social Security -- she can be working and still get Social Security benefits.

Community Answers

Solitaryseashell answered...

As a widow now age 60, I was told that I am eligible to take Social Security benefits I earned MYSELF at age 62 at the reduced rate and change over to my late husband's benefits when I reach full benefit age, so I get 100% of his benefits, which are MUCH more than mine. I am not working, so my early benefits will not be cut more due to earned income. I benefit the most this way.

I could take reduced benefits from my late husband at age 60, but since I don't need that income right now, the other plan is better for me.