Understanding Social Security Benefits

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  • An individual’s Primary Insurance Amount = the amount you would collect at Full Retirement Age.
  • Normal Retirement Age, for those born after 1959, = age 67.
  • Earliest age you can collect Social Security Benefits = age 62, for most individuals.
  • Every year you delay collecting Social Security benefits, increases your benefits by 8%. This is known as Delayed Retirement Credits. This 8% Delayed Retirement Credit increase stops at age 70. If your Full Retirement Age is 67, for example, you can accrue a full 24% in Delayed Retirement Credits. This means that the amount of benefit that you would normally receive at Full Retirement Age (which is also known as your Primary Insurance Amount) would be multiplied by 124% at age 70.
  • Anyone born before 1954 is eligible to file a Restricted Claim for Spousal or Divorced Benefits. What? If married or divorced, you may file and suspend Social Security Benefits on your own account and then file for Social Security Benefits using your spouse’s account. Why do this? While you are collecting Social Security Benefits on your spouse’s account, you own account continues to grow 8% a year, until you reach age 70. Then you may switch and start collecting Social Security Benefits based on your own account.
  • Medicare is mandatory in order to collect Social Security Benefits, unless you are still working and still part of your employer’s health insurance plan. For everyone else, you must enroll in Medicare, in order to collect Social Security Benefits. Enrollment for Medicare begins three months before and after you reach age 65.


  • Spouses receive the greater of:
    1. Their own individual Social Security Benefit Primary Insurance Amount, which is based off of their account OR
    2. 50% of their spouses Primary Insurance Amount. Important: This Primary Insurance Amount is fixed for the spouse collecting their 50%. Which means, it cannot be increased by any Delayed Retirement Credits tied to the account of the spouse from whom you are receiving the 50% benefit amount.
  • Generally, to be eligible for a Spousal Benefit, both spouses must be collecting Social Security Benefits.


  • Surviving Spouses may collect the greater of:
    1. Social Security Benefits based on their own account OR
    2. Social Security Benefits based on their deceased spouse’s account.
      • Loophole #1: If your deceased spouse delayed collecting their Social Security Benefits, and thus were receiving higher Social Security Benefits, surviving spouses will receive their deceased spouses higher Social Security Benefits if such benefits are greater than their own account. In other words, surviving spouses are entitled to the Delayed Retirement Credits of their deceased spouse.
      • Loophole #2: While you are drawing your survivor benefit, your own benefit, based on your own account, grows every month you delay filing for it. So, the strategy would be to take Social Security Benefits based on your deceased spouses account and at age 70, start collecting Social Security Benefits based on your own account (assuming those benefits are greater than the benefits you’re collected off of you deceased spouse’s account).
  • Earliest age you can collect Social Security = age 60, for surviving spouses who were married for 10 years or more.
  • Surviving Spouses can switch to collecting Social Security Benefits on their deceased spouses account, to their own account beginning at age 62.

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Thomas C. Corley About Thomas C. Corley

Tom Corley is a bestselling author, speaker, and media contributor for Business Insider, CNBC and a few other national media outlets.

His Rich Habits research has been read, viewed or heard by over 50 million people in 25 countries around the world.

Besides being an author, Tom is also a CPA, CFP, holds a master’s degree in taxation and is President of Cerefice and Company, a CPA firm in New Jersey.
Phone Number: 732-382-3800 Ext. 103.
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