If my wife claims now, will it hurt my Social Security amount?

Dear Rusty: I am 69 years old, and my wife turned 70 early this year. I am still working full time. My wife is not working, but she got a letter from Social Security saying she should take her Social Security as soon as possible.

My question is: since my wife has reached her full retirement age, can she take her SS without it affecting mine when I claim? I plan to work at least another year, depending on how the economy goes (I may have to work longer if it doesn’t get better). I have IRAs and a 401k to pull from when I retire. Signed: Anxious Husband

Dear Anxious: The reason your wife received a letter from Social Security suggesting she claims now is because her benefit reached maximum some time ago at age 70. Thus, there is no reason for her to wait beyond age 70 to claim. By delaying past age 70 your wife is losing money so she should apply as soon as possible. I suggest your wife call Social Security at (800) 772-1213 (or your local office) right away to request an appointment to apply for her benefits and she should be sure to request six months of retroactive payments (SS will pay up to six months retroactively).

If your wife has a “my Social Security” online account, she can also apply online at www.ssa.gov/apply, but she should be sure to request six months of retroactive benefits in the “Remarks” section of the online application. Because your wife is more than six months past age 70, getting 6 months retroactive benefits will not reduce her age 70 benefit amount. Nor will your wife claiming her benefits now negatively affect your Social Security when you later claim.

Even though you plan to continue working, likely beyond 70 years of age yourself, you should not wait beyond age 70 to claim for the same reason – your benefit will reach maximum when you are 70. You can apply for your benefits up to four months in advance, and specify you want benefits to start in the month you turn 70. If you haven’t already done so, you may wish to create your own “my Social Security” online account now at www.ssa.gov/myaccount, which will make it easier for you to apply online at www.ssa.gov/apply when the time comes next year. Applying online is, by far, the most efficient way, but you need to have your online account set up first to do so.

Just so you know, there is no need to worry that you won’t get credit for work income earned after you have applied for your benefits. Even after you are collecting benefits, Social Security will automatically review your earnings each year when that info is received from the IRS (after you file your income tax return). If your most recent earnings are higher than those in any of the 35 years of lifetime earnings used to calculate your benefit when you claim, Social Security will automatically increase your monthly payment amount. In other words, you shouldn’t delay past age 70 to claim Social Security because you’re working – you’ll still get credit for those earnings, automatically.

So, I suggest that your wife take fast action to apply for her Social Security benefits to avoid losing any more money, and that you plan to apply for your benefits to start when you turn 70. There is no financial advantage to waiting beyond age 70 to claim, even if you continue working.