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Social Security Q&A

Big Questions About Social Security: Age to Draw Benefit, Survivor Benefit Amount

The decision for senior citizens about early retirement is a common one; few know how survivor benefits are determined - video on how to enroll online

Questions and Answers

About Social Security and Medicare

By Oscar Garcia

Public Affairs Specialist, Social Security Administration
4100 S. New Braunfels, Suite 101, San Antonio, Texas 78223

Click to e-mail your question.

April 19, 2012 – Social Security is of critical importance to most older Americans, but few really think about it until the time comes to make a decision about when to apply for the retirement payments, which can be as early as three months before turning age 62. What a surviving spouse will receive is another question most never consider until they lose their loved one. Below are answers from a SSA spokesperson and help on getting more information.

By Oscar Garcia, Public Affairs, Social Security Administration

What is the best age to start receiving retirement benefits?

The answer is that there is no one “best age” for everyone and, ultimately, it is your choice. You should make an informed decision about when to apply for benefits based on your individual and family circumstances.

Would it be better for you to begin receiving benefits early with a smaller monthly amount or wait for a larger monthly payment later that you may not receive as long?

The answer is highly personal and depends on a number of factors, such as
   ● your current cash needs,
   ● your health and family longevity,
   ● whether you plan to work in retirement,
   ● whether you have other retirement income sources,
   ● your anticipated future financial needs and obligations, and, of course,
   ● the amount of your future Social Security benefit.


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We hope you will weigh all the facts carefully and consider your own circumstances before making the important decision about when to begin receiving Social Security benefits.

If you live to the average life expectancy for someone your age, you will receive about the same amount in lifetime benefits no matter whether you choose to start receiving benefits at age 62, full retirement age, age 70 or any age in between.

However, monthly benefit amounts can differ substantially based on your retirement age. You can get lower monthly payments for a longer period of time or higher monthly payments over a shorter period of time.

The amount you receive when you first get benefits sets the base for the amount you will receive for the rest of your life, though you do receive annual cost-of-living adjustments and, depending on your work history, may receive higher benefits if you continue to work.

Please visit our website’s Retirement Planner to learn more about deciding when to start your benefits:

Can you explain how survivors’ benefits are calculated?

If you die before your spouse, he or she may be eligible for a survivor benefit based on your work record, particularly if you have earned more than your spouse over your lifetime.

The benefit amount is based on the earnings of the person who died. The more the worker paid into Social Security, the greater your benefits will be. Social Security uses the deceased worker’s basic benefit amount and calculates what percentage survivors are entitled to receive. The percentage depends on the survivors’ ages and relationship to the worker.

Video on How to Enroll Online

If the person who died was receiving reduced benefits, your survivor’s benefit is based on that amount. In other words, if you begin receiving Social Security benefits early, we cannot pay your surviving spouse a full benefit from your record.

On the other hand, if you wait until after the full retirement age to start your benefits, then your surviving spouse—if he or she is at least full retirement age—generally will receive the same benefit amount that you would have received.

Here are the most typical situations.

   ● A widow or widower, at full retirement age or older, generally receives 100 percent of the worker’s basic benefit amount.

   ● A widow or widower, age 60 or older, but under full retirement age, receives about 71-99 percent of the worker’s basic benefit amount.

To learn more about how much your survivor benefit would be, visit our website at www. and click on the tab “Survivors”.

In addition to using our website, you can call us toll-free at 1-800-772-1213. We treat all calls confidentially. We can answer specific questions from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday. Generally, you will have a shorter wait time if you call during the first or last hour that the lines are open.

Oscar Garcia is a Public Affairs Specialist with the Social Security Administration. You can direct your questions to him at: SSA, 411 Richland Hills Drive, San Antonio, Texas, 78245. You can also email him at


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