As you approach your retirement years, you may think you understand everything about how Social Security works. But the timing of getting that first check can be tricky, especially if you've experienced a spousal death or divorce.
In general, you may start withdrawing your guaranteed payments starting at age 62; however, for each year those withdrawals are postponed through age 70, you will receive an additional 8 percent or so based on inflation. Unmarried widows, widowers and divorcees may receive the greater of their own benefits or half of their late or former spouse’s benefits, but either way the amount received will be reduced according to when withdrawals start.
That means the strategy you choose could make a big difference in your income throughout your golden years. As of May, 59.3 million Americans were receiving Social Security benefits, but only 45 million were 65 or older. And a survey this year found a full 74 percent of American women were taking such benefits before age 70.
“For many people, when to claim Social Security is one of the most significant choices they will ever make,” notes Stan Hinden on AARP.com. “The timing of the first check affects how much they'll get from Social Security and what benefits will be available for spouses, children and eventually survivors.”