If you’re approaching retirement, you may be wondering how you can receive the highest Social Security check possible. The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers monthly disability, survivors’ and retirement benefits to people who are no longer working. You may be eligible for more than one program. Here’s a little more information on how to know which program you’re eligible for, and when you should start drawing benefits:
Disability vs. Retirement
Social Security disability and retirement benefits are both offered by the SSA, but cannot be received at the same time. If you’re at your full retirement age (66-67 depending on your date of birth), you cannot supplement your retirement benefits with disability, regardless of any illness you may have.
Because of this, if you’re no longer able to work and you have the option of filing for either Social Security disability or early retirement, always apply for disability benefits first. When you’re approved for disability benefits you’ll receive payments equivalent to what you would have taken at full retirement age. Early retirement benefits are reduced, so you’ll always earn more on disability. Once you hit your full retirement age your disability benefits will “convert” to retirement—the actual amount paid remains the same, but you’re able to supplement your benefits by working.
Survivors’ benefits are offered for spouses of deceased workers. You will be eligible for survivors’ benefits if you’re over age 60 and you were married for at least 10 years, or you have a child under age 16. You can even receive survivors’ benefits on behalf of a deceased ex-spouse, so long as you never remarried.
Your monthly survivors’ benefit payment will be 70-100% of your spouses’ Social Security entitlement, depending on when you choose to draw survivors’ benefits. The earlier you draw, the less you’ll receive. A common option is to draw survivors’ benefits until you’re age 70. At that point you’ll be entitled to your own delayed retirement benefits, which should equal 130% of your monthly entitlement. This allows you to max out your own retirement while still receiving monthly payments from the SSA.
This option is usually best for workers who earned similar incomes throughout life. If your work history is spotty or you earned much less than your spouse, it’s often best to simply receive survivors’ benefits permanently.
Starting Your Application
If you’re entitled to more than one form of benefit, you’ll receive whichever pays higher. If you’re applying for Social Security disability or retirement benefits, you can complete the entire application process online on the SSA’s website. Those applying for survivors’ benefits will need to apply in person at their closest Social Security office.
Delaying your own retirement benefits to receive survivors’ benefits in particular can be challenging, so you should call the SSA toll free at 1-800-772-1213 to discuss your options and learn which program is best for you.
By Cendy Moliere
Cendy Moliere is an Outreach Specialist at Disability Benefits Center, an independent organization dedicated to helping people of all ages receive the Social Security disability benefits they deserve. She currently lives in Boston, Mass. but helps those seeking assistance nationwide. If you have any questions on this article or would like a little more information on how to qualify for disability benefits, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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