Weighing different Social Security claiming options

Andy – Calif.: I am 60 years old and plan to retire in four to six years. My wife is 25 years younger than I, and we have a 2-year-old son (he is not disabled). What are the limitations to our collecting benefits for our son from Social Security beyond the family maximum when I retire? Which one of us should file for the benefits at the time I retire? It is my understanding I can get only one benefit, is that true in this case? Or would they both together be considered one benefit?

Phil Moeller: This can be a tough call.

First, unless your wife and your son are both claiming benefits on your earnings record at the same time, the family maximum benefit should not come into play. And given her age, your son will be too old to claim benefits by the time she is old enough to claim them.

Your son will get the maximum years of child benefits if you file for your own benefits at age 62. However, you will be leaving a lot of money on the table by filing early. Benefits rise from age 62 to 70 by about 7-8 percent a year. Further, by locking in a reduced benefit, you would also be reducing the size of your wife’s survivor benefit should you predecease her (and the odds favor this being the case).

So, were it me, I’d wait to file until age 70 and settle for only five or six years of child benefits. But of course, I don’t know any of the details about your financial situation or your wife’s potential benefits on her own record. If she makes a nice income, it’s possible she would never need to file a claim for a survivor benefit.