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Money Culture

Widows Have Social Security Options

Julie Taylor-Cooper, who worked for decades as an accounting manager, now scrapes by on her late husband’s Social Security checks and a $145-a-week job.

Many baby boomers like Taylor-Cooper may not realize there are various strategies for claiming full Social Security benefits that can have a dramatic impact on their retirement security.

“There are eight or nine options for retirees, spouses, and widows,” said Stephen Richardson, spokesman for the Social Security Administration. (Full disclosure: SSA funds this blog.)

Widows who work have even more options because they can claim either their own or their spouse’s benefits – or, in Taylor-Cooper’s case, both.

After her husband died and she turned 60, she began drawing his survivor benefits under Social Security.

As time went on, her life situation changed. She gave up her job supervising nine people at a New Jersey law firm to relocate to South Carolina. She wanted to be near her children and grandchildren and thought she could find another job in her profession.

“When I got down here, reality set in because it’s not that easy to find a job,” she said in this video, the third in a Squared Away series about unemployed people featured in the online project, “Over 50 and Out of Work.”

Julie Taylor-Cooper from Over Fifty and Out of Work on Vimeo.

She finally found work she enjoys, helping people apply for unemployment benefits, but the pay is low.

SSA’s Richardson said Taylor-Cooper has other claiming options in the future. Since she hasn’t drawn on the Social Security benefits she accrued during her own career, she will be eligible to draw her full retirement benefits from Social Security when she turns 66. Drawing her husband’s survivor benefits all these years didn’t jeopardize that.

Widows, once they reach full retirement age, typically can draw their husband’s full retirement benefits, but that’s not an option if they collected the survivor benefits, as Taylor-Cooper did.

For more information about various strategies, the Center for Retirement Research, an affiliate of Squared Away, published “The Social Security Claiming Guide.”

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