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Extra Earnings Don't Always Translate to Extra Benefits Q: I know my Social Security benefits will be based on my last five years of earnings before I retire. But here is the problem. I am 60 years old and have just been laid off by my employer. I have few if any prospects of getting another job. I plan …Read more. The So-Called 'New' Social Security Rules Are Actually the Old Rules There is just so darn much misinformation out there about new Social Security rules. These rules have to do with the eventual elimination of the maximizing strategies known as "file and restrict" and "file and suspend." Every single day, I get …Read more. How to Deal With the Social Security Earnings Penalties I've gotten more than a few emails recently from Social Security beneficiaries who are under age 66 and still working and who are trapped in the web of Social Security's convoluted earnings penalty rules and the way they are administered. Those …Read more. Long Gone Husband May Mean Extra Social Security to Some I gave a couple women very nice Christmas presents over the recent holiday season. And I'm not talking about the lingerie I got my wife or the coffee maker I got my daughter. I'm talking about the gift of extra Social Security benefits I got for two …Read more.
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How to Maximize Your Social Security


I have been getting more and more e-mails from readers in their late 50s and early 60s who are doing some retirement planning and looking for ways to get the best return on their Social Security "investment." That's why I decided to produce a fact sheet that I call "Five Ways To Maximize Your Social Security Benefits." The fact sheet is too long to reproduce in this column. So, I am going to just briefly summarize its contents and then invite readers who want more information to send me an e-mail asking for a free electronic copy of the fact sheet. Just e-mail that request to

Here is an overview of the five strategies you might be able to use to receive the best deal possible from Social Security.

— Take reduced benefits at 62. Repay those benefits at 66 and start all over at a full rate.

This little used scheme — more formally known within the Social Security Administration as the "restart plan" — would only work if you are retired before age 66 and if your Social Security benefits are not part of your retirement cash flow. You file for reduced retirement benefits from Social Security at age 62 (or any age before 66). But as you get the checks each month, you set aside all the proceeds in the investment plan of your choice. Then at age 66, you withdraw your original Social Security claim. You will be required to pay back all the benefits you have received, but you get to keep whatever interest was earned. Then you file a new claim with an age 66 start state (i.e., your full retirement age rate) and receive those benefits for the rest of your life.

— While you are still working, take reduced benefits at 62 and get an adjusted rate at 66.

This is the "ARF" plan that I have written about several times in recent columns. ARF stands for adjustment to the reduction factor. Under this plan, you would take early retirement benefits at a reduced rate, even though you are still working, assuming your earnings are at a level that permits you to receive at least some of your Social Security benefits between age 62 and 66. At age 66, the ARF provision automatically adjusts your original early retirement penalty, so that your ongoing rate reflects a reduction only for those months you actually received a Social Security check. The advantage to this plan is that you receive thousands of dollars in Social Security benefits before age 66, even though you are still working. You wind up with a Social Security benefit that isn't much less than your full retirement rate.

— Start your Social Security in January of your age 66 year and get unexpected benefits.

If you were planning to wait until age 66 to apply for Social Security, it is frequently to your advantage to apply for and start those benefits in January of the year you reach age 66.

Explaining the advantages to this provision requires a lot of complicated math that I just don't have room for in this column, although the fact sheet gives a good example. Even without the messy math, the message is simple: Always check into filing for Social Security in January, even though you don't turn 66 until later in the year.

— Claim benefits from your spouse at 66 and get a higher retirement rate at 70.

This plan would work for a married couple when both are eligible for their own Social Security benefits. It allows one member of the couple to initially claim benefits on a spouse's Social Security record and then switch to much higher benefits on his or her own record at age 70. Those higher benefits would include an extra monthly bonus of up to 32 percent in "delayed retirement credits." Please note that under the rules of this plan, which SSA calls the "restricted application policy," both members of the couple must be age 66 or older.

— Let your nonworking spouse get some of your Social Security while you keep working.

This plan works for someone who is over age 66, still working and wants to delay his or her Social Security until age 70 to take advantage of the delayed retirement credits. But he or she has a spouse who is not working and is eligible for little or no Social Security on his or her own Social Security record. The higher earning spouse would file for Social Security at age 66, but then suspend those benefits until age 70 in order to get the delayed retirement bonus. However, the nonworking spouse would be able to receive dependent's benefits, even during the suspension period.

This column gave you only a broad overview of some very complicated provisions of Social Security law. If one or more of them piqued your interest, send me an e-mail requesting the full fact sheet, "Five Ways To Maximize Your Social Security." But even after you have read the fact sheet, you should realize that your own personal factors — your retirement plans, your earnings, your other income, your marital status, your health, etc. — present a unique set of circumstances that play a major role in determining if one or more of these plans can work for you. So, you should always discuss your options with a Social Security representative. You can make an appointment to do so by calling SSA at 1-800-772-1213 or going to their website at

If you have a Social Security question, Tom Margenau has the answer. Contact him at To find out more about Tom Margenau and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at



42 Comments | Post Comment
How many times can you do the "restart plan"? I took SS at age 64 & 9 mos. If I do the "restart plan" at age 66 is it the only time I may pay back and begin again or can I do it again at age 70 and get higher benefits again. Thanks, Sandra
Comment: #1
Posted by: Sandra Wing
Wed May 12, 2010 4:39 AM
Please send a copy of the fact sheet on how to maximize social security benefits. We read your weekly articles in the Dallas Morning News and are in the process of planning our retirement. Thanks in advance!
Comment: #2
Posted by: Jim
Sat May 22, 2010 5:38 PM
I have attempted the method of "Claim benefit from spouse at 66 and get a higher retirement rate at 70", and it has been an absolute nightmare. I applied for spousal benefits online in November. I received a notice of approval of suspension of my benefits and approval of spousal benefits beginning in January 2010. (I applied for Spousal Benefits only, but this is how the claim was processed). I received two payments on spousal benefits, less 3 months of Medicare Part B. In March I received a notice that I was not entitled to Spousal Benefits because I was entitled to a larger payment on my own record, and they wanted a refund of the entire amount (including Medicare) I had been paid. I called the SSA Customer Service number and after twenty or thirty minutes the Representative said she had discussed it with a Technician and that I would have to withdraw my application based on my record. I went to my local office and withdrew my claim and requested reinstatement of spousal benefits. Six week later, I had no response from SSA. I again went to the local Office, and they said that there had been no processing on my Withdrawal request. She assured me that within 7-10 days the withdrawal would be process, and I would begin receiving my spousal benefits. Ten days later I got a notice that my Withdrawal had been approved, but no information about Spousal Benefit. I again called SSA and was told that I would have to first pay back the $1,675 then I would have to reapply for Spousal Benefits which would probably take about two months. In the interium, my Medicare Part B is not being paid and I have several thousand dollars in claims. Everyone at SSA if very sympathetic with my situation, but no one seems to have the ability to do anything but start the process over. HELP!!!
Comment: #3
Posted by: Elaine Pollard
Wed Jun 2, 2010 8:28 AM
Per your article I am requesting "Five ways to maximize your Social Security." to be e-mailed to me.
Thank You

Comment: #4
Posted by: phil
Mon Jul 5, 2010 3:14 PM
Please send a copy of your "Fact Sheet" on Five Ways to Maximize Your Social Security Benefits - I tried the address - but it kicked back
Comment: #5
Posted by: Roy Hill
Wed Jul 7, 2010 4:20 PM
Please send fact sheet "Five ways to maximize your Social Security". Also the option to collect on basis of spouse @ age 66 and switch to your own @ age 70, Question: do you have to be married or does this apply to divorced couples too? Could I collect on my ex record at age 66 and my own at age 70? I know I can collect if he's dead but he's still alive. Thanks.
Comment: #6
Posted by: karen
Mon Jul 19, 2010 1:07 PM

I paid for my single brother's burial and I would like to know if I can apply for his social security benefits to help with expenses?
Comment: #7
Posted by: Opal
Fri Aug 20, 2010 6:37 PM
iam retired since 2000. i am still covered by my compny insuranc(aetna) for lif.Medicare is deducting a primium for par b . do i still need medicare part B? thanks -looking forward hearing from you.
Comment: #8
Posted by: edgardo m. cabrera
Sun Aug 22, 2010 8:58 AM
Please send me your "Five ways to maximize social security"
Comment: #9
Posted by: cheryl
Mon Sep 27, 2010 2:10 PM
I always enjoy your column in Tidbits of Coachella Valley, i.e. 11/14/10. I understand and agree with you that most all people simply want more. Always more. What I believe you failed to mention in your article is that while Congress opted to not increase Social Security again next year, they voted themselves a three thousand dollar raise!
This is unconscionable and I think the public should be reminded of this and not allowed to let it simply slip by, or forget it.
Rudy Muessel
Desert Hot Springs, California
Comment: #10
Posted by: Rudy
Fri Nov 26, 2010 9:46 AM
pls send the fact shet
Comment: #11
Posted by: linda
Sun Dec 12, 2010 11:30 AM
I sold a peace of property towards the end of 2009 in order to pay
outstanding bills and be free of debt. This transaction resulted in
a gain and I paid my taxes according to that result.
Now I receive a notice from Social Security that my benefits as
well as the one for my wife will be cut because of the profit I made
on the sale.
Now that I am back in the old position, how long will S.S. keep my
benefits at the lower level.
Comment: #12
Posted by: Werner
Wed Jan 19, 2011 3:40 PM
I turned 62 in January I had both knees replaced in 2004. I am self employed as a Plumbing contractor. This is my thirty second year being self employed. I am now waiting to have the knee replacement done again. I lost six months of business income and most of my income for that year. Now it looks like I may loose six to nine months of income. I would like to continue to work, but I don't know if it will be possible. I also am having problems with both hands that will require an operation also. I have no guarantee that I will be able to work like I have been doing. I hate to think of myself as disabled,but not sure what to do as it is hard to sit or stand without being in pain. Would like your thoughts about what I should do as far as social security. Most people I have asked have not been much help
Thanks in advance Richard Nielsen
Comment: #13
Posted by: Richard Nielsen
Sat Jul 2, 2011 12:49 PM
Can not reach via your e-mail address as shown in Morning News. Why is this?
Comment: #14
Posted by: james davis
Thu Oct 6, 2011 9:05 AM
I retired at 63yrs and 7months in 2009.will my ss benefits increase in may 2012? I will be 66 then.
Comment: #15
Posted by: Gladys J.Hines
Mon Feb 6, 2012 7:39 PM
You mentioned in an article about the SSI benefits, but you did not say what the income would be before you would be considered as being poor to be able to draw the benefits, could you please give an amount, either monthly or yearly Thanks
Comment: #16
Posted by: Linda D
Tue Apr 10, 2012 2:58 PM
Please send your fact sheets titled, "When to take your SocialSecurity benefits." Thanks. Eva Ann Cunningham
Comment: #17
Posted by: Eva Cunningham
Tue Apr 17, 2012 11:28 AM
Please send your fact sheets titled, "When to take your SocialSecurity benefits." Thanks. Eva Ann Cunningham
Comment: #18
Posted by: Eva Cunningham
Tue Apr 17, 2012 11:28 AM
Social Security has told me that they have overpaid me by thousands of dollars-I don't agree.
They have already stopped my S.S.I. -- I have only my S.S.D. and they say they will garnish this,
my only income, for repayment of my alleged overpayment--I want to cooperate, but can find
no options and I don't want to end up living in the street--can you help?
Comment: #19
Posted by: linda hill
Wed Apr 25, 2012 10:22 PM
Please me the information on when to take social security. Thank you.
Comment: #20
Posted by: smith
Tue May 29, 2012 2:26 PM
My husband and I are retired. He draws approx. $1550 per month ss. I draw a retirement of approx. $1800 and ss of $200. Upon retirement I took the max. amt. of my retirement funds so if I was to die first there would be nothing for my husband unless he could draw a small amt. of my ss. If he was to die first would I be eligible to draw any of his ss??
Comment: #21
Posted by: Linda Hayes
Tue Jul 10, 2012 10:50 AM
My question is this: I am a teacher who got into teaching at age 50. I worked enough quarters before teaching to get Social Security, however, because of a deal the teacher's union made a long time ago, I am not allowed to collect Social Security when I retire. I am receiving some Social Security on my work history, and some on my ex-husband's work history. I have been told by the Scoial Security office that all that will go away when I retire. I could do retirement if I were to collect both (because it would take both, as I do not have enough work history in either, but do adding both together), but can't on just a teacher's pensions. If I do retire, and have to augment my income, and I work for place who takes out Social Security...will they insist on taking out Social Security?
Thanks for any help you can give me,

Juliah Jensen
Comment: #22
Posted by: Juliah Jensen
Mon Oct 15, 2012 7:30 PM
Would greatly appreciate a copy of your fact sheet "When to Take Your Social Security Benefits." Love reading your informative articles in our local newspaper.
Comment: #23
Posted by: Hilburn
Sun Jan 20, 2013 12:50 PM
unable to log in to your listing as written in the Houston chronicle as thomas.margenau @comcast.net26868
Comment: #24
Posted by: Lewis Conway
Wed Feb 20, 2013 7:29 AM
I am a 58 year old widow and can not receive any of my husbands benefits form SS until i
I am 60 but his x-wife can!!!! She is already receiving her SS and retirement! I think someone ought to fight for some of these rights! I am not employed because I had to stay home the last 3 years with him!!
Comment: #25
Posted by: dianne edwards
Tue May 14, 2013 3:50 PM
Please send a copy of the fact sheet on how to maximize social security benefits. I read your weekly articles in the Dallas Morning News and am starting the process of planning for our retirement. Thanks in advance!
Comment: #26
Posted by: Olan Knight
Sun Sep 29, 2013 2:54 PM
I married my wife Sept 1976. We separated after six years and remained that way until I filed for divorce in 1998. She took my daughter and moved to Virginia in 1888 with her boyfriend. They had been living together in California prior to his getting a job in Virginia and continued to live together out there.

It is my understanding that she intends to file for my social security benefits on her 61st birthday in May, based on being married to me for 10 years. Although we were technically married for many years more than 10, I was not with her for 10 years and feel her getting 35% of my benefits is wrong. She worked for many years and I have no idea how much in benefits she would receive on her own. I just want to know if there is anything I can do to prevent her from going after my benefits.
Comment: #27
Posted by: Doug Bauer
Sun Oct 6, 2013 2:22 PM
I am a 60 year old female on disability. Was married for 23 years and divorced. My husband remarried but I have not. Can I draw social security off of my ex and if what age?
Comment: #28
Posted by: deany bazen
Mon Nov 4, 2013 8:45 AM
Been married over 20 years,can I get on my exs diability? I do collect ss but it is under 550 month.
Comment: #29
Posted by: Ernest Pinto
Sat Mar 8, 2014 5:40 AM
I am a disabled lRetired Marine and would like to know if I can get my ssi increased
Comment: #30
Posted by: Major WD Andrews
Mon Apr 7, 2014 4:56 PM
Why is it that if you have a State or Railroad retirement pension you are penalized for about 40% on your social security pension if you qualify for such?
Comment: #31
Posted by: Larry Lakey
Wed Jul 23, 2014 11:14 AM
Please email me a copy of your "When to take your Social security benefits." Thank you
Comment: #32
Posted by: Cyril Shettleroe
Mon Jul 28, 2014 10:00 AM
Comment: #33
Posted by: patriciabowers
Mon Sep 29, 2014 8:29 AM
I am 80, still working part-time (for one more year) and took Soc Security just after I turned 63. I divorced in 1984 and remarried in 1987. My former wife is remarried. My present wife (my child bride!) is now 63, works part-time and has not begun taking social security. The "in's and out's" of if and when she might best start, what she would be eligible for now or later is a mystery and I would like some sorting out of alternatives. Thank you very much. Don Hadley
Comment: #34
Posted by: Don Hadley
Sun Feb 8, 2015 3:50 PM
Question: Has wife been entitled to a percentage of deceased husband Soc.Security after he died at age 91 in Jan. 2012 after his having been receiving his since retiring at age 65? Wife of 60 years was 86 when he died and has been and is still receiving her higher amount of Soc.Sec. since her retirement at age 68. Thanks
Comment: #35
Posted by: Marg Gregory
Mon Feb 23, 2015 5:00 PM
my wife passed away April 5, 2015. my SS office said I should get benefit for March. I received a letter from SS saying I would only get the 255.00 funeral fee.
Comment: #36
Posted by: ron speziale
Sun Apr 26, 2015 7:27 AM
I retired in 2013 and have not started taking payments. I worked for 38 years and am 64. My husband plans on retiring in 2 years at age 68. Are there any benefit maximizing strategies we should be looking into? Neither one of us have been previously married.
Thank you for your time and help with this. Janice
Comment: #37
Posted by: Janice Laughlin
Thu Jul 16, 2015 11:08 PM
Please email me the When To Take Social Security worksheet please.
Comment: #38
Posted by: Janice Laughlin
Fri Sep 4, 2015 2:25 PM
I am a 42 year old(DOB 10/15/73) with a disability and am receiving a monthly disability check of $850. I have had this disability for two years and have used the marketplace to get insurance and have used the fact that I can get a subsidy since I can not work. I now pay $110 per month for "0" deductible and $500 out-of-pocket maximum insurance from BCBS. My drugs cost without this insurance would be $493/month.

Now I have received the Medicare card saying I am enrolled in part A for free and can get part B at $105/month.

The question is, since I receive this social security benefit, does that mean I have to take the part A? then have the option for part B? Then I will need the part D at another extra cost. So I would pay monthly amount of $105 + $35(estimated plan D) + the cost of the drugs(maybe another $100?).
So my monthly cost would now be $240 since I "have" take the Medicare plans.

It sounds as if I should stay with the marketplace and forget the social security benefit of being able to go to Medicare. Do I mess up the disability benefits if I do this? By not taking Medicare now, will I have to pay a substantial penalty later at age 65?
Comment: #39
Posted by: Eric Brookman
Fri Oct 30, 2015 4:52 PM
I'm hoping this is an easy question with a simple answer... I've been married for 30 yrs., my husband is 79, I will be 62 in June. Can I apply to collect any SS benefits on his??
Comment: #40
Posted by: Ruth Schoonhoven
Mon Dec 21, 2015 9:18 AM
I am curious as to whether or not I can collect off my late husbands Social Security account. I am remarried and on disability through SS. And when I turn 65 I lose my private disability. He died in 1979 so I wasn't sure if I could collect on his account. It would be a big help as I will lose about 1/2 of my monthly income. Thank you.
Comment: #41
Posted by: Sherri Meagher
Sun Jan 24, 2016 11:23 AM
I was married to a Circuit Court Judge for 27 years. When he retired he took me to court to terminate spousal support claiming he could no longer support me in his retirement years, the Judge agreed and terminated my support. I was forced to take Social Security at age 62 because my income was too low to make ends meet. I applied for my x-husbands benefits as his would be greater. I was told because I claimed SSI early that SSI takes a portion of my x-husbands and a portion of mine. My question is when my x-husband passes away am I entitled to a widows pension? He was married soon after our divorce so he has a wife. I have never remarried and don't intend to. Thanks,
Posted by: Margaret Busch
Sat Jan 30, 2016 9:51AM
Comment: #42
Posted by: Margaret Busch
Sat Jan 30, 2016 9:53 AM
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