As Investopedia’s article, “Social Security Claiming Options for Singles,” explains, unmarried retirees need to be certain they understand exactly how Social Security defines “single.” It’s not limited to never-married beneficiaries, because those who divorced prior to their tenth anniversary are also considered single. If you are single due to the death of your spouse, you’re eligible for widow/widower benefits based on your spouse’s work record, provided the marriage lasted at least nine months prior to your spouse’s death.
Since single retirees have no spousal work records from which to claim benefits, they must increase their own benefits. They can do this in one of two ways: maximizing earnings before retirement or waiting for benefits as long as possible to get delayed retirement credits. Delayed retirement credits offer you an increase of about 8% a year between your full retirement age and age 70.
In addition to a larger monthly benefit for single retirees who wait to file for Social Security, there’s also the possibility of taking retroactive benefits if you need cash. You can get retroactive benefits if you wait at least six months after reaching full retirement age to claim benefits. When you apply, you’ll get a maximum of six months’ worth of missed benefits as a lump sum. You will also begin receiving your monthly benefit from that point forward.
If you wait more than six months past full retirement age to claim retroactive benefits—though applying for retroactive benefits will cause beneficiaries to lose the delayed retirement credits they’ve accrued during those six months—they’ll also get to keep any delayed retirement credits accrued prior to the six-month time frame.
The positive of being single in retirement is there are fewer obstacles and more opportunities for truly golden years than married couples have. Nevertheless, you need to plan ahead for the potential financial pitfalls, especially when it comes to deciding when and how to claim your Social Security benefits.
Reference: Investopedia (December 26, 2017) “Social Security Claiming Options for Singles”