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Understanding the 'Family Maximum'

Can a layoff get you Social Security before age 62?

En español | Q. At age 70, my husband's monthly benefit will be $1,600. One year later, when I turn 70, my benefit will be $2,400. Can we each collect our own benefit amount, for a total of $4,000, or is there a maximum that will limit our combined benefit?

See also: Top 25 Social Security questions.

A. While there is a "family maximum," it only applies when benefits are being paid to several people on one work record. For example, if your husband and, say, two minor children were to get benefits on his record, there would be a limit on how much Social Security would pay all of them together. Because you and your husband each paid into the system during your working lives, the limit does not apply.

Q. At what age should I start Social Security retirement benefits in order to collect the highest total amount over the course of my lifetime?

A. According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), it doesn't matter — on average. If you live to the average life expectancy that SSA calculates for people your age, you will receive roughly the same amount in total lifetime benefits whether you start receiving at age 62, at full retirement age, at age 70 or any age in between.

However, monthly benefit amounts can differ substantially. Basically, you can get lower monthly payments for a longer period of time or higher monthly payments over a shorter period of time. For more information, see the Social Security Administration fact sheet on when to begin receiving retirement benefits.

Q. Can you draw Social Security before the age of 62 because you were laid off from your job?

A. No. The earliest age at which you can receive Social Security retirement benefits is 62. If you want your benefits to begin as soon as you turn that age, call Social Security three months before your birthday to announce your intent. The number is 1-800-772-1213.

Stan Hinden, a former columnist for the Washington Post, wrote How to Retire Happy: The 12 Most Important Decisions You Must Make Before You Retire. Have a question for the Social Security Mailbox? Check out the archive. If you don't find your answer there, send a query.

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