Social security card and paycheck © chuck -

Dear Dr. Don,
My question seems fairly simple. If I don’t take my Social Security benefits right away, do I lose them or can I collect the funds at any time? My sense is that I do not benefit by waiting. My Social Security benefit is from my former husband.

— Su Spousal

Dear Su,
Thanks for the question. This is one of the areas that we get many questions about. So, this gives me an opportunity to hopefully help you and other people.

First, here’s what I don’t know. I’m not sure of your age. The question and your age are connected, of course.

But let me try to answer your question to the best of my ability.

When delayed credits aren’t earned

You are correct that you don’t earn delayed retirement credits on a spousal benefit. If you’re at your full retirement age, age 66, there’s no benefit associated with waiting to file for spousal benefits. In general, if you inadvertently waited to file at your full retirement age, the most you could capture in back retirement benefits is 6 months’ worth of payments.

If you file for spousal benefits before your full retirement age, then your spousal benefit will be reduced. The extent of the reduction depends on how early you file.

For those formerly married

Ex-spouses qualifying for Social Security benefits based upon their own work records have an option that currently married spouses don’t have. Such ex-spouses can file for the spousal benefit at full retirement age and continue to earn delayed retirement credits on their work record up to age 70.

If your ex has already passed away, then you’d receive a survivors benefit instead of a spousal benefit. That includes any delayed retirement credits your ex-spouse earned on his benefits.

Get more news, money-saving tips and expert advice by signing up for a free Bankrate newsletter.

Ask the adviser

To ask a question of Dr. Don, go to the “Ask the Experts” page and select one of these topics: “Financing a home,” “Saving & Investing” or “Money.” Read more Dr. Don columns for additional personal finance advice.

Bankrate’s content, including the guidance of its advice-and-expert columns and this website, is intended only to assist you with financial decisions. The content is broad in scope and does not consider your personal financial situation. Bankrate recommends that you seek the advice of advisers who are fully aware of your individual circumstances before making any final decisions or implementing any financial strategy. Please remember that your use of this website is governed by Bankrate’s Terms of Use.

More On Social Security:

Create a news alert for "retirement"