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Can you change your Social Security benefits once you start collecting?

August 14, 2012: 6:32 AM ET

My husband died at age 56. I started receiving his Social Security retirement survivor benefits when I reached 62, but continued to work until I reached 74. Would my Social Security benefits be higher now than his survivor benefits? If so, can I change? — Carol P.

You can always switch to the highest Social Security benefit that you qualify for — in this case, either the survivor benefit or your own retirement benefit, says Jason Parker, founder of Parker Financial, a registered investment advisor in Silverdale, Wash. The fact that you began taking survivor benefits before full retirement age does not affect your eligibility to switch.

Ultimately, switching may be your best bet. One of the advantages of postponing your benefits after full retirement age — which if you were born in 1937 or earlier was 65 — is that you earn delayed retirement credits. These credits increase your benefits by a certain percentage each year up until age 70. (How much of an increase depends on when you were born, but ranges from 5.5% to 8%.)

The only way to know for certain which of your two options offers the higher benefit is to check with the Social Security Administration (800-772-1213). A claims representative at the SSA can help you make the switch if you decide that's the right move.

— Marc Mewshaw

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