What Will Happen To Our Social Security Benefits If My Wife Retires Now?

Today’s column addresses questions about the effect of no longer earning income on Social Security benefits, spousal benefit eligibility when a spouse’s disability benefit converts to a standard retirement benefit and the potential availability of divorced spousal benefits. Larry Kotlikoff is a Professor of Economics at Boston University and the founder and president of Economic Security Planning, Inc.

See more Ask Larry answers here.

Have Social Security questions of your own you’d like answered? Ask Larry about Social Security here.


What Will Happen To Our Social Security Benefits If My Wife Retires Now?

Hi Larry, My wife is 63 and I am 55. She has a good paying job, but it is more difficult as the years go by. She has worked for 35+ years but only has made decent money in the past 10 years. She really wants to retire. Should she? Thanks, Avery

Hi Avery, Deciding when to retire involves more than just Social Security considerations, so your wife will need make her own decision with regard to when to retire. It sounds like you’re already aware that your wife’s Social Security retirement benefit rate will be based on her highest 35 years of Social Security covered wage-indexed earnings.

If your wife stops working she’ll no longer be able to increase her benefit rate by replacing lower earnings years with higher ones. Though her benefit rate would still continue to increase until she reaches age 70 if she delays collecting her Social Security retirement benefit until then due to delayed retirement credits (DRCs).

But if she retires and also takes her retirement benefit now before her full retirement age (FRA), her benefit will be reduced for early filing and she of course would not have the chance to earn DRCs.

It sounds like your wife may want to consider using my company’s software — Maximize My Social Security or MaxiFi Planner — to fully analyze her Social Security options in order to help her determine her best strategy for maximizing her benefits. Social Security calculators provided by other companies or non-profits may provide proper suggestions if they were built with extreme care. Best, Larry

Our software would allow your wife to input projected future earnings so that she can determine how much those earnings would increase her benefit rate if she decides to delay her retirement. Best, Larry


Will I Still Be Eligible For Benefits If I Turn 62 Shortly Before My Husband’s Disability Benefits Change To Retirement Benefits?

Hi Larry, My husband is disabled and will turn 66 in October. If I turn 62 11days before his disability changes, can I still be eligible to receive benefits? Also, I was teaching and paying into the Texas Retirement System, but I had to drain my retirement account due to medical issues.

I had worked in the private sector before teaching, so I know what my retirement benefit will be at 67. To fill in the gap, I substitute teach but I can’t pay into TRS. Thanks, Nana

Hi Nana, You can potentially qualify for spousal benefits as early as the first month that you’re 62 for an entire month regardless of whether your husband is drawing Social Security disability (SSDI) or Social Security retirement benefits. If your husband was born in 1955, his full retirement age (FRA) is 66 and two months, and that’s when his SSDI benefits would automatically convert to standard Social Security retirement benefits.

You couldn’t file for spousal benefits though, without also filing for your own retirement benefits at the same time. You could then be paid essentially the higher of your retirement benefit rate or your spousal rate but either way, your benefit rate will be reduced for age if you start drawing before you reach FRA.

I can’t tell for sure from your description whether or not your benefit rate may be affected by the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and/or the Government Pension Offset (GPO) provision.

But as long as you withdrew all of your contributions to the TRS program prior to 59 1/2 and if you won’t be eligible for a pension, then you shouldn’t need to worry about WEP or GPO. Best, Larry


Will I Be Able To Draw On My Ex’s Account Since He Earned More Than I Did?

Hi Larry, I have been divorced for 20 years and never remarried. When I file for Social Security, can I draw on my ex’s work history since he made a greater amount than I. And if so, when should I start to draw? I am 59 now. I was born in 1962 and he was born in1960. Thanks, Terry

Hi Terry, My answer assumes that your ex-husband is still living. The first month that you could possibly qualify for either your own Social Security retirement benefits or for divorced spousal benefits is February 2024. You must be at least 62 for a full month to potentially qualify for either of those benefits.

Since you were born after 1/1/1954, whenever you apply for either your own retirement benefits or for divorced spousal benefits, you’ll be deemed to be filing for both benefits. You can only be paid essentially the higher of the two benefit rates, and if you start drawing prior to your full retirement age of 67 your benefit rate will be reduced for age. Best, Larry


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