When I File For Social Security Retirement Benefits, Will I Lose My Spousal Benefits?

Today’s column addresses questions about whether filing for retirement benefits will mean an end to spousal benefits, whether filing for divorced spousal benefits at 62 would affect retirement benefits and what happens to the money a person paid into Social Security when they die. Larry Kotlikoff is a Professor of Economics at Boston University and the founder and president of Economic Security Planning, Inc, which markets Maximize My Social Security and MaxiFi Planner.

See more Ask Larry answers here.

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


When I File For Social Security Retirement Benefits, Will I Lose My Spousal Benefits?

Hi Larry, I’m age 66 and collecting spousal benefits. I haven’t filed for my Social Security retirement benefits yet. I am not retired but I have lost my job because of the pandemic. I plan to sign up for retirement when I’m 70. When I retire will I lose my spousal benefits? Thanks, Anna

Hi Anna, Only people born prior to 1/2/1954 are allowed to apply for spousal benefits without also being required to file for their own retirement benefits at the same time. And they can only do so if they file for spousal benefits at full retirement age (FRA) or later.

If you’re just drawing spousal benefits and if you eventually apply for your retirement benefits, you can only be paid the higher of the two rates. By the way, that would be true even if you were receiving survivor benefits instead of spousal benefits. If your retirement benefit rate is higher, your spousal benefits will be terminated when you start drawing your retirement benefits. If your retirement benefit isn’t higher, then there’s probably no reason you’d want to apply for your own benefits. If you did though, you’d be paid your own rate plus a partial spousal benefit rate that would add up to your higher spousal rate. The two benefits would then be combined into one payment.

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


If I Collect Divorced Spousal Benefits At 62, Will It Affect My Retirement Benefits When I Turn 70?

Hi Larry, My ex is 71 and I am 60. We were married 13 years. I have never remarried again. If I collect spousal benefits based on his earnings record at 62 till I turn 70, would it affect my retirement benefits when I turn 70? Thanks, Joseph

Hi Joseph, Since you were born after 1/1/1954, you could never file for divorced spousal benefits on a living ex’s record without also being required to file for your own retirement benefits at the same time. So to be clear, as long as your ex is still living, there is no way that you could file just for divorced spousal benefits and allow your own retirement benefit rate to keep growing.

Only people born prior to 1/2/1954 are allowed to file for spousal or divorced benefits while their spouse or ex-spouse is living without also being required to file for their own benefits at the same time. So if you file for benefits at 62, you’ll only qualify for essentially the higher of your own benefit rate or your divorced spousal rate, and your benefit amount will be reduced for age. Best, Larry


When A Spouse Dies, Where Does The Remaining Money Go If It’s Not Used Up?

Hi Larry, what happens to the money they paid in Social Security taxes if a spouse dies? Does it get allocated to the survivors? If not, why doesn’t it? Thanks, Charles

Hi Charles, Social Security is an insurance program designed to help replace income lost due to death, disability or old age. It is not an individual retirement account that can be passed on to heirs. Any taxes that a person pays remain in the Social Security trust fund unless and until either that person or their eligible dependents or survivors meet the requirements for entitlement to Social Security benefits.

As it true with most insurance programs, there is no guarantee that you or any any of your relatives will ever be able to collect benefits based on your contributions to the program. Best, Larry


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