Will Her Filing Before My FRA Reduce My Wife’s Social Security Benefits?

Today’s column addresses questions about potential benefits reductions, suspending retirement benefits, benefits after not working, how divorced spousal benefits are calculate and widow’s benefits after remarriage. 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.

Will Her Filing Before My FRA Reduce My Wife’s Social Security Benefits?

Hi Larry. I really look forward to your <em>Ask Larry</em> columns. You always seem to select pertinent questions and provide comprehensible answers. My wife is 21 months older than me. She will reach her full retirement age in 6/2020. Her Social Security retirement benefit based on her own work history will be considerably smaller than her spousal benefit based on my work history. I reach my full retirement age in 1/2023, but I don’t plan on applying for my retirement benefit, and thereby triggering her eligibility for a spousal benefit, until I reach 70 in 9/2026.

We are thinking that our best option is for my wife to apply for her individual benefit in 6/2020 when she reaches her FRA and then switch to her much larger spousal benefit when I apply for my retirement benefit at 70. After the 2015 new rules, is there any reason my wife should wait until I reach FRA in 1/2023 to apply for her retirement benefit? Thank, Barry

Hi Barry, Assuming that 50% of your primary insurance amount (PIA) will be higher than your wife’s Social Security retirement benefit rate even if she waited until 70 to file, she wouldn’t want to wait past her full retirement age (FRA) to claim her benefits. A person’s PIA is equal to the amount of their Social Security retirement benefit if they start drawing at FRA. There is nothing in the deemed filing rules that would give your wife any reason to wait until you reach FRA to apply for her benefits.

By the way, your wife can’t actually switch to drawing spousal benefits when you apply for your benefits. What she can do at that time is apply for an excess spousal benefit, which will be calculated by subtracting her PIA from 50% of your PIA. The excess spousal benefit would then be paid in addition to her own benefit, which should give her a combined benefit amount equal to 50% of your PIA assuming that she doesn’t claim her own benefits prior to FRA.

The plan you outlined in your question sounds fine, but you and your wife may still want to consider using one of my company’s tools — Maximize My Social Security or MaxiFi Planner — to fully explore and compare all of your options in order to make sure that you choose the strategy most likely to maximize your benefits. Social Security calculators provided by other companies or non-profits may provide proper suggestions if they were built with extreme care. Best, Larry

Can I Suspend My Benefits And Draw On My Wife’s Record?

Hi Larry, I was born in 9/1955 and my wife was born in 1952. I am a 100% disabled veteran and was denied after two years of working with an attorney to be approved for Social Security Disability. During this time my lawyer, who was confident that we would be approved, said I should start drawing on my regular Social Security retirement benefit at a reduced rate, which I did. I started drawing my reduced benefit in 9/2018. Am I able to suspend my retirement benefit and draw my spousal benefit? My wife began her benefits at her full retirement age. Thanks, Steve

Hi Steve, You couldn’t suspend your own Social Security retirement benefits and draw spousal benefits instead. Since you were born after 1/11954, even if you hadn’t already filed for your retirement benefits if you filed for spousal benefits you’d be deemed to also be filing for your own retirement benefits. The only way that you could qualify for any spousal benefits is if your wife’s primary insurance amount (PIA) is more than twice as much as your PIA. A person’s PIA is the amount they’re paid if they start drawing their retirement benefits at full retirement age (FRA). Best, Larry

Will My Husband Still Be Eligible For Social Security If He Never Goes Back To Work?

Hi Larry, My husband stopped working to take care of his elderly parents at 58 and he is still taking care of them. If he never goes back to work, will he still be eligible for Social Security benefits? Thanks, Tarisha

Hi Tarisha, Yes, as long as your husband has at least 40 quarters of Social Security coverage, he could qualify for Social Security retirement benefits as early as 62. However, Social Security retirement benefits are calculated based on an average of a person’s highest 35 years of wage-indexed earnings, so if your husband paid into Social Security for fewer than 35 years, then zero earnings years will be averaged in when calculating his benefit rate. That in turn would likely cause him to receive a lower benefit rate than he would have received if he had not stopped working at age 58. Best, Larry

Is It Possible For Me To Get The Same Benefit Amount As My Ex Gets?

Hi Larry, I am divorced after 23 years of marriage. I started collecting Social Security retirement benefits last year when I turned 62. My ex just applied at 67 and is getting almost twice what I am. Is it possible for me to get the same as he is at this point? I heard that is possible. As I understand it, his rate is based on my earnings record as he has either been a c-corp or gotten 1099 for 40 years. Does any of this sound right to you? Thanks, Alicia

Hi Alicia, If your ex is getting a benefit rate that’s nearly twice as much as yours, he can’t be receiving benefits based on your earnings. The most that he could qualify as a divorced spouse on your record is 50% of your primary insurance amount (PIA). A person’s PIA is equal to the amount of their Social Security retirement benefit if they start drawing at full retirement age (FRA).

The only way that you could qualify for spousal benefits based on your ex’s record is if 50% of his PIA is higher than your PIA. You might want to check with Social Security to see if you could qualify for any divorced spousal benefits. Best, Larry

Will I Lose My Widow’s Benefits If I Remarry?

Hi Larry, I am 73 and collecting Social Security spousal benefits based on my first spouse’s record. He is deceased and I am planning to remarry soon. Will I lose my widow’s benefit when I remarry? Or should I just have a spiritual wedding? Thanks, Estelle

Hi Estelle, No need to worry. Marriages that occur after 60 have no effect on either your eligibility for widow’s or surviving divorced spousal benefits or your benefit rate. So since you’re already past age 60, you won’t lose your widow’s benefit if you remarry. Best, Larry

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