Today’s column addresses questions about the ability to claim survivor’s benefits on multiple exe’s records, claiming spousal benefits while receiving a pension based on income not taxed by SSA and at what age Social Security’s earnings test no longer applies. 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.
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Whose Record Should I Claim Social Security Survivor’s Benefits On?
Hi Larry, I’m not sure I understand exactly what I did but I believe that last year when I turned 66, I think I did a file and suspend on my Social Security retirement benefit to claim my spousal benefit instead, which was very minimal. My current spouse then passed away and I was switched to survivor benefit on his record which is also a very small amount. Social Security asked me if I had been previously married for longer than 10 years.
I had been married for 14 years so they asked me to provide them the documentation of our marriage and divorce. In the meantime, my ex passed away. Does that mean I would be eligible for survivor benefits on my ex’s record or only the a spousal benefit? Thanks, Vickie
Hi Vickie, I’m sorry for your loss.
First, it sounds like you’re conflating filing for and suspending your retirement benefit with filing a restricted application for your spousal benefit only. You couldn’t collect either spousal or survivor benefits if you actually did file for and suspend your retirement benefits, so what you apparently did instead was file a restricted application for just your spousal benefits.
Spousal benefits automatically convert to survivor benefits if the surviving spouse is at least full retirement age (FRA) when the worker dies, so you should have been converted to the higher survivor rate when your husband died. But if you’re eligible for a higher rate on a divorced spouse’s record, you can apply for those benefits instead.
The unreduced benefit rate payable to surviving divorced spouse’s is normally equal to what the deceased worker was either receiving or eligible for at the time of their death. If you have delayed filing for your own retirement benefits, then it sounds like you have a number of different options to consider. You may want to use my company’s software — xxxxxxx — to compare your various options and make informed decisions about the best strategy for maximizing your benefits. Best, Larry
What Claim Do I Have On My Wife’s Social Security Record?
Hi Larry, I am retired fed (CSRS) at 75. I claimed Social Security at 62 with the offset for feds so I get reduced payment, enough to cover medicare based on part time work since retiring. My wife is 65 and she is not retired and not a fed. What benefits could I potentially claim based on her earnings record? Thanks, Greg
Hi Greg, In the first place, your wife would have to be drawing her retirement benefits in order for you to potentially qualify for spousal benefits. When your wife does claim her retirement benefits, your unreduced spousal rate (i.e. the amount payable if you are full retirement age (FRA) or older) would be calculated by subtracting your primary insurance amount (PIA) from 50% of your wife’s PIA. A person’s PIA is equal to the amount of their Social Security retirement benefit if they start drawing at FRA.
Assuming that 50% of your wife’s PIA is higher than your PIA though, it sounds like any spousal amount that you’d otherwise qualify for would be offset by 2/3rds of the amount of your CSRS pension. That’s because of the Government Pension Offset (GPO) provision. So you’ll likely only be able to collect spousal benefits if 2/3rds of your CSRS pension is less than your spousal rate. Best, Larry
Is It True That You Can Work All You Want If You’re Getting Full Retirement Benefits?
Hi Larry, Is it true that when you are getting your full retirement benefits, you can also work? I’ve been told you can work all you want. Can you please clear this up? Thanks, Carolyn
Hi Carolyn, Whether or not you can earn an unlimited amount and still be paid all of your Social Security benefits depends on your age. If you are full retirement age (FRA) or older, then you can be paid all of your Social Security benefits regardless of how much you work and earn. If you’re below FRA, some or all of your Social Security benefits can be withheld subject to Social Security’s earnings test rules. Best, Larry