Today’s column addresses questions about when spousal benefits can become available based on a spouse’s Social Security record, whether a foreign pension will reduce divorced spousal benefits and when a non-covered pension may cause Social Security benefits to be reduced. 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 Can I Get Social Security Spousal Benefits?
Hi Larry, My husband and I are separated but still married. I’d like to claim spousal benefits on his record but I don’t know if that’s possible given our current separation. We do not live together but have not gotten a divorce and aren’t planning to.
Over the years I’ve heard several different rules about spousal benefits: 1) That you can claim at 62. 2) if your spouse passes on. 3) After 10 years of marriage or maybe it will be 12 years? I don’t know if any of these are true or how they would apply if they are true. Can you clarify? Thanks, Brooke
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Hi Brooke, If you’re at least age 62 and if your husband is collecting his Social Security retirement or disability benefits, then you could potentially qualify for spousal benefits unless you’re eligible for a higher retirement benefit rate based on your own earnings history.
Widow’s benefits and divorced survivor benefits can be paid as early as 60, or 50 if you’re disabled. However, if you start drawing spousal or widow’s benefits or divorced spousal or survivor benefits prior to your full retirement age (FRA), the benefit rate is reduced for age.
You only need to have been married for at least one year to potentially be eligible for benefits on the record of a current spouse. A minimum of 10 years of marriage is required if you’re applying for benefits on the record of a divorced spouse.
There isn’t enough information in your question for me to be able to offer you any advice, so you may want to check with Social Security to see about your benefit options. Best, Larry
Will Either The WEP Or The GPO Reduce My Divorced Spouse’s Benefits If I Receive A Belgian Government Pension?
Hi Larry, At FRA I will start drawing US divorced spousal Social Security Benefits. I was married 20 years and never remarried. I am also eligible for a government pension from Belgium, the equivalent of Social Security. Will either the WEP or the GPO apply and reduce my divorced spousal Social Security because of my Belgian pension? Thank, Patrice
Hi Patrice, The Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) only applies to Social Security retirement and disability benefits, so it wouldn’t affect your divorced spousal benefits.
The Government Pension Offset (GPO) provision can apply to divorced spousal benefits, but the the only way that GPO would apply to your divorced spousal benefits is if you were receiving a government pension based on your work for a governmental agency in the US.
Foreign pensions are excluded from counting as a government pension for purposes of the GPO provision. Best, Larry
Would I Be Able To Get Social Security Benefits Without A Reduction?
Hi Larry, I have worked under the Teacher Retirement System of Texas for 27 years, but was grandfathered under the Employment Retirement System (ERS) of Texas and retired with them with a combined total years of 30 years of service. The ERS does not fall under the Windfall E Provision but the Teacher Retirement did. Would I be able to get full Social Security benefits without having them reduced? Thanks, Sharon
Hi Sharon, It doesn’t sound like it. Any pension that’s based in whole or in part on a person’s earnings that were exempt from Social Security taxes can cause their benefit rate to be reduced due to the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP).
Therefore, if you’re collecting a teacher’s pension that’s based at least in part on non-Social Security covered earnings, then it’s very likely that your Social Security retirement benefit rate would be reduced by WEP.
Only the portion of your pension that’s based on non-Social Security covered earnings would be used in calculating any applicable WEP reduction, but that would only make a difference in the amount of reduction caused by the WEP if the non-covered pension amount is relatively small.
My company’s software — Maximize My Social Security or MaxiFi Planner — is fully programmed to handle calculations involving the WEP provision, so you may want to strongly consider using the software to do your retirement planning. Social Security calculators provided by other companies or non-profits may provide proper suggestions if they were built with extreme care. Best, Larry