Ask Larry: ​​​​​​When's The Earliest We Can Start Social Security Spousal Benefits?

Social Security may be one of your largest assets. What and when you collect will make a huge difference to your lifetime benefits.

Today’s post examines when spousal benefits first become available, remarriage and widow(er)’s benefits, the availability of divorced spousal benefits, working and disability benefits and whether filing a restricted application is possible. Larry Kotlikoff is the founder and president of Economic Security Planning, a company that markets Maximize My Social Security, a Social Security benefits calculator referred to in this post.

When’s The Earliest We Can Start Social Security Spousal Benefits?​​

Hi Larry, My husband, the higher earner, will be at FRA next February. I will be 62 during the same month. He intends to file a restricted application and obtain his spousal benefit as soon as possible after I file for my reduced retirement benefit at 62. I plan to apply in November for my retirement benefit to begin in February. Since, at least to us, there seems to be some ambiguity, please specify when he should file his restricted application, as we are not sure if you can do it at the same time that I apply, or soon thereafter, or a couple of days into the month of 2/18, or whether he has to wait until I actually collect that month. Obviously, he would like to commence collecting his spousal benefit as soon as possible, without any lag. Thanks, Genevieve

Hi Genevieve, Unless you were born on 2/1 or 2/2, your first possible month of entitlement to reduced retirement benefits will be March. This is because you must be at least age 62 for an entire calendar month to qualify. If your first month of entitlement is 3/2019, that’s also the first month that your husband can be eligible for spousal benefits on your record. He can apply up to 4 months in advance, but not before you file your application. You could both file on the same day, though. Best, Larry

Is My First Husband’s Social Security Lost To Me Due To My Remarriage?​​

Hi Larry, My husband of 38 years passed away in 2012 – he was 56 years old. I remarried prior to the age of 60. Is my first husband’s retirement benefit totally lost to me. After 38 years together? I don’t understand why – no one else is entitled to this benefit. Thanks, Leslie

Hi Leslie, One of the requirements for eligibility for widow’s benefits is that you must be unmarried, or if you are remarried your remarriage must have occurred at age 60 or later. I’ve given up trying to interpret the reasoning used by Congress when they passed the various Social Security laws and amendments. Your first husband’s Social Security isn’t necessarily lost to you permanently, though. If your current marriage ends in death or divorce, you could potentially claim widow’s benefits on your first husband’s record at that time. An expert Social Security benefits calculator as described in other answers can help you sort through your options. Best, Larry

Can I File For Benefits On My Ex-Husband’s Record Even If He Hasn’t Yet Filed?​​

Hi Larry, I am almost 69, so could have started taking Social Security at 66 but I was planning to take it at 70 so it would be at its max. At 66 I looked into the idea of claiming on the record of my ex-husband’s earnings (we were married 13 years) but it looked like I could only do that if his Social Security benefits were higher than mine. He told me that because of the total taxed Social Security earnings ceiling he thought we would each get the same amount. However that ceiling in 2017 for example is $127,200. I’m sure he exceeded that but I didn’t. He turned 70 in February of this year and retired in May from a job as dean of a law school. He is planning to work part time. I don’t know if he has applied for Social Security. Given these facts, can I file for Social Security divorced spousal benefits from Social Security if they are higher than mine? He always earned more than me and worked until 70, whereas I retired at 63 and did a year and a half of part-time work, which has now ended? Can I do this even if he has not filed for his Social Security retirement benefits? Thanks, Alma

Hi Alma, It sounds like you could have been drawing divorced spousal benefits since age 66 assuming that you divorced at least two years before that and haven’t remarried. That’s true regardless of how much your own retirement benefit rate would be, provided that you haven’t already started drawing benefits on your own record.

Your ex doesn’t need to be drawing his benefits in order for you to potentially be eligible for divorced spousal benefits as long as your divorce has been final for at least two years. Unfortunately, though, you can only claim divorced spousal benefits retroactively for up to 6 months before your month of filing, so it sounds like you would likely want to file for them ASAP. You could then switch to drawing retirement benefits on your own record at age 70 if your own rate is higher than your divorced spousal benefit rate at that time, and you could file that application up to 4 months prior to the month you reach age 70. You can run an expert Social Security benefits calculator, such as my company’s software or another extremely accurate program to make sure that you choose the optimal filing strategy. Best, Larry

Can I Work When My Disability Benefits Convert To Regular Social Security?​​

Hi Larry, I am on disability. I turn 65 in December. I think I switch over to a regular Social Security retirement benefit then, right? I am so far in debt from trying to live on disability and paying high insurance rates for supplemental and before Medicare high deductible. As much as my doctors don’t want me to work and its going to be hard, I take lots of pain meds. I have to get my debt down. When it switches over can I work? I have a student loan too that is deferred right now. It might open when it changes to Social Security, unfortunately. Thanks, Bill

Hi Bill, Your disability benefits won’t convert to regular retirement benefits until you reach full retirement age, which is age 66 in your case. Starting then you could earn any amount without affecting your Social Security benefits. Even while you’re still receiving disability benefits, though, you are allowed to have some earnings without affecting your benefits. I’m not sure what will happen with your student loan repayments. Best, Larry

Can I Draw Spousal Benefits At Age 66 And Switch To My Own Record Later?​​

Hi Larry, My husband turned 66 in June, and took his full Social Security retirement benefit then. I will turn 66 in November of this year and am currently considering what my best retirement strategy options are. My understanding is that I can apply for my spousal benefit when I turn 66 and then decide to collect my retirement benefit at a later time. Is that a correct assumption?

Also, do I have to then wait until age 70 to collect my retirement benefit or can I decide to do that at any age? Thanks, Teresa

Hi Teresa, The answer to both of your questions is yes. You just need to be sure to restrict the scope of your application to spousal benefits only, and to select the month of your age 66 attainment as your month of election to start your spousal benefits.

Although you could choose to switch to your own retirement benefits at any time after starting your spousal benefits, your retirement benefit rate will grow by 8% per year for each year you delay taking your own benefits until age 70 due to delayed retirement credits (DRCs). DRCs are calculated and applied monthly. That’s true even if you don’t work at all between ages 66 and 70. So assuming that your own retirement benefit rate is higher than your spousal rate, your best strategy would likely be to hold off switching to your own record until age 70. As noted in other answers, you can use an expert Social Security benefits calculator, such as Maximize My Social Security or a similarly precise and careful program, to be certain though. Best, Larry

To learn more about your Social Security options, visit Economic Security Planning, Inc.

Source: Forbes
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