Today’s Social Security column addresses questions about the potential for continued income to increase benefit rates, who can and when can receive spousal benefits before retirement benefits, and eligibility for divorced spousal benefits. Larry Kotlikoff is a professor of economics at Boston University and founder and president of Economic Security Planning, Inc.
see more Ask Larry answers here.
Have your own Social Security questions you’d like answered? Ask Larry about Social Security here.
Will my benefit increase if I keep working?
Hi Larry, I took early retirement at 62 and am still working. I plan to continue working for several more years. Will this increase my retirement benefit rate? thanks harold
Hi Harold, Continuing to work and paying Social Security could potentially increase your benefit rate. However, whether or not your additional earnings would increase your benefit rate depends on how much you earn relative to what you earned in prior years.
Social Security retirement benefits are based on an average of a person’s highest 35 years of salary-indexed earnings covered by Social Security, so additional years of earnings only increase a person’s benefit rate if are taller than one or more than the age of 35 currently. used to calculate the person’s rate of benefit.
If your earnings in the years after you started collecting benefits are high enough to increase your benefit rate, Social Security should automatically increase your rate and pay you any additional benefits owed. best, larry
If my wife files for spousal benefits now, can she claim her higher retirement benefit later?
Hi Larry, I was just approved for my retirement benefits and I am past my full retirement age. He will reach his full retirement age next year and his benefit will be more than half of mine.
Can you get spousal benefits for multiple years before filing your own record, and if so, will you be able to get your higher retirement benefit or be subject to your lower spousal benefit? thanks barney
Hi Barney, if your wife doesn’t reach Full Retirement Age (FRA) until next year, then what you’re proposing isn’t a valid option for her. Since her wife was apparently born after 1/1/1954, she cannot apply for spousal benefits without her also having to apply for her retirement benefits at the same time.
And if her own primary insurance (PIA) amount is more than 50% of her PIA, then she won’t be eligible for spousal benefits no matter when she applies. A person’s PIA is equal to their Social Security retirement benefit rate if they start collecting their benefits in FRA.
Only people born before 2/1/1954 can get spousal benefits while letting their own benefit rate grow, and even they can only do so if they wait at least until their FRA to claim spousal benefits. Otherwise, a claim for spousal benefits is also a claim for the person’s own Social Security retirement benefits. And if a person applies for benefits before their FRA, their benefit rate is reduced based on age.
If your wife was, in fact, born before 2/1/1954, then you could apply for spousal benefits now and switch to your own higher benefit at a later date. However, assuming that her wife was born after 1/1/1954 and if her own PIA is more than 50% of hers, then her only real choice is to decide when she will apply for her own benefits. her.
You and your wife may want to consider using my company’s software: Maximize my Social Security either MaxiFi Planner — to ensure your household receives the highest benefits for life. Social Security calculators provided by other companies or non-profit organizations can provide adequate suggestions if they are carefully constructed. best, larry
Can I file a statement on my ex’s record?
Hi Larry, my ex-husband told me that I could choose between a spousal benefit or his retirement benefit rate. I chose the spouse, but then he took me back to court and took my spouse. Now that I’m not working, can I get a benefit on my Social Security record? Does any of this sound good? thanks michelle
Hi Michelle, People cannot negotiate their rights to Social Security benefits in a divorce settlement, nor can a state or local court take away their right to Social Security benefits. So I’m having a hard time understanding your description of events.
Social Security would never pay you your spouse’s Social Security retirement benefits, but you could potentially qualify for divorced spouse’s benefits if you meet the requirements. And if you qualify for divorced spouse benefits, you can apply for and receive those benefits regardless of any agreement you have or had with your ex. You do not need your permission to claim divorced spouse benefits on your Social Security record.
However, to qualify for divorced spouse benefits, you must meet the requirements for those benefits. That includes having been married to her ex for at least 10 years, not currently married, and at least 62 years old. Also, your ex would have to be at least 62 or receive Social Security retirement or disability benefits.
And if you’re already collecting Social Security retirement or disability benefits, then you might only qualify for additional benefits for divorced spouses while your ex is still alive if 50% of their Primary Insurance Amount (PIA) is more than your own PIA. A person’s PIA is equal to their Social Security retirement benefit rate if they begin collecting benefits at full retirement age (FRA).
If he predeceases you, you may also qualify for divorced widow’s benefits, which would be equal to what he earns or is eligible to earn at the time of your death.
If you think you qualify, you can call Social Security to apply or to discuss your filing options. best, larry
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