Ask Larry: Aren’t Social Security Spousal Benefit Always Half Of The Other Spouse’s Amount?


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 column addresses how Social Security spousal benefit rates are calculated, when Social Security checks come in the mail, when to file for widow’s benefits, online applications and documenting the application process. Larry Kotlikoff is a Professor of Economics at Boston University and the founder and president of Economic Security Planning, Inc, a company that markets Maximize My Social Security and MaxiFi Planner.

See more Ask Larry answers here.

Ask Larry about Social Security here.

Aren’t Social Security Spousal Benefit Always Half Of The Other Spouse’s Amount?​​

Hi Larry, My wife filed for her Social Security retirement benefit when she turned 66. I filed for my spousal benefit then and it was 50% of her retirement benefit, which is what I expected. I turned 70 recently and my wife filed for her spousal benefit after I filed for my larger retirement benefit. My retirement benefit is around $40,000 but my wife’s spousal benefit is only around $15,000. I don’t understand why it isn’t half of my benefit? What am I missing here? Thanks, Hank

Hi Hank, A person’s spousal benefit rate is not necessarily equal to half of the worker’s retirement benefit rate. Unreduced spousal benefits are calculated at 50% of the worker’s Primary Insurance Amount (PIA), which is equal to their full retirement age (FRA) retirement benefit amount. If you wait until age 70 to start drawing your retirement benefits and you were born before 1955, your benefit amount will be 32% higher than your PIA. Your spouse’s benefit rate wouldn’t include any portion of that extra 32% though. Her spousal rate will still be calculated based on 50% of your PIA, or in other words half the benefit rate you’d receive if you started drawing your retirement benefits at your full retirement age (FRA) instead of age 70. However, if you wait until age 70 to start drawing your retirement benefits and subsequently die before your wife, her widow’s benefit rate will include the full extra 32% of extra credits that you’ll earn by waiting until age 70. Best, Larry

Can I Change The Delivery Date Of My Social Security Check?​​

Hi Larry, Can my Social Security check come on the third of the month instead of the third Wednesday of each month? It is so inconvenient for me because of when my bills are due. Thanks, Carl

Hi Carl, Probably not. You aren’t allowed to choose which day of the month to receive your Social Security payments. The only way that you could be paid your Social Security benefits on the 3rd of the month is if you were receiving benefits prior to May 1997, or if you meet one of the exceptions shown in section 121.3 of the Social Security’s handbook. Best, Larry

Would It Be Better To Wait Until My Deceased Ex’s Full Retirement Age To File On His Record?​​

Hi Larry, I was married to my ex for years. My ex passed away in 2010 at 54. I was thinking about retiring on his Social Security record in 2020, when I will be 64, and waiting to file for my retirement benefits at 70. I was wondering if will I get his full benefit or would it be a good idea or wait until his full retirement age which will be 07/2023? He never file for his benefits. Thanks, Becky

Hi Becky, The date that your ex would have reached full retirement age (FRA) isn’t important, but if you start drawing surviving divorced spouse’s benefits prior to your FRA your benefits will be reduced for age. However, if your own Social Security retirement rate will be higher than your survivor rate, it would still almost certainly be advantageous to start drawing your survivor benefits as soon as possible. Since you would eventually be switching to a higher rate on your own record, you would want to maximize the length of time that you draw the lower survivor benefits prior to making the switch. But the Social Security earnings test could cause some or all of your benefits to be withheld until you reach FRA depending on how much you are earning

Normally, you would want to start out drawing the lower benefit first and then switch to the higher record when it reaches its highest potential rate. You may want to use one of my company’s two tools — Maximize My Social Security or MaxiFi Planner — to help maximize your lifetime Social Security benefits. Social Security calculators provided by other companies or non-profits may provide proper suggestions if they were built with extreme care. Best, Larry

How Do I Delete An Online Application?

HI Larry, How do I delete an online application for Social Security benefits? I did not finish it and don’t want to finish it now but there was no option to delete the application online. Thanks, Ken

Hi Ken, As far as I know, you can’t delete an online application that you’ve started. If you decide not to apply, just be sure to not electronically sign and submit your application. Your partial application will then remain in Social Security’s database so that you can resume the application at a later date if you change your mind. Best, Larry

What Should I Do If Social Security Won’t Give Me A Date Stamped Copy?​​

Hi Larry, In an earlier response to a question about suspending retirement benefits at FRA after filing for them at 62, you wrote that the person may want to submit their request in writing and ask SSA for a date stamped copy so they’d have proof of their request. What if SSA refuses, even after asking a supervisor, to provide a date stamped copy? Do you know which section of the SSA POMS requires them to provide a date stamped copy of documents submitted? Thanks, Lou

Hi Lou, Social Security offices aren’t required to provide date stamped copies of anything you submit to them, but most offices will do so upon request. If the office you deal with refuses to provide you with a date stamped copy, just be sure to make a personal record of the date you submitted your request and the name of the employee to whom the request was submitted. Best, Larry

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

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