Ask Larry: Can I Qualify For Spousal Benefits?

Taxes

Today’s Social Security column addresses questions about how and when spousal benefits can be available for each spouse in turn, drawing divorced spousal benefits with multiple exes and when first payments can be expected. Larry Kotlikoff is a Professor of Economics at Boston University and the founder and president of Economic Security Planning, Inc.

See more Ask Larry answers here.

Have Social Security questions of your own you’d like answered? Ask Larry about Social Security here.


Can I Qualify For Spousal Benefits?

Hi Larry, My wife is currently 61 and is no longer working. She worked for the state for over 25 years. I am soon to be 65 and plan on retiring in when I’m 66 and six months, my FRA. We’re not sure what our options are but were curious if any of the following can be applicable.

If my wife starts collecting her retirement benefits at 62, could I apply for spousal benefits under her record? If I can, what effect would that have on my retirement benefits at my FRA? And would my wife be able to then collect spousal benefits under my record when I elect to start retirement benefits at my FRA? Thanks, Bill

Hi Bill, You can’t apply for spousal benefits without also filing for your retirement benefits at the same time. You could then only be paid essentially the higher of the two benefit rates. Only people born prior to 1/2/1954 were allowed to apply just for spousal benefits, and only if they applied at full retirement age (FRA) or later.

Your wife may be able to qualify for an excess spousal benefit in addition to her own benefit when you start collecting your benefits, but only if your primary insurance amount (PIA) is more than twice as much as her PIA. A person’s PIA is equal to their Social Security retirement benefit rate if they start drawing their benefits at full retirement age (FRA).

You and your may want to consider using my company’s software — Maximize My Social Security or MaxiFi Planner — to ensure your household receives the highest lifetime benefits. Social Security calculators provided by other companies or non-profits may provide proper suggestions if they were built with extreme care. Best, Larry


Am I Able To Draw On My First Husband’s Record After A Period Of Time After Divorcing My Second Husband?

Hi Larry, I’m 62 and in process of getting a divorce. This is my second (and last!) marriage. Am I able to draw on my first husband’s record after a period of time post divorce? My retirement benefit will only be $900 a month but I will probably start soon because I’m having medical issues.

From what I’ve heard, it may be possible to transition to his later on. We were married 11 years. I’ve only been legally married to my current husband for four years although we’ve lived together for nine. Hope you can clarify this for me! Thanks, Stephanie

Hi Stephanie, You just need to be unmarried in order to potentially qualify for divorced spousal benefits on the record of a former spouse. You don’t need to serve a waiting period after divorcing a subsequent spouse before you can potentially qualify for divorced spousal benefits on the record of a former spouse. You would, however, need to meet the other requirements for divorced spousal benefits.

You can’t apply for divorced spousal benefits without also applying for your own retirement benefits at the same time though, and you could only be paid essentially the higher of the two benefit rates.

Furthermore, your benefit rate will be reduced if you start drawing benefits prior to your full retirement age (FRA), and the Social Security earnings test could cause some of all of your benefits to be withheld if you continue working and if you earn too much. Best, Larry


Can You Tell Me When I’ll Get My First Payment?

Hi Larry, I will be 62 in November. I am aware that I will not be getting my full benefit but I plan to still work and draw my retirement benefit. I was told that I could receive my benefits in December 2022 and someone else told me that it would be January 2023 Can you tell me which is correct? Thanks, Peter

Hi Peter, My answer assumes that your ongoing earnings won’t be high enough to prevent you from being paid benefits. The earliest that a person can qualify for Social Security retirement benefits is the first month that they are 62 for an entire month. So, unless you were born on the first or second day of November, then December would be your first possible month of entitlement to benefits.

And since Social Security pays benefits a month behind, that would mean that your first payment wouldn’t be due until sometime in January. But if you were born on the first or second day of November and if you claimed benefits starting with November, then your first payment would be due in December.

Again, though, that’s assuming that your earnings will be low enough to allow you to draw benefits. Best, Larry


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