Ask Larry: Can My Husband Withdraw His Application And File For Spousal Benefits Instead?


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 withdrawing an application for Social Security retirement benefits, what happens with Social Security disability benefits at certain ages, survivor’s benefits and domestic partnerships, submitting an application and whether to file early or later. 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.

Can My Husband Withdraw His Application And File For Spousal Benefits Instead?​​

Hi Larry, My husband filed for his Social Security retirement benefits in February at 66. I have not filed yet and I will be 63 soon. If I file now, can he then withdraw his application, pay back what they gave him and then file a restricted application for spousal benefits only before resuming his retirement benefits at 70? Thanks, Ann

Hi Ann, Yes, since your husband has been drawing his benefits for less than 12 months, he could withdraw his application as long as he repays any benefits he’s received, and provided that he’s never filed for and withdrawn benefits previously. And since he was born prior to 1/2/1954, and if you file for and start drawing your Social Security retirement benefits, your husband could then file a restricted application for spousal benefits only while allowing his benefits to grow until 70.

You don’t mention whether or not you are still working, but if you apply for your benefits and you earn more than the Social Security earnings test exempt amount, both your benefits and your husband’s spousal benefits could be subject to full or partial withholding until you reach your full retirement age (FRA). Best, Larry

What Will Change When I Turn Age 62?​​

Hi Larry, I have been receiving SSI and disability for about six years. I will be 62 this year. What will change when I turn 62? Thanks, James

Hi James, If you’re already receiving both Social Security disability (SSDI) benefits and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), nothing will change simply because you’re turning age 62. When you reach your full retirement age (FRA) your SSDI will convert to regular Social Security retirement benefits, but both your Social Security and SSI benefit rates will likely remain unchanged. Best, Larry

Can I Still Receive Widow’s Benefits If I Enter Into A Domestic Partnership Prior To Age 60?​​

Hi Larry, I am 59 and am a widow. If I entered in a domestic partnership, can I still receive widow’s benefits? Thanks, Robyn

Hi Robyn, Yes, as long as your domestic partnership isn’t considered as a legal marriage under the laws of your state. And, of course, you’d also need to meet the other requirements for widow’s benefits. Best, Larry

Am I Filing Too Early?

Hi Larry, I will be 70 next March 5 and don’t want to my benefits to start until I am 70. Will I be filing too early if I do it in November? Also I am subject to WEP and I have 22 years of substantial earnings through 2018. I am still working in 2019 and will have enough earnings to have Substantial Earnings for 2019 by the time I turn 70. Will I get credit for 22 or 23 years. If I keep working on in to 2020 and have substantial earnings in 2020, will my benefit be adjusted upwards each year as my years of substantial earnings will increase and my WEP penalty decrease? Thanks, Sally

Hi Sally, You can file up to four months in advance of the month that you want to claim benefits, so you can file your application in November and claim benefits in March. If you turn 70 on March 5 2020, you’ll want to claim benefits effective with March 2020 in order to receive your full age 70 rate. Social Security pays benefits a month behind, so your first payment should then arrive in April.

When your benefits begin next March, they’ll reflect 23 years of substantial covered earnings for purposes of the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP). If you have substantial covered earnings in 2020, your benefit will be recomputed to reflect them. Best, Larry

Should I Take My Benefits Early Or Wait?​​

Hi Larry, I will be 62 later this year and am retired. My husband, who is 59, is currently receiving SSDI and his benefit amount is close to what his FRA benefit amount would be. We have enough money to live on and both have IRAs, liquid cash, and I receive a pension in the form of a monthly annuity. Should I take early Social Security benefits or wait until my FRA or 70? Thanks, Cara

Hi Cara, The decision on when to start drawing Social Security benefits is ultimately up to you, but 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. Your best strategy likely depends in large part on your and your husband’s relative benefit rates. If your benefit rate is comparable to or higher than your husband’s, waiting until age 70 to start drawing may well be your best option if you have sufficient income to get by until then. I don’t have sufficient information to properly advise you, though, so do consider using software so that you can make the best possible choice. Best, Larry

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

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