Ask Larry: Can My Girlfriend Get Her Retirement Benefit Now And Spousal Benefits When We Marry?

Today’s column addresses questions about becoming eligible for spousal benefits after marriage, drawing spousal benefits after taking early retirement benefits and when SSA recomputes benefit amounts to account for continuing income. Larry Kotlikoff is a Professor of Economics at Boston University and the founder and president of Economic Security Planning, Inc, which markets Maximize My Social Security and MaxiFi Planner.

See more Ask Larry answers here.

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


Can My Girlfriend Get Her Retirement Benefit Now And Spousal Benefits When We Marry?

Hi Larry, I am 68 and my girlfriend is 66. I don’t intend to file for my Social Security retirement benefits until I am 70. We intend to marry at that time. Her benefit now would be around $1,600 and my benefit at 70 will be closer to $3,400. Can she file for her retirement benefit now and then when we marry, would she be able to switch and her spousal benefit from my work history? Would it be half of my benefit at that time? Thanks, Hal

Hi Hal, Your girlfriend could file for her Social Security retirement benefits now and then file for spousal benefits later, but she couldn’t get 50% of your full age 70 rate as a spouse. The most she could be eligible for is 50% of your primary insurance amount (PIA), which is the amount that you’d be drawing if you had started drawing your benefits at full retirement age (FRA). However, if she’s already drawing her retirement benefits, then the most that she could be paid is the higher of her own benefit rate or 50% of your PIA.

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Also, a spouse normally can’t qualify for spousal benefits until they’ve been married for at least a year, although there are exceptions. It sounds like you and your girlfriend may want to consider using my company’s software — Maximize My Social Security or MaxiFi Planner — to fully analyze the options available to you in order to determine your best strategy for maximizing your benefits. Social Security calculators provided by other companies or non-profits may provide proper suggestions if they were built with extreme care. Best, Larry


Can I Get A Spousal Benefit When My Wife Starts Drawing Her Retirement Benefits?

Hi Larry, I took my benefit at 62. My wife filed a restricted application for spousal benefits when she reached 66. She will switch to her retirement benefits with the delayed credits in March 2021, when she turns 70. Can I get an additional spousal benefit at that time? Thanks, Bill

Hi Bill, You can’t actually switch to a spousal benefit, but you might be able to qualify for an excess spousal benefit in addition to your own benefit amount. You’ll only qualify for an excess spousal benefit though if your wife’s primary insurance amount (PIA) is more than twice as much as your 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).

For example, say Ray files for his Social Security retirement benefits at 62. Ray’s PIA is $800, but Ray’s benefit rate is reduced for age to $590. Several years later Ray’s wife applies for her retirement benefits, and her PIA is $2,000.

Ray’s unreduced excess spousal benefit would then be calculated by subtracting his PIA from 50% of his wife’s PIA, which in Ray’s case amounts to $200 (i.e. $2000 / 2 – $800). If Ray is at least full retirement age (FRA) when he becomes eligible for the spousal benefit, he would then be paid the unreduced excess spousal amount of $200 in addition to his own reduced rate of $590 to give him a combined rate of $790. Best, Larry


Do You Know When SSA Might Catch Up With Recomputing Benefits?

Hi Larry, I began receiving Social Security retirement benefit at my full retirement age while continuing to work. Each March I have received an additional bump when they update my earnings from the previous year.

Our tax returns have always been filed the first of February but I have not yet received that bump from working all of 2019, my highest earning year ever! I suppose this has been due to covid-19 furloughs. Do you know when the SSA might catch up? Thanks, Brooke

Hi Brooke, Social Security usually runs their automated earnings recomputations around this time of year. I don’t know if that process will be delayed this year due to the pandemic, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it is.

Whenever they get it done, if you’re due a recomputation Social Security will pay you any back pay that you have coming. You could submit proof of your earnings for 2019 (e.g. W-2 for wages, Schedule SE for self-employment) and request a manual recomputation, but if the automated process is delayed then manual recomputations would probably be delayed as well. Best, Larry


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