Ask Larry: Can My Wife Take Social Security Retirement Benefit At 62 And Spousal Benefits Later?

Today’s Social Security column addresses questions about taking early reduced retirement benefits and switching to spousal benefits, moving from a survivor’s benefit to a retirement benefit and taking a retirement benefit while awaiting approval of a disability application. 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 My Wife Take Social Security Retirement Benefit at 62 And Spousal Benefits Later?

Hi Larry, I’m 58 and plan to retire at 70 or later. My wife is 61 and will be eligible to receive some benefits next year at 62. My wife has not worked on a job very much and would only receive about $240.

Can she take that at 62 and later get her spousal benefit equal half of what I’ll get? Or should she wait until I retire? We’re not sure how this works. Thanks Aaron

Hi Aaron, Your wife is free to start drawing her ownretirement benefits as early as age 62, but she’ll be stuck with the resulting reduction in her own rate for as long as both of you are living.

She may also be eligible to receive a partial, or excess, spousal benefit in addition that would bring her total spousal benefit up to 50% of your primary insurance amount (PIA), less her reduction for filing early.

MORE FOR YOU

A person’s PIA is the amount they’d receive if they start drawing their benefits at full retirement age (FRA). Your wife’s benefit would be reduced below this according to how many months before her FRA she files. If her PIA is less than half of your PIA — not your increased benefit at 70 — then she can receive an excess spousal benefit in addition to her reduced retirement benefit.

Her excess spousal benefit would be equal to 50% of your PIA minus 100% of her PIA if she files for her spousal benefit at her FRA. If she files for her spousal benefit before her FRA, her excess spousal benefit would also be reduced.

It sounds like you and your wife 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


Will I Continue To Receive Survivor Benefits Until I Start Getting My Own Benefits?

Hi Larry, I’m receiving survivor benefits and will apply for my own Social Security retirement benefit in March. Will I continue to receive my survivor benefits until that time and if so what happens to the two week difference in January since I was told my check will come in the fourth wee rather than the second as it does now.

I have used your program in the past and it changed my life. At 60 I called SSA they told me I’d get $1,000 which was not enough to get by on. A few months later I ordered your program. According to it I’d receive $1,500. So I made an appointment and went in to talk to an agent and your program was correct.

I continued to work until 62, drew my survivor benefits with the intent to draw my own at 70. But that may no longer be the best decision for me. Thanks, Cheryl

Hi Cheryl, Yes, although you won’t be paid both a survivor benefit and your own retirement benefit in the same month. If you claim your own retirement benefits for March, that’s the payment that arrives in April.

So your last survivor benefit payment should then arrive in the second week of March, and your first retirement benefit payment would be due in the fourth week of April. Sometimes Social Security will pay a person’s first payment on a different date than their normal payment date though, so assuming that you apply in advance, you might receive your first retirement benefit payment earlier in April than in the fourth week.

UPDATE: A subsequent reader reported that their payment date didn’t change when they switched from survivor to retirement benefits, so it’s possible that Social Security has a policy of not moving a person’s payment date if they start out collecting survivor benefits and later switch to drawing their own benefits.

The section of Social Security’s operation’s manual (POMS) that covers those types of policies is not made public by Social Security, so I don’t have access to those types of policy issues. It’s possible though that your payment date may stay the same even after you switch to collecting your own benefits. Best, Larry


Can I Collect Retirement Benefits While Waiting For A Disability Decision?

Hi Larry, I’m age 62. Can I collect Social Security benefits while I wait for a determination on my Social Security Disability claim ? I understand this process takes some time as they collect medical verification.

Will this early withdrawal adversely affect my disability benefit if I am approved? Secondly, is it worthwhile to hire a disability advocate or lawyer to move things along quicker? Thanks, Steph

Hi Steph, Yes, it’s possible to draw reduced retirement benefits while your disability claim is pending. However, your benefit rate will be permanently reduced if you are paid for any months prior to your month of disability entitlement.

I can’t really advise you whether or not to appoint a representative to handle your disability claim. I don’t think it would necessarily speed up the processing of your claim, but a good representative may be able to present your case in a more favorable light.

The downside is that there would likely be a fee for the representative’s service, which may be unnecessary if your claim would have been approved anyway. Best, Larry


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