Ask Larry: Will Social Security’s Earnings Test Require My Daughter And I To RePay Benefits?

Today’s column addresses questions about which benefits on a worker’s record are subject to the earnings test, how survivor benefits are determined and whether having filed a restricted application for spousal benefits only mean you must file for retirement benefits at the same office. 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.

Will Social Security’s Earnings Test Require My Daughter And I To RePay Benefits?

Hi Larry, My husband recently filed for his Social Security retirement benefit. His job is cutting back his days and we have to take it earlier than we wanted. He turns 65 this month. Unbeknownst to me, my daughter and I are eligible for benefits as well. She is 15. If he makes more than the income threshold, does this mean that she and I would have to pay back our benefits as well? Thanks, Annie

Hi Annie, Yes. You and your daughter couldn’t be paid benefits from your husband’s Social Security account for any months that his benefits need to be withheld due to his earnings. However, your and your daughter’s benefit amounts would be counted when calculating the amount required to be withheld.


For example, say Bob will earn $25,560 this year. The earnings test exempt amount in 2021 is $18,960, so Bob’s earnings will exceed the exempt amount by $6,600. So Social Security would need to withhold $3,300 of the benefits payable on Bob’s account in 2021, or $1 for every $2 that his earnings exceed the exempt amount. Bob’s monthly benefit rate is $1,800, and his wife and daughter are each eligible for auxiliary benefits of $750 per month.

By withholding both Bob’s benefit and his wife’s and daughter’s benefits for one month, Social Security would recover the required $3,300 to be withheld. Bob and his wife and daughter could all then be paid their benefits for any remaining months of entitlement in 2021.

It sounds like you and your husband 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.

How Much Of My Benefit Does My Wife Receive If I Die?

Hi Larry, Can you tell me what my wife’s widow’s benefit would be if I were to die first? Thanks, Calvin

Hi Calvin, The exact percentage of your benefit amount that your widow could receive would depend on her age and other factors. Basically though, she could potentially be paid up to 100% of your benefit rate if she’s at least full retirement age when she starts drawing as a widow. However, if your wife is receiving her own retirement benefit, she could only be paid up to the higher of your benefit rate or her own benefit rate, not both. Best Larry

Is It True That I Can Only Apply For My Benefits At My Local Office?

Hi Larry, I filed a restricted application for a spousal benefit only back in 2017 when I turned FRA 66. I filed at my local Social Security office. I have been receiving I am turning 70 and I have been told on the Social Security national 800 number that since I filed for the spousal at the local office, I can only file on my own record at 70 at the local office and cannot file over the phone. Is that true and if so, why is that? Thanks, Sue

Hi Sue, You certainly wouldn’t need to file your application in person. I’m not sure whether or not you’d be able to file online, but if not then you can definitely make an appointment to apply by phone with a Social Security claims representative.

I’m not sure if there was some type of misunderstanding when you spoke to the person on the 800 number, but the people answering the 800 number don’t actually take claims for benefits. They are sometimes able to make an immediate referral to a teleservice claims representative, but more typically they set up future appointment dates for people who want to apply for benefits. Those subsequent appointments are normally handled by a claims representative who works in the field office nearest to the applicant’s home address. Best, Larry

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