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Ask Larry: Will A Survivor’s Benefit From My Husband’s Pension Reduce My Social Security Benefits?

Today’s column addresses questions about potential effects of survivor’s benefits from public pensions, how the earnings test might be applied when someone reaches full retirement age in January and which month to apply to ensure full age 70 benefits. 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 A Survivor’s Benefit From My Husband’s Pension Reduce My Social Security Benefits?

Hi Larry, My husband receives a pension and we have chosen the option where if he dies, I receive a survivor’s benefit from his pension. If my husband dies and I am receiving my Social Security retirement benefit, will my Social Security benefit be reduced because I am receiving the survivor’s benefit from his pension.

We ask because the WEP definitely reduced his own Social Security retirement benefit and we’re wondering whether that would transfer to me as his widow in that situation. Thanks, Marie

Hi Marie, It would not reduce your Social Security benefits.

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Both the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and the Government Pension Offset (GPO) provision only apply if a person is receiving a pension based on their own work and earnings that were exempt from Social Security taxes.

Receipt of a survivor annuity of any type would not cause your own Social Security retirement benefit rate to be reduced, nor would it have any adverse effect on any Social Security survivor benefits you might qualify for.

In fact, if your husband’s benefits are being reduced due to the WEP, that reduction would be removed when calculating your potential Social Security survivor’s benefit based on his work record.

However, if you’re receiving your own Social Security retirement benefits and if your husband dies before you, you could only be paid the higher of your own rate or your widow’s rate. Best, Larry


How Much Can I Earn In 2021 And Still Receive All Of My Benefits?

Hi Larry, If my FRA is January 2022, how much can I earn in 2021 and still get my full Social Security benefit for 2021? Thanks, Ryan

Hi Ryan, Assuming that you weren’t born on the first day of January, the regular earnings test exempt amount of $18,960 would apply for you throughout the year 2021.

If you do happen to have been born on 1/1/1956 though, Social Security would count you as reaching your full retirement age (FRA) on 12/31/2021 and you could earn up to $50,520 through November of 2021 without losing any benefits to the Social Security earnings test. Best, Larry


Which Month Should I Choose To Start My Benefits In Order To Receive My Full Age 70 Rate?

Hi Larry, I will turn 70 in November 2021. I have not taken Social Security retirement benefits on my record although I am taking a spousal benefit under a restricted application. In order to maximize my retirement benefit, should I apply to have them start in November 2021 or December 2021 and how far in advance may I submit that application?

Also, what must my wife do to switch from her own retirement benefit to a spousal benefit on my record? Also, is there a way to do that online or can I do it over the phone? Thanks, Jesse

Hi Jesse, Since you were born in November 1951, you wouldn’t want to claim your own Social Security benefits any later than the month of November 2021, assuming that your own benefit rate is higher than your spousal rate.

Social Security counts you as being 70 for the entire month of November so you’ll receive your age 70 rate if you choose November 2021 as your month of election to start your benefits.

You can apply for Social Security benefits up to four months prior to the month that you wish to claim your benefits. You can try filing online at Social Security’s website and if that doesn’t work, you’ll need to call Social Security in order to make an appointment to apply by phone or in person. Best, Larry


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