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Ask Larry: Will Retroactively Filing For My Retirement Benefit Now Lower My Spousal Benefit Later?

Today’s column addresses questions about potential effects of retroactive retirement benefits on later spousal benefits, potential survivor benefits for non-citizens living outside the US and how marriage can affect eligibility for disable adult child benefits based on a parent’s record. 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 Retroactively Filing For My Retirement Benefit Now Lower My Spousal Benefit Later?

Hi Larry, My FRA was in February 2020 at 66. I did not file for my Social Security retirement benefits at that time. Now in early 2021 I am considering filing a six-month retroactive claim under my own record.

I do understand that my monthly benefit will be calculated based on what I would have been receiving then if I had filed at that time. I also know that I will receive the previous six months in one lump sum and moving forward will receive a lower amount that if I just began my benefits now.

As stated before I would be filing for my own retirement benefit under my own record. I am married. My husband is not drawing his Social Security retirement benefit yet. He will not reach his FRA until later this year.

When he starts drawing his retirement benefit, can I switch to the spousal benefit, which will be a higher amount? Am I jeopardizing receiving a higher amount as my spousal benefit if I file a retroactive claim for my retirement benefit under my own record? I know that the spousal benefit is not more than 50% of what he’d get at his FRA.

Will I still qualify for the actual 50% amount for my spousal benefit if I file retroactively for my retirement benefit? Thanks, Maura

Hi Maura, You won’t jeopardize your potential spousal benefits if you file for your own retroactively benefits retroactively for six months.

Since you were born after 1/1/1954, you could never file just for spousal benefits without also applying for your own retirement benefits.

And if your own benefit rate if you waited until 70 to apply would be less than 50% of your spouse’s primary insurance amount (PIA), it would almost certainly be advantageous to file for your own benefits as soon as possible and claim the maximum six months of back pay. A person’s PIA is equal to their Social Security retirement benefit rate if they start drawing their benefits at full retirement age (FRA).

You can’t actually technically switch from drawing your own benefits to collecting just spousal benefits, and you can’t qualify for a spousal benefit at least until your spouse starts drawing his benefits.

If you’re drawing your own benefits and if you later qualify for spousal benefits, your spousal benefit rate would be calculated by subtracting your PIA, augmented by any delayed retirement credits (DRCs) you’ve earned by waiting past full retirement age (FRA) to start drawing, from 50% of your spouse’s PIA.

So if your PIA including DRCs is less than half of your husband’s PIA, once your husband starts drawing his benefits, your combined retirement and excess spousal benefit rate would amount to 50% of your husband’s PIA regardless of whether you started drawing your own benefits at your FRA or any month thereafter.

I sounds like you and your husband may want to consider using my company’s software — Maximize My Social Security or MaxiFi Planner — to make sure that you’re choosing the best possible filing 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 My Mother Get My Dad’s Social Security Benefits?

Hi Larry, My dad is 70 and received his Social Security retirement benefit even though he is not a US citizen. Sadly he passed away this last December.

My mom is 63 and they have been married for 37 years. My mom is living outside of US. Can you tell us if my mom can get a Social Security survivor benefit off my dad’s record. Thanks, Dennis

Hi Dennis, I’m sorry for your loss. Your mother wouldn’t be able to continue drawing your father’s actual retirement benefits, but it’s possible that she may qualify for survivor’s benefits.

I can’t tell you whether or not your mother would be eligible to collect survivor benefits though, because the correct answer depends on factors such as your mother’s country or countries of citizenship and residence, and possibly the amount of time that your mother and father lived together in the US as a couple.

If your mother does qualify for survivor’s benefits, her best course of action would likely depend on a) the age your father started drawing his benefits at, and b) whether or not your mother is eligible for US Social Security benefits based on her own earnings and if so, the the comparative amounts of your mother’s own US Social Security retirement benefit and her potential survivor benefit rate.

Your mother can contact Social Security to see what if any benefits she may qualify for. Best, Larry


Could I Qualify For Disabled Adult Child’s Benefits From My Father If My Husband Is Approved For Disability Benefits?

Hi Larry, I’ve been disabled before age 22. I’m currently married. If my husband gets approved for Social Security, would I be able to get adult child disability from my father who recently passed away?

I’ve read you have to be unmarried but if you marry someone on Social Security, you can still get adult child disability. I didn’t know how it worked when you’re already married and during the marriage your spouse get Social Security. Would I be eligible to draw off my dad’s Social Security record since I’ve been disabled since 18? I’ve never drawn off my dad’s record other than when I was under 18 and living with him. I’ve never filled for adult child disability. I’ve been on SSI since I was 18. Thanks, Heather

Hi Heather, I’m sorry for your loss.

You can’t become newly entitled to disabled adult child’s (DAC), now also known as childhood disability benefits (CDBs), benefits if you’re married. The only way that you can collect CDBs benefits and be married is if a) your marriage occurred after your date of entitlement to CDBs, and b) the person that you marry is receiving Social Security benefits.

It sounds like the only way that you could potentially qualify for CDBs is if your entitlement date to CDBs precedes your marriage date, and if your husband’s date of entitlement to Social Security disability benefits also precedes the date of your marriage.

I don’t have enough information to know if that’s possible in your case, so you may want to discuss your situation with a Social Security claims representative or technical expert. Best, Larry


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