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Ask Larry: Should My Wife Wait Until 70 To Collect Social Security Spousal Benefits?

Today’s column addresses questions about whether there are potential advantages to delaying spousal benefits past full retirement age (FRA), when divorced spousal benefits can be available and how spousal benefits are calculated. 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.


Should My Wife Wait Until 70 To Collect Social Security Spousal Benefits?

Hi Larry, I’ve been collecting Social Security retirement benefits since 70 and am still working full time. I see that Social Security is still deducting about $8,000 per year from my paycheck.

Since I am collecting my retirement benefit, this does not seem fair. Is this correct? Also, my wife of 41 years is now 65, going on 66, and has barely worked outside the home over her lifetime. Should she wait until she reaches 70 to collect under my record or do so at 66?

And when she collects under either scenario, will it decrease my monthly benefits?Thanks, Rod

Hi Rod, Let me answer your second question first since it’s the most critical. If your wife is eligible for spousal benefits, there’s no advantage to waiting until 70 to start drawing those benefits.

Spousal benefits do not get any higher if a person waits past their full retirement age (FRA) to start drawing their benefits. If your wife was born in 1955, her FRA would be at age 66 and two months.

Therefore, if your wife isn’t eligible for retirement benefits based on her own earnings, or if her own benefit rate would be significantly less than 50% of your primary insurance amount (PIA), the latest that your wife would want to apply for benefits is at her FRA. By the way, your PIA would be equal to the amount you would be receiving if you had started drawing your benefits at FRA.

Furthermore, if your wife qualifies for spousal benefits from your account, it will have no adverse effect on your benefits.

With regard to your first question, the answer is yes. You must continue to pay Social Security taxes on earnings that are subject to those taxes, regardless of your age or whether or not you’re drawing Social Security benefits.

Your ongoing earnings may or may not cause your benefit rate to increase, depending on how your current earnings compare to your past earnings. Social Security retirement benefits are based on an average of a person’s highest 35 years of Social Security covered wage-indexed earnings, so additional years of earnings only increase a person’s benefit rate if they’re higher than one or more of the 35 years currently being used to calculate their benefit rate. Best, Larry


Am I Able To File On My Ex’s Social Security Record?

Hi Larry, I am recently divorced after being married for 23 years. Will I be able to file for a divorced spousal benefit from my ex-husband’s Social security record? Thanks, Carla

Hi Carla, I can’t give you a specific answer without additional information about you and your ex. It sounds like you meet the duration of marriage requirement for divorced spousal benefits, but you would also need to meet the other requirements in order to actually be paid benefits. The basic requirements for divorced spousal benefits are:

1) Your ex-spouse must be receiving Social Security retirement or disability insurance benefits, or your divorce must have been final for at least two years and your ex must be at least age 62;

2) You are 62 or over;

3) You are not married;

4) You were married to the worker for at least 10 years before the date the divorce became final; and,

5) Your ex-spouse’s primary insurance amount (PIA), or full retirement age rate, is more than twice as much as your own PIA. However, if you were born before 1/2/1954, you can apply for divorced spousal benefits even if your PIA is more than half as much as your ex’s PIA provided that you don’t file for benefits prior to full retirement age (FRA).

You may also qualify at some point for divorced widow’s benefits. Best, Larry


At My Wife’s Full Retirement Age Will She Be Able To Collect 50% Of My Benefit Amount?

Hi Larry, My wife is 1.5 years older than me. She was born in 7/1957, I was born in 12/1958. Half of my projected FRA Social Security retirement benefit is more than her FRA estimate. At her FRA, will she be able to collect 50% of what my benefit will be? Thanks, Phil

Hi Phil, The answer to that depends on whether or not you are drawing your benefits at that time. Your wife couldn’t be paid any spousal benefits from your record at least until you start drawing your retirement benefits.

Based on your description, it sounds like your wife will eventually be eligible for some benefits on her own record and some additional spousal benefits.

If she waits until full retirement age (FRA) to start drawing any benefits, then her total amount would add up to a full 50% of your primary insurance amount (PIA) once you start drawing your benefits. A person’s PIA is equal to their Social Security retirement benefit rate if they start drawing their benefits at full retirement age (FRA).

But if your wife starts drawing her own benefits or spousal benefits prior to FRA her benefit rate would be reduced for age.

You and your wife may want to strongly 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


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