Today’s column addresses questions about optimizing benefits for married pule, back pay as a settlement from previous years, survivor benefits and the earnings test and spousal 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.


How Can My Wife And I Determine If We Are Maximizing Our Social Security Benefits?

Hi Larry, How can we determine that we (my wife and I) are maximizing our social security benefits? My wife started receiving her Social Security retirement benefit at age 62 being born in 1953. She has a military pension, and disability. I started start receiving my Social Security retirement benefits age 62. Thanks, Paul

Hi Paul, Regardless of whether or not you and your wife have selected the best strategy for maximizing your benefits, since you’ve both already started drawing benefits more than a year ago you’re pretty much stuck with what you’ve chosen. It’s possible that your wife might be eligible for an additional spousal benefit from your record, but only if 50% of your primary insurance amount (PIA) is more than your wife’s PIA. A person’s PIA is equal to the amount of their Social Security retirement benefit if they start drawing at full retirement age (FRA).

One thing that both you and your wife could still do is to voluntarily suspend your benefits when you reach FRA in order to earn delayed retirement credits (DRC). DRCs would increase your subsequent benefit rate by 2/3rds of 1% for each month that you suspend your benefits between FRA and age 70. You and your wife may want to try — Maximize My Social Security or MaxiFi Planner —  to help you decide whether or not to voluntarily suspend your benefits when you reach FRA. Social Security calculators provided by other companies or non-profits may provide proper suggestions if they were built with extreme care. Best, Larry


Does My Wife Need To Wait Until Full Retirement Age To Receive A 50% Spousal Benefit?

Hi Larry, I’m 68 and my wife is 63. Can she get her full spousal benefit now or does she have to wait? Thanks, Todd

Hi Todd, Yes, unless she has a child in her care who is eligible for child’s benefits and who is either under age 16 or is disabled. Otherwise, your wife’s spousal rate would be reduced for age if she starts drawing prior to full retirement age (FRA).

If a person is eligible for just spousal benefits only and they file for benefits at their FRA or later, their benefit rate would be equal to 50% of their spouse’s primary insurance amount (PIA). A person’s PIA is equal to the amount of their Social Security retirement benefit if they start drawing at FRA. Best, Larry


What Do I Need To Do About The Settlement I Received?

Hi Larry, I sued my former employer for unpaid overtime and we have just settled. I was declared medically disabled due to a renal cell carcinoma diagnosis and am collecting SSDI. These is for wages prior to my receiving disability benefits. What do I do? Thanks, Mark

Hi Mark, What you should do is contact Social Security and explain to them the circumstances of your settlement. Otherwise, assuming that your employer reports the settlement as earnings and withholds payroll taxes, Social Security will likely assume that you earned the money after you started drawing your Social Security disability (SSDI) benefits. Social Security should then be able to advise you if they need you to submit any documentation. Best, Larry


Can I Collect Widow’s Benefits At Age 60 If I’m Still Working Full Time?

Hi Larry, My husband had been on disability for about 10 years before he passed away at 64. I am now 56 and want to know the laws regarding the widow benefit. If at 60 I claim the benefit, can I still work full time and widow’s benefits? Thanks, Gabrielle

Hi Gabrielle, I’m sorry for your loss.

You could potentially qualify for widow’s benefits as early as age 60, but whether or not you could actually be paid any benefits then depends on your benefit rate and the amount that you’re earning. Until you reach full retirement age (FRA) the Social Security earnings test can cause either full or partial withholding of your benefit if you earn too much.

Normally, you would want to start out drawing the lower benefit first and then switch to the higher record when it reaches it’s highest potential rate. Best Larry


Will I Receive Half Of My Ex-‘s Social Security?

Hi Larry, I have bern divorced for five years, but was married for 32. I am 60 and my ex is 57. I was a mother of three and housewife, only working the first five years of the marriage. My current monthly Social Security would be $425 when I reach 67.5 years. My ex was a white collar, owning his own firm. I was his administrative assistant, but never earned an income. His Social Security should be close to the maximum. Will I receive half of that amount, and if, so at what age will I have to be? Will I have to wait till he retires? He is remarried, and I am currently single and never remarried. Would it change if I did marry? Thanks, Stacy

Hi Stacy, You can receive up to 50% of your ex-husband’s primary insurance amount (PIA), which is the amount that he would receive if he starts drawing his Social Security retirement benefits at his full retirement age (FRA). However, in order to receive a full half of your husband’s PIA you would need to wait until your FRA to apply for benefits.

You wouldn’t have to wait until your ex starts drawing benefits to file for divorced spousal benefits, but if he’s not drawing his benefits he’d need to be at least age 62 before you could qualify for divorced spousal benefits. And, if you file for either your own benefits or divorced spousal benefits prior to FRA, your benefits will be reduced for age.

If you remarry, you couldn’t collect divorced spousal benefits for as long as your remarriage continues. However, if you remarry at age 60 or later it would not disqualify you from potentially being able to draw survivor benefits on your ex’s record should he die before you. Best, Larry.

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/kotlikoff/2020/04/30/ask-larry-how-can-my-wife-and-i-determine-if-we-are-maximizing-our-social-security-benefits/#2b6b795937dc