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Follow-Up Questions from Woman's Guide Fact Sheet
Q: I read your woman's guide to Social Security. In it, you said that I wouldn't be able to get any of my husband's Social Security if my own benefit is higher than his amount. But in another fact sheet where you wrote about maximizing one's Social Security, you said that I could take part of my husband's Social Security at 66 and then delay my own until 70. Can I do that even when my Social Security is higher than my husband's benefit?
A: Yes, you can. And this is yet another example of the "ifs ands or buts" of Social Security law that I write about all the time. In the woman's guide fact sheet, I correctly wrote that normally a woman who gets a higher retirement benefit than her husband cannot expect to get any supplemental benefits as a spouse on his record. In fact, in that scenario, the husband might be due some supplemental husband's or widower's benefits on his wife's Social Security account.
But it is also true that if a person waits until age 66 to claim Social Security benefits, he or she can temporarily waive eligibility to his or her own retirement benefits. Instead, one can take benefits as the husband or wife on the spouse's Social Security record. So you could do just that: Take a 50 percent wife's benefit on your husband's Social Security record at age 66. Then at age 70, switch to full retirement benefits on your own record; benefits that would come with a 32 percent delayed retirement bonus.
However, you'd have to recognize that you're taking a bit of a gamble if you do that. You'd be throwing away four year's worth of higher benefits on your own Social Security record — hoping that you'll live long enough after age 70 to come out ahead with the bonus payments.
Q: I am 65 and have been getting Social Security for a couple of years. My wife is 63 and still working. She plans to work until she is 66. But her brother has advised her to retire now and take her Social Security right away. He said she could get her own benefit and half of mine. Is this true?
A: No, it's not true. The Social Security Administration almost always pays a woman her own retirement benefit first. Then they look to see if that payment can be supplemented with any extra benefits from a spouse's record. Because your wife is only 63 and under her "full retirement age," that supplement could only be about 40 percent of your retirement benefit.
Q: My wife recently passed away. I am 68. About five years ago, I applied for Social Security and she started getting wife's benefits on my record because she didn't have enough work credits to get her own Social Security. I was under the impression that my benefits were reduced when she went on my record. So when she died, I expected my benefits to go back up. But they didn't. How come? Also, I didn't get any funeral benefits from Social Security for her. Was this correct?
A: Your Social Security benefits were NOT reduced because your wife was getting spousal benefits on your record. They probably were reduced because you took your own benefits before your full retirement age. But anything paid to your wife was an "add-on" benefit that had no impact on the money paid to you. So your benefit does not go up after your wife dies.
Also, the small one-time death benefit ($255) is only paid on the record of someone who had enough work credits to be eligible for his or her own Social Security benefit.
Q: I am a 62-year-old divorced woman who recently started working following many years as a housewife and mother. I read your Social Security guide for women, and it said I could get wife's benefits from my ex-husband's record. (We were married for almost 40 years.) But when I called the Social Security office to apply, they said I'm not eligible. I was so confused and disappointed that I didn't really understand why I wasn't allowed to file for my ex's Social Security. Do you know why?
A: My hunch is due to your work and earnings. As I explained in the woman's guide to Social Security, a woman getting benefits as a wife or widow (or divorced wife or widow) is subjected to the same earnings penalties that apply to retirees. In a nutshell, those rules say that if you are under age 66 and still working, your Social Security benefits must be reduced by $1 for every $2 you make over $14,160 per year. So, depending on how much more than $14,160 you're earning per year, you're probably not due any Social Security benefits on anyone's record until you retire or turn 66.
If you have a Social Security question, Tom Margenau has the answer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about Tom Margenau and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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