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No Marriage Penalty Under Social Security
Q: I am living with a man and have been for many years. The reason we have never gotten married is that we heard our Social Security benefits would be cut if we tie the knot. Is this true?
A: No, it is NOT true. That's just one of the many "urban myths" that exist about Social Security. There is no marriage penalty under Social Security law.
Another myth holds that there is some kind of maximum limit that a married couple can draw. That also is untrue. I have some very well-to-do neighbors. Both the husband and wife worked at high paying jobs all their lives. And each of them receives about $2,400 per month in Social Security retirement benefits on their own account.
So both you and your male friend will continue to receive the same Social Security benefits whether you are simply living together or whether you are married.
By the way, I am assuming each of you receive your own Social Security retirement benefit. However, if you are getting Social Security benefits from a prior husband's record, then there could be a problem if you got married, depending on the type of benefit you are getting.
If you are getting a divorced wife's benefit from a former husband, that benefit will stop when you remarry. However, you would be able to get a wife's benefit from your new husband.
If you are getting a widow's benefit from a first husband who has died, and assuming you are over 60 years old, you will continue to get that widow's payment even if you marry the gentleman with whom you are living. A long time ago, the law said that widows would lose their benefits when they remarried. Congress got embarrassed by frequent media reports of couples "living in sin" due to fear of losing Social Security widow's checks if they did get married. So about 30 years ago, they changed the law to say that women over age 60 could remarry and keep their widow's benefits. Even though that rule has been on the books for three decades now, many women don't know that remarriage after age 60 will not terminate their widow's benefits.
Q: You have written many times about the 32 percent bonus people get if they delay retirement until age 70. Well, I retired at age 70, about 20 years ago, and I don't remember getting such a bonus.
A: Yes, the law has changed over the years, primarily because of changes to the retirement age. But ever since 1972, there has been some kind of bonus paid to folks who delay collecting Social Security benefits beyond their full retirement age.
Those bonuses started in 1970. At that time, the retirement age was 65. People got a "delayed retirement credit" of one-twelfth of one percent for each month they put off starting their benefits between ages 65 and 72.
In 1981, the delayed retirement bonus was increased to one-fourth of one percent for each month benefits were not taken between ages 65 and 72.
When the full retirement age began to go up from 65 to 66, the delayed retirement bonus applied only to those years between the full retirement age month up to age 70 (note: no longer age 72).
And finally, beginning in 2004, the bonus was changed to two-thirds of one percent for each month between ages 66 and 70. That comes out to eight percent per year or 32 percent if you delay collecting Social Security benefits until age 70.
Q: You responded to a past email of mine by telling me that my benefits would be reduced by "about one-half of one percent" for each month I start my Social Security before age 66. I plan to take my Social Security at age 62. But someone at the Social Security office told me the reduction actually was five-ninths of one percent. So who is right?
A: You must be an engineer, right? Or maybe some kind of accountant? To a guy like me, five-ninths of one percent is "about half of one percent." But to a guy like you, I guess it's not.
The reason I don't specifically quote the "five-ninths of one percent" reduction is because it doesn't tell the whole story. What the law actually says is that your benefit is reduced five-ninths of one percent for the first 36 months you are under age 66 and five-twelfths of one percent for any remaining months. Because you are retiring at age 62, that means you will have 36 months of the five-ninths of one percent reduction and 12 months of the five-twelfths of one percent reduction. That adds up to an overall 25 percent reduction if you take your Social Security at age 62.
So do you see why I usually simply say the reduction is "about one-half of one percent?"
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 to read past columns and see features from other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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