Commonly Asked Social Security Questions

By Tom Margenau

October 19, 2016 6 min read

I've just looked back on my columns for the past several weeks and noticed I went off on some esoteric subjects. I write those kinds of columns because I dread going over the same Social Security topics over and over again. But I know from readers' emails that people don't mind repetition. In fact, they often write something similar to this comment: "I know you've covered this issue many times in the past, but now it finally applies to me and I'm paying attention this time!" So, today I'm going to give short and snappy answers to as many commonly asked questions as I can squeeze into my allotted space.

Q: How come I'm not getting half of my husband's Social Security?

A: A wife gets half of her husband's Social Security if she waits until age 66 to claim those benefits. If she takes benefits before age 66, they are reduced, down to about 30 percent at age 62.

Q: Can I take reduced benefits on my husband's Social Security at 62 and then switch to my full benefits at 66?

A: No. If you file for any Social Security before age 66, you MUST file for your own reduced retirement benefits first. Then they will look to your husband's account to see if you can get any additional reduced spousal benefits on his record.

Q: My husband died when I was 58. I'm now 62 and plan to retire. Can I take his Social Security now and save my own until later?

A: Yes, you can. The difference between your situation and the one described in the previous question is that you are a widow. And widows can take reduced benefits on one record and then later switch to full benefits on another record. So, for example, you will get about 82 percent of your husband's benefits now. Then at 66, you can switch to 100 percent of your own. Or you can wait until 70 and get 132 percent.

Q: I am 82. My 86-year-old husband just died. I get $1,800 per month in my own Social Security. He was getting $2,100. I was told I will only get $300 in widow's benefits. Why can't I get his full Social Security and my own? After all, we both worked and earned our benefits.

A: The law has always said that a Social Security retirement benefit offsets any spousal benefits due. So you are technically due $2,100 in widow's benefits, but that amount must be offset by your own $1,800 retirement check, leaving $300 in widow's payments. Think of it this way. If you could get both your own AND your husband's Social Security, then why can't everyone else get their spouse's Social Security? Why can't I get my Social Security and also get husband's benefits on my wife's record. And for that matter, why can't she get her own Social Security and get wife's benefits on my record? And why can't Warren Buffet get his own Social Security and get husband's benefits on his wife's record? And why can't Mrs. Buffet get her own Social Security and also wife's benefits on Warren's record. If they started paying spousal benefits to everyone, the system would go belly up tomorrow!

Q: My husband died 20 years ago. Back then, my children and I got survivor benefits on his Social Security record. Those benefits ended about 10 years ago when my youngest turned 18. I am now 60. Can I get regular widow's benefits now? Or did my prior eligibility mess that up?

A: Nothing got messed up by your prior entitlement to what were called "mother's benefits." You can get widow's benefits now if you meet all the eligibility rules. In a nutshell, you'd have to be unmarried and not working, or working and making less than about $16,000 per year. As explained in a prior answer, if you have your own Social Security, you could take reduced widow's benefits now and save your own until a later date.

Q: My husband and I will both turn 66 next month. We are still working. Can we both "file and restrict"? In other words, can I file for wife's benefits on his record while he files for husband's benefits on my record? And then we each can save our own benefits until age 70 to get the higher rate.

A: Nope. You can't do that. Only one of you can "file and restrict." Or to put that another way, one of you would have to actually file for your own Social Security retirement benefits so that the other one can then claim spousal benefits and save his or her own retirement benefits until age 70. Who does what depends on the money amounts involved.

Q: My mother recently died. My dad died many years earlier. I called Social Security to get the $255 burial benefit. They said I'm not eligible. Seems awful chintzy of my government to deny these benefits my mother worked all her life to earn?

A: You may remember that back during the so-called "conservative revolution" in the 1980s, Congress was looking for all kinds of ways to cut government spending. As part of that effort, they nibbled at the edges of Social Security. One of the laws they passed said that the little $255 death benefit, formerly payable to just about any surviving relative, is now only payable to spouses.

Well, I've run out of room, but I still have more to go. Next week, expect more common questions and quick, but I hope helpful, answers.

If you have a Social Security question, Tom Margenau has the answer. Contact him at [email protected] 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

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