Robbing the Cradle Has Its Drawbacks

By Tom Margenau

January 25, 2017 7 min read

Q: I am 76. I have a much younger wife. She is 51. She has never worked outside the home. What will she get when I die? How about Medicare?

A: I am sure there are some advantages to having a much younger spouse. But from a Social Security perspective, "robbing the cradle" has its drawbacks.

Your wife won't be due any benefits on your record until she is 60 years old. So if you kick the bucket tomorrow, she is going to have a nine-year dry spell before her Social Security widow's benefits will kick in.

And at age 60, she would only be due 70 percent of your basic Social Security benefit. If she wanted full benefits, she'd have to wait until she is her full retirement age, or age 67, in her case.

And like anyone else, your wife will have to wait until she is 65 before she can get Medicare. But I'd bet a few nickels that before your wife reaches that milestone, Congress will have bumped up the Medicare onset age — maybe to 66.

Q: As tax-filing season is approaching, we are thinking of having taxes withheld from our Social Security benefit to lessen the shock when we are filling out our tax return. Do you think that is a good idea? And if so, how do we go about doing that?

A: I am not a financial planner or tax advisor, so I am really not the person to ask if it is a good idea to have taxes withheld from your Social Security checks.

I know there are people out there who think it's a bad idea. They would say having money withheld from your Social Security benefits is like loaning the government money that you'd be better off keeping (and possibly investing) for yourself.

On the other hand, I know what you mean about the "shock" when filing your taxes. I use a tax-filing software program that features a little "window" up in the corner of my computer screen that shows if I am due a refund, or if I owe taxes to the government. As I complete my return, that little message screen always shows we are due a small refund — UNTIL I enter my, and my wife's, Social Security benefit amounts. Then, instantly, it shows I owe the government over $1,000 in taxes! And every time that happens, I vow I am going to start having those taxes withheld from our monthly checks. But then I get lazy or forgetful and never do it. But this year, I think I will.

And here is how it's done. You need to fill out a withholding form called a W-4V from the Internal Revenue Service. You can get that form from IRS by calling 1-800-829-3676. Or you can download it from their website.

When you complete the form, you do not ask to have specific dollar amounts withheld from your Social Security benefits. Instead, you must pick from one of several percentage options. You can have 7 percent, 10 percent, 15 percent or 25 percent of your benefits withheld to cover any taxes you figure would be due.

Q: My sister is a retired teacher in California. As such, she spent her career paying into the California state pension system, not Social Security. But she has worked some odd jobs on the side in the past and has earned her 40 Social Security quarters. She went out on a disability retirement from her teaching job when she was 60. And now she just turned 65 and contacted Social Security to file for what she figured would be a small Social Security check. But she was told that because she has not worked in five out of the last 10 years, she is not eligible for any Social Security. Could this possibly be true?

A: Your sister was either misled by the Social Security agent she talked to or possibly she asked the wrong question.

I wonder if your sister brought up her disability when she was talking to the Social Security rep and he or she thought your sister wanted to file for Social Security disability benefits. That "five out of the last 10" rule only applies to the disability program.

But to get regular Social Security retirement benefits, the rules say you simply need to have the minimum 40 work credits — earned anytime during your entire working lifetime.

So I suggest your sister contact the Social Security people again and makes it clear that she wants to file for retirement benefits, not disability.

Q: My wife is getting Social Security disability benefits. She has been offered the chance to sell cosmetics by hosting parties in our home. Will the money she makes doing that get her in trouble with the Social Security people?

A: I don't know if "get her in trouble" is the right way to put it. But it certainly could jeopardize her eligibility for disability benefits.

As I've explained many times in this column, you do not get disability benefits from Social Security because you have a disabling condition. You get such benefits because you have a physical or mental impairment that keeps you from working. In other words, it is the inability to work, not just the impairment itself, which qualifies you for disability benefits.

So, if your wife is able to work, whether it is selling cosmetics in her home or showing up at a factory each day to put in an 8-hour shift, she may no longer be considered "disabled" for Social Security purposes.

Having said that, the law does offer a plethora of incentives intended to encourage people to try working while they are still getting disability checks. Those work incentives fill up about a 100-page booklet sitting here on my desk. So there is simply no way I can summarize them in this column. But I can tell you that as a general rule, your wife can work up to nine months making as much money as she can and still get her monthly benefits. If after those nine months she is making a substantial income selling cosmetics, then her disability payments might stop.

So if your wife starts working, she should call Social Security at 800-772-1213 to report that fact. At the same time, she should ask for a copy of a pamphlet called "Working While Disabled — How We Can Help." Or here is a link to it that she can find at the Social Security website: https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10095.pdf.

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 www.creators.com.

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