I was answering emails from my readers today. And after a while, it dawned on me that three or four of them in a row began with some version of "My neighbor told me this" or "Some friends told me that." Each email went on to describe an unsubstantiated rumor about Social Security. I began each answer with the same phrase: "That is absolutely not true." So, it's time, once again, to refute some of the Social Security hearsay that is being passed around from one uninformed senior to the next.
Q: I have heard that if two seniors each getting their own Social Security benefits get married, they will suffer a reduction in their benefits and the female member of that couple could lose her benefits entirely. Several of my friends have confirmed that this is a fact. Can you confirm this?
A: That is absolutely not true! Whether you are married or not, whether you might get married or not, has no affect on your own Social Security retirement checks. Period. End of discussion.
I think this rumor grows out of an old (and now extinct) law that said if a woman who was getting survivor benefits from a deceased husband's account remarried, she would lose those widow's checks. Even though that law was changed about 30 years ago, the rumor still persists that if a widow remarries, she will lose her prior husband's Social Security. What the law has said for three decades now is that if a woman remarries after age 60, she can continue to get widow's benefits from a prior husband.
Having said all that, I can think of one time when a woman would lose benefits if she got married. And that would be a woman who was getting benefits as a divorced spouse from a living ex-husband's Social Security account. If she remarried, those divorced spousal benefits would stop. And it makes sense to stop them. She was getting those benefits because she was considered to be financially dependent on her prior husband. Obviously, if she marries husband No. 2, she can no longer be classified as a dependent of husband No. 1.
And I should make it crystal clear that if this divorced woman were getting her own Social Security checks, those benefits would not stop if she got married.
Q: I am 62. My husband is 60. I am already retired and want to start my Social Security now. My husband plans to work until he is 66 and start his Social Security then. My husband makes three times the money I do, so his Social Security check will be much higher than mine. My coffee club friends have told me that if I take my Social Security now, I will never be able to get any spousal benefits from my husband. Is this true?
A: That is absolutely not true! Assuming his benefit is so much greater than yours that the spousal percentage you are due on his account exceeds what you are getting on your own, then you will be paid a wife's benefit to supplement your own.
Here is roughly how they will determine what you are due: Once your husband files for his own Social Security and you file a spousal claim, they will take your full retirement rate and subtract that from one-half of his full retirement rate. Any difference will be added to your reduced retirement benefit.
Q: I am 64. My husband is 70 and already getting Social Security. Several of my friends have told me that if I take my own Social Security early, I will never be able to get full widow's benefits on my husband's record. Is that true?
A: That is absolutely not true! What you do on your own Social Security record has no affect on any widow's benefits you might be due in the future. For all intents and purposes, your widow's rate depends on one thing only: your age when your husband dies and you start taking widow's benefits. Assuming you are over age 66 when that happens, you are going to get your retirement benefit supplemented up to 100 percent of your husband's Social Security check.
Here is a quick example: Let's say you are getting $1,400 per month in reduced retirement benefits and your husband's monthly check is $2,200. He dies when you are 68 years old. You will keep getting your own $1,400, and then you will start getting $800 per month in widow's benefits to take you up to his $2,200 level.
Q: My wife and I are both 80. Her Social Security is $2,449. Mine is $2,178. A friend told me that if my wife dies first, I won't get any of her Social Security because men don't qualify for widower's benefits. True?
A: That is absolutely not true! Social Security laws and eligibility requirements are gender-neutral. If your wife dies first, you will keep getting your $2,178, and then you will get $271 in widower's benefits to take you up to her $2,449 level.
Q: I will be 66 next month. My husband is 73 and has been getting Social Security for years now. Based on what I've read in your column, I was going to "file and restrict," claiming spousal benefits on my husband's record and saving my own until age 70. But the clerk at my local Social Security office told me I can't do that. She said the law that allowed that was eliminated a couple of years ago. Is that a fact?
A: That is absolutely not true! I am always saddened to learn that the false information seniors get doesn't just come from friends and neighbors; it sometimes comes from Social Security Administration representatives. And I've learned over the years that many of them are grievously undertrained when it comes to these so-called maximizing strategies.
I think the case manager you were talking to was mixing an apple with an orange. There was one strategy called "file and suspend" that was eliminated a few years ago. (I'm not going to bother explaining what that was because it's gone.) But the strategy you want to employ, "file and restrict," is still available to anyone who turns 66 before Jan. 2, 2020. So march back into your local Social Security office and demand to speak to someone who is familiar with these rules.
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.