Just ask me if I'm getting weary of the coronavirus! And I'm not coming at my dislike for the pandemic for any of the normal reasons: the social distancing, the masks, the confusing signals from Washington, etc. etc. What really makes me dislike the disease is that folks must be getting tired of watching "Tiger King" and "Ozark" and other streaming options and are instead thinking up Social Security questions to send me. Lately, I've been getting about 50 emails every day. And yesterday, you helped me break a record. I got 122 emails from my readers! In just one day!
Oh, I guess I shouldn't complain. I mean, how many games of Scrabble can I play with my wife before we really get on each other's nerves? So, answering your questions gives me something to do to help fill these "stay at home" days.
But before I get to some of these questions, let me make this point. Because of the high volume of emails I get, I simply do not have time to get into complicated issues. Some readers send me emails that go on and on and on. I understand. I know you think you should give me as much background information as possible to preface your question. But remember that your email is just one of hundreds of emails I have to deal with each week. So, please: Keep your questions as short as possible. Now, here are some of the short and sweet emails I got yesterday.
Q: When I was 62, I started getting widows benefits on my husband's Social Security record. But I continued to work part time. And I'm still working. I am about to turn 70, and I checked with Social Security about switching to my own account. But they said my own rate, even with the bonus I get for working until 70, is about $150 less than my widows rate. So, do I have to switch to my own and get less money? What should I do?
A: You do not have to switch to your own benefit. You can just continue to receive the higher widows rate.
In fact, if you are working just to boost your own Social Security benefit rate, it's not worth it. I'd quit tomorrow. Your widows benefit will probably always be more than your own retirement check ever will be.
On the other hand, if you are working because you like your job or you like the extra money it gives you, then go for it! And if you keep working long enough, there is a slim chance that somewhere way down the road, your own retirement benefit will inch past your widows rate, and you could make the switch then.
Q: I am 64. My husband is 59. I only worked a short time outside the home, so I am due a very small Social Security check. Can I get my husband's Social Security instead of my own?
A: You made the same mistake my wife did. You robbed the cradle and married a man who is five years younger than you are. While there may be some advantages to that (although my wife no longer sees any), one of the disadvantages is that you must wait until your husband is getting Social Security before you can get any benefits on his record. So, you can start your own benefits now and then switch to higher spousal benefits on your husband's account once he applies for his own Social Security.
Q: I have been getting my own Social Security since 2003. At the same time, my wife, who never worked, was given what they called a "portion" of my Social Security. My wife died two months ago. Should that spousal portion she was getting be added back into my benefit amount?
A: I am sorry to hear about your wife's death. If they used the term "portion" when you signed up for benefits, that was incorrect, or at least misleading. They should have said that your wife was getting a percentage of your Social Security benefit. In other words, nothing was taken out of your Social Security check to pay your wife's benefit. So, when she died, there was nothing to give back to you.
Q: For a variety of reasons, my partner and I have never married. We've been together for 35 years. But now, as we approach Social Security age (I'm 62, and she is 60), I wonder if we should make things legal and get married. Is there any advantage to doing this for Social Security purposes? And just so you know, we have always had similar incomes and expect to get similar Social Security benefits.
A: Before I answer, you should know that I am coming at this from strictly a Social Security perspective. You will have to check out any other legal or tax implications.
Because you said your Social Security benefit rates will be similar, that means neither of you will be eligible for any spousal benefits on the other person's account. So being legally married really isn't an issue — while you are both alive.
Even though your benefit rates are similar, obviously one of you will have a Social Security check that is slightly more than the other. And if the person with the higher benefit amount dies first, the other person could be eligible for a small bump in his or her Social Security check in the form of widows or widowers benefits.
And to get that survivors benefit, you have to be legally married. The Social Security Administration follows state laws when it comes to the legality of a marriage. In other words, if the state you live in recognizes common-law relationships as valid marriages, then the SSA will, too. So, if you live in such a state, don't worry about anything. But if you live in a state that doesn't recognize common-law marriages, and if you think that little bump in survivors benefits might be important to one of you, then consider marching down the aisle!
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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