​​​​​​If I Take Spousal Benefits, Will My Retirement Benefit Still Grow?

Social Security may be one of your largest assets. What and when you collect will make a huge difference to your lifetime benefits.

Today’s post addresses how restricted applications just for spousal benefits affect retirement benefits, the availability of spousal benefits, the availability of widow(er)’s benefits and how returning to work can affect both retirement and disability benefits. Larry Kotlikoff is the founder and president of Economic Security Planning, a company that markets Maximize My Social Security, a Social Security benefits calculator referred to in this post.

See more Ask Larry answers here.

Ask Larry about Social Security:

If I Take Spousal Benefits, Will My Retirement Benefit Still Grow?​​

Hi Larry, My husband is 80 and has been receiving his Social Security retirement benefits since he was 62. I am 67 and plan to start receiving my retirement benefit at 70. Am I eligible to receive spousal benefits now without jeopardizing my ability to receive the maximum amount of my Social Security retirement based on my own greater-than-his income when I turn 70? Thanks, Jaime

Hi Jaime, Yes. Since you were born prior to 1/2/1954 and are over full retirement age, you can file a restricted application just for spousal benefits only while allowing your own retirement benefit rate to continue growing until age 70. It sounds like that would almost certainly be your best option, so you will likely want to file as soon as possible. Social Security applications can be retroactive for up to 6 months from the month of filing, and there doesn’t appear to be any reason not to claim the maximum retroactivity in your case. Best, Larry


Am I Eligible For A Spousal Benefit?

Hi Larry, I am 62 and my husband will be 70 in December. He is going to apply for Social Security retirement benefits now. I plan to retire next year after I turn 63 in April. Am I eligible for spousal benefit? Thanks, Meredith

Hi Meredith, Since you were born after 1/1/1954, whenever you file for spousal benefits you will be deemed to also be filing for retirement benefits on your own record and you will essentially only be eligible for the higher of those 2 benefit rates. If your own Primary Insurance Amount (PIA), which is equal to your full retirement age (FRA) retirement benefit amount, is more than 50% of your husband’s PIA, you won’t be eligible for any spousal benefits. Best, Larry


Can I Get Survivor Benefits Now That I’m Age 60 & 8 Months?​​

Hi Larry, My husband of 23 years passed away in 2004 when I was 47 years old. At that time, I was told that I could not get survivors benefits because of my age. I am now 60 years 8 months old. Can I file and draw survivors benefits now? Thanks, Kelly

Hi Kelly, I’m sorry for your loss. Reduced widow’s benefits can be payable as early as age 60, so it sounds like you would be potentially eligible. However, the Social Security earnings test could limit your ability to receive benefits prior to full retirement age if you are still working.

Assuming that you also have enough work credits to qualify for retirement benefits on your own record, your best option is likely one of the following:

  1. File for reduced widow’s benefits now or as soon as your earnings will permit benefits to be paid, then switch to your own record at age 70; or,
  2. File for reduced retirement benefits on your own record at age 62 or as soon as your earnings will permit benefits to be paid, then file for unreduced widow’s benefits at full retirement age.

An expert Social Security benefits calculator as described in other answers can help you determine which of the above filing strategies is best in your case, as well as when to apply for each type of benefit. Best, Larry


Can You Give Me Some Advice?​​

Hi Larry, I recently turned 61 and 9 months and filed for Social Security retirement benefits to begin at 62. I also just recently found a job after 3 years of being unemployed. However the pay is nowhere near what I used to make. I would make approximately $27,000 this year gross. This is a bit above the earnings limit. I need to work this relatively low-paying job to get health insurance. My Social Security representative just told me that I should cancel my application because I would be heavily penalized for filing so early. However I could use extra money, no matter how much to make ends meet, pay bills and to be able to eat. So I am confused on what to do. I need some solid advice. Thanks, Barry

Hi Barry, When to start drawing benefits is a personal decision, but you should be aware that your permanent monthly benefit rate will likely be substantially lower if you start drawing at age 62 vs. full retirement age or age 70.

For example, a person with a full retirement age rate of $1,600 would only get around $1,200 starting at 62 versus around $2,100 if they start drawing at 70. You might want to think about using an expert Social Security benefits calculator, such as my company’s software or another top notch program, to compare your filing options and determine your best strategy.

If you decide to go ahead with your application to start drawing at age 62, it sounds like your earnings might prevent you from drawing any benefits this year, and at least some of your benefits next year due to Social Security’s earnings test. A Social Security benefits calculator that is programmed to handle earnings test considerations can help you determine the best time to claim benefits. Best, Larry


Can I Stop My Disability Payments If I’ve Returned To Work?​​

Hi Larry, I started drawing my Social Security retirement benefit because I was having medical issues and did not think I would be able to return to work. I am 65 and I recovered, so I’m back to work. Can I stop my checks so I don’t have to pay it back. Thanks, Cassandra

Hi Cassandra, Social Security disability benefits don’t stop immediately when a person first returns to work. There is a 9 month trial work period and 3 month grace period that follows during which benefits may continue, provided that Social Security hasn’t determined that the person is no longer medically considered disabled.

What you should do is contact Social Security to report your work. They will then keep track of your trial work period to determine when and if your disability benefits should stop. Best, Larry

To learn more about your Social Security options, visit Economic Security Planning, Inc.

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