Today’s column addresses the earrings test and full retirement age (FRA), why checks may be reduced, potential affects of marriage on benefits, the calculation of spousal benefits and whether Social Security might be endangered by the current administration. 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:
Are There Social Security Earnings Limits Even After 70?
Hi Larry, I will be 70 next October. I am in good health, like my job and want to continue to work to at least 75–76. But I’m concerned about Social Security’s Earnings Test and that it might reduce my benefits because I’m afraid I may earn too much. If I take my benefits at age 70+, are their still limitations on how much I may earn working past 70? Thanks, Douglas
Hi Douglas, The Social Security earnings test doesn’t apply once a person reaches full retirement age (FRA), so you could start receiving your Social Security benefits now or at age 70 regardless of how much you earn. You may want to use an expert Social Security benefits calculator as described in other answers to help you decide on your best filing strategy.
You almost certainly wouldn’t want to wait past age 70 to start drawing your Social Security benefits since you don’t earn delayed retirement credits (DRCs) after you turn 70. And even if you are already receiving benefits, you could still potentially increase your benefit rate by working past age 70, but only if your calendar year earnings are higher than in one or more of your previous highest 35 years of wage-indexed earnings. Best, Larry
Why Are Our Benefits Being Cut?
Hi Larry, Both my wife and I are over 65 and have been receiving Social Security retirement benefits for several years. We have both just received letters from SSA notifying us that both of our benefits are to be reduced by almost identical amounts of $200 per month. My wife worked outside the home for a shorter period than I did, contributed less than I did and receives less than I do. Why does SSA decide after several years to cut our benefits, and how does it come up with almost identical cuts? Thanks, Rolland
Hi Rolland, Hopefully, the notices that you received should give you some type of explanation. It would be extremely unusual if the cuts have to do with your benefit rates themselves. That would likely involve some kind of major calculation error, which rarely occurs.
Without any knowledge of your situation, my guess would be that the benefit cuts to which you refer most likely involve some type of deduction that’s being made from your benefits. For example, Part B Medicare premium rates can vary substantially depending on a person’s annual income. If your notices don’t adequately explain the cuts, you’ll probably want to contact Social Security to ask for an explanation. Best, Larry
Can I Get My Benefits Back If I Get Divorced?
Hi Larry, I am 38 years old. I have been disabled since 1997 and was getting SSI. When my dad started receiving Social Security, I started receiving benefits on his record. I recently got married and they completely stopped my benefits and denied me SSI. If I get divorced will I be able to get my benefits back? Thanks, Ken
Hi Ken, Unfortunately, you couldn’t become re-entitled to Childhood Disability Benefits (CDBs), formerly known as disabled adult child’s (DAC) benefits, on your father’s record unless your marriage is annulled or was void for some legal reason. However, if the reason that you are ineligible for SSI – Supplemental Security Income – payments is due to your spouse’s income or resources, then a divorce could potentially make you eligible again. There are too many variables involved for me to be able to tell you for sure, though. Social Security’s website has an SSI screening tool that may be able to help you. Best, Larry
How Will My Spousal Benefit Be Calculated?
Hi Larry, Both my wife and I were 64 in April, 2016. She took her own retirement benefit at 63. Now I have reached FRA and plan on taking my spousal benefit. Our plan is that we will continue this way until I reach 70 and take my retirement benefit and she takes her spousal benefit. In Get What’s Yours, you point out my spousal benefit will be 50% of her full retirement age retirement benefit, not her reduced retirement benefit due to filing early. Am I correct about this? Also, her spousal benefit when I take my retirement at age 70 will be 50% of my full retirement age retirement benefit minus the early filing reduction, right? Chuck
Hi Chuck, The answer to your first question is yes, your unreduced spousal benefit will be 50% of your wife’s Primary Insurance Amount (PIA), which is equal to her full retirement age (FRA) retirement benefit amount, not 50% of her reduced rate.
The answer to your second question is also basically yes, but the actual calculation method is different. When your wife files on your record, her spousal benefit will be calculated as 50% of your PIA minus her own PIA. That excess spousal amount (if any) will then be added to her reduced retirement rate. You can run an expert Social Security benefits calculator, such as Maximize My Social Security or another top rated program, to make certain that you are choosing the best possible filing strategy. Best, Larry
Can The Government Stop Paying My Benefits?
Hi Larry, I am currently 67 and I receive $,1500 per month for my Social Security retirement benefits.. Can the current administration reduce or stop my benefits at any time. The way the current administration is talking about stopping Social Security in the near future is concerning. Can they stop my benefits? How am I supposed to pay rent. and other expenses to live.? We have not had a decent COLA increase for a while now and I am extremely concerned. Thanks, Claire
Hi Claire, If you’re already entitled to benefits, there’s likely no reason that the current administration would stop paying you. Theoretically, a person’s checks could be stopped if they were deported, but there are very few circumstances under which the government would stop paying your benefits. Nor would they be likely to reduce the amount of your benefits unless it was determined that your benefit rate was miscalculated, which is extremely rare. Best, Larry
To learn more about your Social Security options, visit Economic Security Planning, Inc.