Ask Larry: Can I Still Let My Social Security Benefits Grow While Claiming On My Spouse’s Account?

Today’s column addresses questions about the potential to still take spousal benefits while delaying retirement benefits, how public pensions can affect spousal benefits and possible options when eligible for retirement and divorced spousal benefits. Larry Kotlikoff is a Professor of Economics at Boston University and the founder and president of Economic Security Planning, Inc, which markets Maximize My Social Security and MaxiFi Planner.

See more Ask Larry answers here.

Have Social Security questions of your own you’d like answered? Ask Larry about Social Security here.

Can I Still Let My Social Security Benefits Grow While Claiming On My Spouse’s Account?

Hi Larry, My husband started getting his Social Security retirement benefit at his full retirement age. I am 62 and plan to work until 70. Can I claim my Social Security spousal benefit on his account now? I understand I will not get 50% of his retirement benefit because I am not at FRA. If I claim the spousal benefit now but work until 70, will my retirement benefit at when I take it at 70 be lower? Thanks, Claire

Hi Claire, Only people who were born prior to 1/2/1954 are allowed to apply for spousal benefits without being required to apply for their own retirement benefits at the same time. What that means is that people born after 1/1/1954 can only be paid essentially the higher of their own retirement benefit rate or their spousal rate, and their benefit rate is reduced for age if they start drawing benefits prior their full retirement age (FRA). Best, Larry

Can I Draw Spousal Benefits From My Wife’s Record If My Retirement Benefit Is Reduced By The WEP?

Hi Larry, My Social Security retirement benefit after the WEP reduction is about $375. Can I draw spousal benefits from my wife’s record which would be a little under $500 and so avoid the WEP reduction? Thanks, Ron

Hi Ron, The Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) doesn’t affect spousal benefits. However, if your non-Social Security covered pension is based on your work for a government agency in the US, then any spousal benefits for which you would otherwise qualify would almost certainly be offset by 2/3rds of the amount of your government pension. That’s due to the Government Pension Offset (GPO) provision.

Furthermore, you couldn’t qualify for spousal benefits unless your spouse is already drawing their benefits. My company’s software — Maximize My Social Security or MaxiFi Planner — is fully capable of handling computations involving both the WEP and GPO provisions, so you may want to consider using the software to analyze your benefit options and determine the filing strategy that works best for you. Social Security calculators provided by other companies or non-profits may provide proper suggestions if they were built with extreme care. Best, Larry

How Do I Find Out Whether It Would Be Better To Retire On My Own Record Or My Ex-Spouse’s?

Hi Larry, I am 62, divorced and currently employed in a low level position. I am exploring the best time to retire with available assets. I would hope to work part time after retiring. My former husband’s income was much higher than mine. However, he hasn’t worked for 13 years and hasn’t filed taxes since. How do I gather his information to determine which income would be best to retire on? Or is it fruitless since he has not filed? Thanks, Nikole

Hi Nikole, If you’ve been divorced for at least two years and if your ex-husband is at least 62, you could potentially qualify for divorced spousal benefits even if your ex isn’t yet drawing his retirement benefits. Social Security should be able to tell you if you can qualify for divorced spousal benefits and give you an estimate of what your benefit rate might amount to.

However, since you were born after 1/1/1954, you can’t apply for divorced spousal benefits without also filing for your own Social Security retirement benefits at the same time. That means that you could basically only be paid the higher of the two benefit rates, and your benefit rate will be reduced for age if you start drawing prior to your full retirement age (FRA).

My company’s software linked to above can help you determine how much you could expect to receive based on your own earnings history, and it would allow you to analyze the options available to you in order to determine your best strategy for maximizing your benefits. But you would need to get the information about your potential divorced spousal rate from Social Security. Best, Larry

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