Ask Larry: Can My Wife Still Get Full Spousal After Early Social Security Retirement Benefits?

Today’s column addresses the rate of spousal benefits after early retirement benefits, drawing on multiple exes’ records, changing the start date of benefits after filing, eligibility for survivor benefits in a domestic partnership and when delayed retirement credits are applied to benefit payments. Larry Kotlikoff is a Professor of Economics at Boston University and the founder and president of Economic Security Planning, Inc, a company that markets Maximize My Social Security and MaxiFi Planner.

See more Ask Larry answers here.

Ask Larry about Social Security here.

Can My Wife Still Get Full Spousal After Early Social Security Retirement Benefits?

Hi Larry, I am 63 and my wife is 64. I will retire next month and start drawing my reduced Social Security retirement benefit, which I believe will be about $3,000. If my wife decides to start drawing her retirement benefit also, about $500, will she later be eligible for the 50% spousal benefit when she reaches her FRA and will it be based on my FRA amount or my reduced amount? Thanks, Brad

Hi Brad, Your wife couldn’t file for her own benefits without also being deemed to file for spousal benefits. And if she starts drawing both benefits before full retirement age (FRA), they’ll both be reduced for age.

Your wife’s unreduced spousal rate would be based on 50% of your primary insurance amount (PIA), not your reduced benefit rate. A person’s PIA is the amount they’d receive if they start drawing their Social Security retirement benefits at FRA. However, your wife can only be paid essentially the higher of her own benefit rate or her spousal rate, not both.

By the way, if you start drawing at 63, your reduced benefit rate won’t be as much as $3,000. That’s significantly more than the current maximum possible monthly rate for someone filing at 63. You may want to use one of my company’s two tools — Maximize My Social Security or MaxiFi Planner — to fully explore and compare all of your various options in order to determine which filing strategy would likely best serve your family’s needs. Social Security calculators provided by other companies or non-profits may provide proper suggestions if they were built with extreme care. Best, Larry

Can I Draw From Both Of My Ex-Husband’s Social Security?

Hi Larry, I was married to my first husband in Florida for 15 years before we divorced after his conniving finally got to be too much for even me. I was then married to another man for 12 years before we also got a divorce about six years ago, though this one truly was amicable. We just grew in different ways though we’re still good friends, better in some ways than when we were married. The conniver is younger but made more money but he’s still only 57. My second husband is 63 and I’m 64. Can I claim on both their records? Thanks, Connie

Hi Connie, Not at the same time. If you qualify and file for benefits on the record of more than one ex-spouse, you could only be paid the higher of the benefit rates.

You could, however, potentially draw benefits on more than one ex’s record at different times. If one of your exes is eligible for benefits before the other, you may be able to draw on that ex’s record for a while and then switch to the other ex’s record at a later date. This seems like it might be the case for you. Best, Larry

What Are My Options For Changing My Date To Start Benefits?

Hi Larry, If I filed for benefits a couple weeks ago but now I want to change my benefit start date for a number of reasons. Can I do it? The papers I was given seem to say changes can be made within 10 days. Would this apply still after 10 days? What are my options? Thanks, Jim

Hi Jim, Yes, you’ll be able to change your month of election to start benefits, but the action necessary to do so will depend on whether or not your claim has been processed. I would first try calling Social Security to see if you can reach the person who’s handling your claim. If you can get in touch with that person and your claim hasn’t been processed, they should be able to amend your application before it gets processed.

If the Social Security employee handling your claim has already authorized payment, then you will need to submit a written request to change your month of election. That will obviously take more time and require patience on your part. Best, Larry

Can I Received Survivor Benefits From The Death Of My Domestic Partner?

Hi Larry, We never got married but my partner and I were together more than fifteen years. When she passed away, we were seriously considering getting married but hadn’t yet started the process. Would it be possible for me to collect survivor’s benefits based on her record? Thanks, Simon

Hi Simon, It’s possible, but you could only qualify if a) your domestic partnership was valid in the state where it was established; and b) it qualifies as a marital relationship under the laws of the state in which you and your partner resided at the time of death, or if the partnership affords you with the inheritance rights of a spouse under state law. You would, of course, also need to meet all of the other requirements for Social Security survivor benefits. Best, Larry

How Will My Delayed Retirement Credits Be Calculated?

Hi Larry, I am 67 and was eligible to start benefits at 66. I now want to file for benefits. My birthday is in May. If I request benefits to start in November, will I get the credits for the year and six months I delayed? The SSA agent told me I would only get the one full year of delay. is this correct? Thanks, Luz

Hi Luz, If you start drawing your Social Security retirement benefits effective 18 months after the month you reached full retirement age (FRA), your benefit rate will ultimately be 12% higher than your FRA rate.

However, if you start drawing effective with November 2019, you will initially only receive credit for the delayed retirement credits (DRC) you earned through December 2018. Your DRCs for the months January through November of 2019 wouldn’t be creditable until effective with the payment you’re due for January 2020, and it could take Social Security up to 2 years after that to get around to actually processing the increase. They would eventually pay you any accrued back pay due, though. Best, Larry

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