Ask Larry: Will My Spousal Benefit Be Half My Spouse’s Actual Benefit Rate?

Today’s Social Security column addresses questions about whether spousal benefits are half what a spouse is actually receiving, the availability of benefit estimates if you’re already collecting another benefit and who can file for children’s benefits. Larry Kotlikoff is a Professor of Economics at Boston University and the founder and president of Economic Security Planning, Inc.

See more Ask Larry answers here.

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

Will My Spousal Benefit Be Half My Husband’s Actual Benefit Rate?

Hi Larry, My wife will begin collecting her Social Security retirement benefit later this year, when she turns 70. I will begin collecting in 2025, when I reach full retirement age. While I have earned enough to collect my own retirement benefit, my wife’s benefit is considerably higher so I will choose to collect my spousal benefit instead of my own.

Will my spousal benefit be half of her benefit at her full retirement age or at 70? Thanks, Jeff

Hi Jeff, The maximum spousal benefit rate is 50% of the worker’s primary insurance amount (PIA), and the worker’s PIA is equal to the amount they’d receive if they start drawing their benefits at full retirement age (FRA). So if you file for benefits at your FRA, you’ll be paid the higher of your own PIA or 50% of your husband’s PIA, not 50% of his age 70 rate.

To be clear, though, your husband’s PIA will continue to increase when Social Security has a cost of living (COLA) increase. And, your spousal rate will be calculated based on 50% of your husband’s PIA at the time you apply for benefits, not 50% of what his PIA was at the time he reached FRA. Best, Larry

Do I Need To Call Social Security To Find Out What My Benefit Rate Would Be At 70?

Hi Larry, I took the spousal benefit last summer as I was born in 1953 and my husband is retired. I am still working. I looked on the SSA site to see what my retirement benefit would be at 70 but this comes up:

“We cannot provide you estimates because you are already receiving Social Security benefits.” This is aggravating as I would like to know what my estimated retirement benefit will be at 70. Does this require a call to SSA? Thanks, Emily

Hi Emily, One of the quirks of Social Security’s website is that they stop providing benefit estimates to people who are receiving any type of Social Security benefits. You can call Social Security to try to get an estimate of your age 70 rate, but whether or not you get a reliable answer depends on who you happen to speak with.

Or you could use our software to get an accurate estimate of your Social Security retirement benefit rate. My company’s software — Maximize My Social Security or MaxiFi Planner — to ensure your household receives the highest lifetime benefits. Social Security calculators provided by other companies or non-profits may provide proper suggestions if they were built with extreme care. Best, Larry

Am I The Only Person Who Can File For Benefits For My Children?

Hi Larry, I’m 65, and have two dependents age 12 and 10. My FRA is 66 and four months. I’m going through a divorce and want to know if I’m the only one that can file for Social Security child benefits or can my soon to be ex-spouse file for the benefit for the two dependents?

I get different answers every time I ask an SSA representative. Thanks, Dan

Hi Dan, Either parent could file an application for benefits on their minor children’s behalf, but Social Security prefers to have the parent with primary custody apply. When minor children are eligible for benefits, Social Security appoints a representative payee to handle benefits on their behalf.

The representative payee is required to use the child’s benefits for the child’s current needs, or save them for the child’s future needs. So it generally makes sense for the parent who will be appointed as representative payee to also file the application for benefits on the child’s behalf. Best, Larry

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