Today’s Social Security column addresses questions about how birth year can affect benefit amounts, eligibility for divorced spousal benefits and the ability to claim retroactive auxiliary benefits based on a worker’s record. 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.
How Do My Social Security Benefits Compare To Someone Born In A Different Year?
Hi Larry, Can you please expand on another answer explaining that benefits can differ depending on what year the recipient was born? I was born in 1960 and I started my Social Security retirement benefits last year. How will my benefits compare to equivalent recipients born in either 1959 or 1961? Thanks, Justin
Hi Justin, There’s no major difference in how benefit rates would compare for someone born in 1960 vs. 1959 or 1961. Different indexing factors are used to calculate the base primary insurance amount (PIA) for each year of birth though, so there would be some differences. And people only receive credit for Social Security cost of living increases that occur after they reach 62, so people who turn 62 in 2022 or later won’t be credited with the 2022 COLA when their Social Security retirement rate is calculated.
However, the different indexing factors largely offset the lack of COLAs for people who haven’t yet reached 62. Basically, retirement benefit rates are adjusted based on increases in the national average wage index (AWI) up until a person reaches 62, and then they are adjusted based on COLAs after that. Best, Larry
Is It True That I Can’t Apply For My Social Security Divorced Spousal Benefit?
Hi Larry, I am 64 and still working. I was married for 14 years before divorcing. I haven’t remarried. I understand I can draw my divorced spousal benefit. I applied but was told in a phone interview that I am not eligible because I have not made less than half of what he has made in the past. Is this true? Also I feel that I have made less than half of his income or that he has not recorded his income honestly. I do not agree with the person on the phone. What should I do? Can I reapply? Thanks, Sherry
Hi Sherry, You can always apply for benefits, and if you do apply and if your claim is disallowed then you can file an appeal. However, it sounds like what the Social Security employee you spoke with was trying to explain to you is that you can’t qualify for divorced spousal benefits on the record of an ex-spouse unless the ex-spouse’s primary insurance amount (PIA) is more than twice as much as your own PIA. A person’s PIA is equal to their Social Security retirement benefit rate if they start drawing their benefits at full retirement age (FRA).
Since you were born after 1/1/1954, you aren’t allowed to apply just for divorced spousal benefits without also being required to file for your retirement benefits at the same time. And if your own PIA is more than half as much as your ex-spouse’s PIA, you could only be paid your higher retirement benefit rate.
It sounds like you may want to consider using 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
Is There Any Advantage To Claim My Wife’s Child In Care Spousal Benefits Retroactively?
Hi Larry, I filed for benefits at my FRA in 2020. My wife and disabled son also received benefits at this time based on my record, limited by the family maximum for benefits claimed on my record. My wife has no previous Social Security record of her own and my son was converted from SSI to Social Security benefits when I filed.
Is there any advantage to go back and file for the child-in-care spousal benefit retroactively? Is there a strategy involving suspending my retirement until 70 that would benefit be advantageous in our situation? Thanks, Brian
Hi Brian, Neither your wife nor your child could be paid benefits from your record for any months prior to the first month of your benefit entitlement. So claiming child-in-care spousal benefits retroactively isn’t an option, assuming that your wife started drawing benefits when you did.
You could voluntarily suspend your benefits between now and 70, but if you do so your wife and child’s benefits will also be suspended. Suspending your benefits would increase your benefit rate by 2/3rds of 1% for each month that you suspend your benefits, but it would not increase your child’s or your wife’s benefit rates when your payments are resumed. Best, Larry