SS FAQ

I receive more questions about Social Security than any other topic I cover, especially with my recently published article series on Maximizing Social Security. This isn’t surprising given that more members of the baby boomer generation are starting to retire and become eligible for benefits. I have published the most frequently asked questions and scenarios I have received with the corresponding answers. I have broken down this FAQ (Social Security Benefits Frequently Asked Questions) into the common sections below:

  • How Your Social Security Benefits are Calculated
  • When You Should Take Social Security Benefits
  • Working and Collecting Social Security, and Taxes on Social Security
  • Spousal Benefit and Survivor’s Benefits
  • Difference Between a Worker’s Benefit and Spousal Benefit
  • The Claiming Strategies “File and Suspend” and “File and Suspend Plus” and “Spousal Benefit Change-up”
  • Benefits for Those That are Divorced
  • Other Social Security Related Questions (Including a way to reverse a Social Security Decision)

Hopefully the answers below can help you in your situation but it is always best to meet with a financial planner who can give you more personalized advice or email me at david@artofthinkingsmart.com for a consultation.

It is important to understand that factors like taxes, life expectancy, retirement assets, family status and income all affect Social Security claiming strategies and it’s important to consider your financial situation holistically when making any major financial decision. For my clients I have found that it is a personal decision and much of it is based on your personality, family circumstances, and your money mentality

Check back frequently as I continue to update this based on questions from you! You can email us at info@artofthinkingsmart.com or post a comment below if you have more questions.

How Your Social Security Benefits are Calculated

Aloha David, thank you for your articles! How many years do I have to work in order to qualify for Social Security? What if I took a break in working and started up again? How does that affect my benefits? – WS

In order to qualify for Social Security as a retired worker, you must have worked for at least 40 quarters. Now, your babysitting or lawn-mowing jobs don’t count in these calculations. To qualify as work, you must have earned reported income and paid your Social Security taxes on it.

The size of your benefit in retirement depends on how much you earned during your working life. The SSA keeps a record of how much you made every year, up to a ceiling of $117,000 in 2014. Any amount you made over that annual ceiling doesn’t get taxed by Social Security and doesn’t figure into the formula.

When it’s time for you to apply for benefits, the SSA will look at your highest 35 years of earnings or substitute zeros if you didn’t work for a full 35 years. They’ll then apply a formula to arrive at your basic benefit, which is the sum that you will be eligible to collect at your full retirement age. It doesn’t matter if you took a break or not, what matters is the income reported to the SSA and the taxes you paid into the system. 

To find out how much you can collect, you can check your social security statements

How SS Calculated

What is my Full Retirement Age (FRA) and what are the benefits to waiting? What happens if I collect earlier at age 62? Thank you for your help! – CM

Depending on the year in which you were born, your full retirement age will be between 66 and 67. For example, if you were born in 1951, your full retirement age is 66. If you were born in 1956, your full retirement age would be 66 years and four months. Unless you are disabled, the earliest age at which you can claim a Social Security benefit is 62.

However, you will not be eligible for your full benefit at that age. Instead, the SSA reduces those benefits by 25 percent if your full retirement age is 66 or 30 percent if it’s 67. So, if your full monthly benefit at age 66 were $1,000, you’d only receive $750 each month if you started collecting at age 62. That reduction in benefits will be permanent.

If you can afford to wait until your full retirement age, you’ll be eligible for 100 percent of your Social Security benefit. If you can afford to wait even longer, your benefit will increase by up to 8 percent every year until age 70, permanently. So, if your basic benefit were $1,000 at age 66, it would increase to $1,320 per month or 132 percent of your benefit. If you were born after 1942, you’ll qualify for the 8 percent credit each year.

What Will I Receive SS

When to Start Taking Your Social Security Benefits

I am currently 62 and have the option to take my benefits. I know that if I take it now, I will take decreased amount for my benefits. When is the best time that I should take Social Security? I can afford to wait and want to maximize the amount I collect. – RC

One of the most important decisions that you’ll have to make as a retiree is the choice about when to start taking Social Security benefits. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers since it depends entirely on your personal financial situation.

Retirees typically have three choices: to file for benefits before their full retirement age, in which case they would receive a smaller check for longer, to claim benefits at their full retirement age, or to wait longer to accumulate more credits. This chart below illustrates how your benefit would be affected at different ages.

Many Americans are forced to claim early benefits because they need the income, but if you can afford it, delaying Social Security benefits could mean collecting significantly more over the course of your life.

Generally, the rule of thumb is this: If either you or your spouse expect to live past the age of 80, you’re better off waiting to claim as long as possible to receive a larger benefit. If for health or family history reasons, you don’t expect to live that long, you may be better off claiming a smaller check sooner.

Ultimately, it’s a very personal decision that you may want to discuss with a financial representative who can help you run the numbers and make the right decision. Much of it has to do with your risk tolerance, current financial situation, and your money mentality

When to Take SS 1

When to Take SS 2

This chart below shows a sample break-even analysis. You will need to know how much you can collect at each age, and then map it out in comparison to each other based on your age and cumulative value of benefits received.

As you can see in this simple example below, the break-even age between collecting 62 vs 66 is between 77 and 78. This means if you believe due to family genetics, health, lifestyle, and other factors, you will live past 78, it may be more beneficial to wait.

The break-even age goes up as you decide to wait to take benefits. Although you will receive more money, because you will receive it later, it will take longer for you to break-even on collecting your benefits. 

Example Break-Even Analysis

Working and Collecting Social Security, and Taxes on Social Security

I am 67 years old and started to collect my social security in June 2014, however I kept working full-time for June and July and [I am] working part-time now while I collect [my] full benefit. How much more can I earn this year without affecting my benefit? – TN

This is one of the most common questions that I get asked: Can you work while collecting Social Security? The answer is yes. You can work and collect Social Security at the same time. One of the benefits of continuing to work is that you will be able to increase the benefit you earn later in life.

Here’s the kicker, though. While you are working, the SSA will reduce your benefit by the amounts shown in the chart below until you reach your full retirement age. Once you reach your Full Retirement Age (FRA), the SSA will recalculate your benefit and give you credit for any benefits that were withheld.

Usually, this results in a higher monthly payment. Depending on how much you are earning while you work, you may also be able to replace one of your lower earnings years with a higher amount, thus boosting your benefit check even more. Starting with the month you reach full retirement age, you will start receiving benefits with no reduction, even if you keep working.

For this specific question, because TN is over the FRA, there is no benefit reduction and no earned income limit. Keep in mind though that you must pay Social Security and Medicare taxes as long as you are earning income. 

Working and Collecting SS

[What] are there any rules or requirements about withholding federal/state taxes on the Social Security benefits we receive? – AN

While I wish that retirement meant retiring your worries about taxes, that is unfortunately not the case. Some people have to pay federal taxes on their Social Security benefits if they have substantial income from other sources like wages, investment income, rental income, or any other source of income that is reported on your tax return.

This chart below shows the income limits above which you’ll have to pay taxes on your benefit. If you are married and filing separate returns, you’ll almost certainly have to pay taxes on your benefit. The tax rate you’ll pay depends entirely on your overall income bracket since Social Security is treated like ordinary income.

However, according to IRS rules, you won’t ever have to pay taxes on more than 85 percent of your Social Security benefits. Since your tax burden will vary according to your income, residence, and filing status, it’s a very good idea to consult a tax advisor or financial professional who can offer you advice specific to your situation.

How SS is taxed

My friend is collecting soc security.  She is 67 yrs old.  She just started collecting about 6 mos ago. She is still working.  She is still paying into the system.  She was told that her benefit will continue to increase at the 8% per year since she is still paying in. Is this true?? – MD

If your friend was 66 when she collected, she was at FRA and is receiving 100% of her benefits from the highest 35 years of earnings or substitute zeros if she didn’t work for a full 35 years. The SSA will then apply a formula to arrive at her basic benefit, which is the sum that she is now collecting.

Because she started to collect at 66 (or 67), her benefit will NOT go up 8% every year (she will get cost-of-living adjustments). However working could mean a higher benefit for her in the future. Each year the SSA will review the records for all working Social Security recipients. If her earnings for the prior year are higher than one of the years the SSA used to compute her retirement benefit, they will recalculate your benefit amount. They will pay the increase retroactive to January the year after she earned the money.

In other words, her income now could replace one of the years she didn’t work out of the 35 years, or replace a year where she had lower earnings. Higher benefits can be important to you later in life and increase the future benefit amounts your family and your survivors could receive.

Spousal Benefit and Survivor’s Benefits

1.  What do you think I also would like you to clarify the survivor benefit.  In your article you stated that the surviving spouse would be able to claim the deceased’s maximum accumulated benefits.  – EA

2.  Enjoy your MidWeek articles. Question: My wife and I are both 80 and collecting SS since age 65. Both of us had careers, I’m still contributing by working part-time. My benefit doubles my wife’s benefit. Based on the above, what will my wife’s benefit be when I pass away? – MT

As I mentioned in my articles, you may be eligible for spousal or survivor benefits from your spouse. This chart below shows how benefits are calculated under each of these situations. You can see that when you collect, a benefit can have a major impact on how much a spouse will get each month. If you are married, it’s important to consider your age and potential Social Security benefits as a couple to ensure that you maximize your joint lifetime benefits.

Since a surviving spouse may need a survivor benefit for income, many couples also want to boost the value of the survivor benefit, which will include any delayed retirement credits and cost-of-living adjustments. Usually, it’s husbands trying to maximize the survivor benefits for their wives. If a husband predeceases his wife, she can choose between her own benefit, her spousal benefit, or the survivor benefit, depending on which one is highest.

The common rule of thumb (without accounting for anything else) when it comes to collecting benefits: If even one spouse is expected to live past 80 years old, your joint lifetime benefits will usually be highest if the higher earner delays collecting Social Security until age 70.

Delaying benefits may be even more important if the higher earner is significantly older than his or her spouse, since the younger spouse will need to collect Social Security for much longer after the death of the primary worker.

Survivor Benefits:  Generally, the survivor benefit amount is based on the worker’s full retirement age, even if he or she died before reaching that age. But the amount the widow receives is determined by her age at the time of claim.

For example the survivor benefit for a widow, who is already full retirement age, would be worth 100% of her deceased husband’s full retirement age benefit, even though he died before reaching full retirement age. However, if the deceased worker had begun collecting reduced retirement benefits early, the maximum survivor benefit would be based on that reduced amount.

The maximum survivor benefit is worth 100% of the deceased worker’s benefit if the surviving spouse claims it at full retirement age or later. But it never grows any larger. However, a retirement benefit continues to earn delayed retirement credits worth 8% per year for each year benefits are postponed beyond full retirement age up to age 70.

So if a widow or widower is entitled to survivor benefits and also qualifies for retirement benefits on their own earnings record, they can switch to their own retirement benefit if it is bigger as early as age 62 or as late as age 70. In most cases it would make sense to wait until age 70 to switch to the maximum retirement benefit.

Spousal and Survivor Benefit

Difference Between a Worker’s Benefit and Spousal Benefit

1.  [In regard to your] Spousal Benefits Article in Midweek dated August 27, 2014…“You can’t collect both your own worker’s benefit and a spousal benefit, because SSA simply tacks on the difference between the two”…We both started receiving our SS benefits at the age of 62.  My husband is now 87 yrs old and I am 70.  For this year, 2014,  my husband receives $856/mo and I receive $583/mo., a difference of $273. As I understand your article, I should also be receiving $856. If the answer is yes,  is there anything I can do about it today?  Should I go to the Social Security office to see about it. – RW

2.  My mom is 85 years old and was married to my dad for 28 years.  She never remarried.  She receives $1381.00 from SSA. My dad is 84 and he receives SSA at a higher rate. Is my mom eligible to receive the difference?  Is there a ceiling cap to what she could receive?  My dad is remarried. – RSC

3. My friend is 63 years old and recently in a severe auto accident.  She is now collecting social security and is filing for disability social security. She was married for 13 years. Her ex-husband is now collecting social security. She said she was told she can not exceed collecting $1209 or 1290 monthly. Would she be able to collect the difference between her and her ex-husbands social security?  – RSC

I mentioned in the this article that You can’t collect both your own worker’s benefit and a spousal benefit, because the SSA simply tacks on the difference between the two. The difference tacked on is the difference between your personal or spousal benefit, not your husband’s benefit. SSA will only give you the highest of the two, not a combination of the two.  So, if your personal benefit is $1000 and your spousal benefit is $1200, the SSA will pay you your personal worker’s benefit of $1000 plus the extra $200.

For the first question, based on the information I received, RW is collecting her own benefit, not the spousal benefit since the spousal benefit can only be 50% of the primary worker’s benefit. In other words, the spousal benefit would be $428 a month (50% of the $856 her husband is receiving) and RW is currently receiving $583 a month.

Husband and wife will not receive the same amount at the same time (both living and not one collecting survivor’s benefit) unless both husband and wife made the same amount throughout their lifetime. Since RW’s personal benefit of $583 is higher than the spousal, that is the maximum amount she can receive.

The example I set would only work if she were collecting her spousal benefits and she qualified for her higher personal benefit. Then the SSA would tack on the difference between RW’s personal and spousal benefit and give her the extra $155 to reach the higher amount of $583.

For the second question, as I mentioned in an above answer, your mother can only receive the difference between her spousal benefits or her personal benefits. She can only collect the highest amount of the two, not a combination of the two. The ceiling is either 32 to 50% of her ex-husbands benefit or her personal benefit (depending on the age she collected it), whichever is the highest of the two.

For the third question, it is the same scenario where she can only collect either her benefit amount (personal or disability amount) or her spousal benefits, whichever is higher. 

The Claiming Strategies “File and Suspend” and “File and Suspend Plus” and “Spousal Benefit Change-up”

1. With interest I have been reading your articles in the Midweek newspaper on File and Suspend for Social Security.  I will be 63 in December and my plan was to start collecting when I am 70 years old.  I am still working. My wife is collecting social security on disability and she is 2 years younger than me. Would File and Suspend work for me? – MW
2. Hi, read last weeks’ article and todays in Midweek. Great info. This is my question: I will be 66 [soon]. My husband turned 60 [this past year]. I applied for his Social Security DISABILITY… Is there a way to maximize our benefits such as file and suspend or use spousal benefits? If my husband does start receiving his disability I think we would be fine without my SS benefits. They said there was about a 5 month wait for his disability to begin. Thank you David, great articles! – MLZA

You can use “file and suspend” if you are married and/or have dependent minor children. This strategy can boost household income immediately and provide for a larger survivor benefit later by using this strategy. This strategy works best for one-earner couples where one spouse worked full-time and the other spouse did not work outside the home or did not work long enough to qualify for Social Security retirement benefits.

You must be at least your full retirement age to take advantage of this strategy. It is not available to workers who claim benefits earlier. So for the first question the strategy would not work since you are 63. Also you can’t receive Social Security retirement benefits and disability benefits at the same time. The only exception is for an individual who took early retirement through Social Security, which is possible at 62, before being approved for disability benefits.

The Social Security disability program exists to provide disability benefits to those who are unable to work as a result of their conditions and who are too young to draw their retirement benefits. In this sense, Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) can be thought of as a retirement benefit for those who are forced to retire early. Since your wife collects SSDI disability benefits, she will be converted to retirement benefits when she reaches full retirement age.

For the second question, you may be able to file and suspend since you are over 66 (FRA) and your husband can take the spousal benefits. However since you are claiming disability, he will not be able to receive both. You may want to check to see which is the higher amount that he would receive. If you are fine with his disability and don’t need your personal benefits, it may make sense to wait until you are 70. You will want to see what the break-even analysis is. 

File and Suspend

1.  Your article was very interesting. To be clear:  If, say Arthur aged 75 collects social security checks of $2000.oo monthly, what would determine the amount of spousal benefits of his 62 year old spouse based on the $2000.00 benefit amount. If the spouse’s individual benefit at age 62 is $700.00 would it be beneficial to file on the spousal benefit and allow the 62 year olds benefit to increase til age 66 and then file an individual account, or is there an either/or clause where an individual can only file once as an individual or as a spouse?  Would the spouse file at 62 his/her own individual benefit, then submit another claim when he/she attains 70 years, and yet again when Arthur becomes deceased? – GC

2.  I have been reading your SS articles in MidWeek with interest and appreciate the info. I’m considering applying for full SS benefits at 66 in a couple of months. My spouse began her benefits at age 62 and is now 64 and gets about $500 a month. When I apply for full benefits, will her benefit check increase to half of my amount?  In other words, will she then qualify for the spousal  benefit as you mentioned in Part 2 of your series?  If this is the case, then is it automatic or does she have to apply for the spousal benefit at the same time I apply for my full benefits?   Can this be done on line or best in person at SSA office? – DA

As a married couple, you and your spouse have two basic options when creating a Social Security benefit strategy:

  • If both spouses are eligible for benefits, the first option is for each spouse to collect their own personal benefit.
  • The second option is for the lower-earning spouse to collect up to 50 percent of the higher earner’s benefit if they both wait until full retirement age to collect. In order to collect a spousal benefit, the primary worker must have already filed for benefits.

Let’s look at an example that helps illustrate this point. You can see the graph below. John and Beth are a married couple. John is the higher earner. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll say that they’re the same age. At age 62, they each have the opportunity to start taking their own reduced benefit early.

Since Beth is under her full retirement age and her spousal benefit is less than her personal benefit at age 62, she only has the option of taking her own personal benefit. If her spousal benefit were larger than her personal benefit, the SSA would pay her a combination of personal and spousal benefit that equaled that higher amount.

However, if she and John wait to file until they are both at the full retirement age of 66, the SSA will give Beth the option of collecting a spousal benefit or her personal benefit. Since both amounts are equal at her full retirement age, she’s probably better off collecting a spousal benefit (if John files for benefits), and allowing her personal benefit to accumulate extra credits.

If both Beth and John wait to collect until they turn 70, they are both better off collecting their own personal benefit because the spousal benefit will not include any delayed retirement credits. This is because the spousal benefit maxes out at 50% of the primary benefit, not the enhanced benefit. Keep in mind that this and the other examples are very simple and leave out factors like taxes and cost-of-living adjustments.

So for the first question, if the spouse is under 66, she is eligible for only a partial spousal benefit, which is 32%–49.9% of her husband’s full benefit ($2,000). You will want to check your statement or contact the SSA office to see what the amount is. She can collect a combination of her personal and spousal benefit that equals the higher amount. If she decides to wait to 66, then she has the option of collecting 50% of her husband’s benefit and allowing hers to continue growing.

It is important to note that once she starts collecting at a certain age, it is a permanent decision and cannot refile (there is one exception, please see the answer to one question below). For the survivor’s benefit, if the spouse is at full retirement age she can collect 100% of full benefit. 

For question 2, because she is only 64, she will not get her full spousal benefits. She will need to reach full retirement age, which in her case is 66, in order to qualify for and apply for 50% of her husband’s benefits.

Spousal vs Survivor

1.  I read with interest your article about the spousal benefit called File and Suspend Plus in the Midweek of Sept 3,2014. My husband and I were thinking about taking advantage of the spousal benefit next year when he turns 66 and I turn 64. Our understanding was that he can file and suspend when I opt to take my benefits at age 64. He would then collect half of my benefits. It seems to us to be more beneficial than for me just to take half of his benefits and both of us wait til we’re age 70 to collect maximum accumulated benefits. – EA
2.  My husband is 66 years old, works full-time, and is the higher earner.  He has not filed for his full retirement benefit.  I am a year younger, work full-time but plan to retire at the end of the year.  I would be most grateful if you could inform me whether we could choose to do one of the following plans:
  • Plan A: My husband files and suspends his FRA of 66 now.  When I turn 66 next year in April, I file and collect my FRA and my husband then files to collect his spousal benefit which would be 50% of my full benefit.  When he turns 70, he files to collect his full maximum benefit.
  • Plan B: My husband files and suspends his FRA of 66 now.  When I turn 66,  I apply and collect my spousal benefit which would be 50% of my husband’s FRA benefit.  At 70, my husband starts collecting his full maximum benefit and I continue to collect spousal support.  When I turn 70, I then switch to collect my personal benefit.
If we are eligible to do either of the above plans, the most important factor will be what are the amounts of our individual FRA benefits so that we can determine what the 50%  spousal benefit will amount to.  We will need to get that information. – AN

For both of these questions, without getting more detailed information, it seems to be couples in which each spouse worked and qualified for Social Security benefits on their own record. If this is the case, they can use what is called a “File and Suspend Plus” strategy or the “Spousal Benefit Change-up Strategy.”

File and Suspend Plus
If both spouses worked during their careers, there are some other advanced strategies to consider. The first is something called File & Suspend Plus. Under this strategy, the higher earner files and suspends, allowing the spouse to collect a benefit. Both spouses collect their higher personal benefits once they turn 70.

Let’s look at an example. In this scenario, we have a couple, Jane and Steve, in which Steve is the higher earner and is two years older. Steve files and suspends at his full retirement age of 66, which will allow Jane to collect a spousal benefit while Steve’s benefit accrues more credits. Since she’s not at her full retirement age yet, she’ll have to wait two years before she claims, per SSA rules. When she turns 66, she starts claiming her spousal benefit, which is 50% of Steve’s full benefit.

At age 70, Steve starts collecting his maximum accumulated benefit and Jane continues with the spousal benefit. When Jane turns 70, she switches over to her personal benefit, which has been accruing extra credits the whole time, maximizing their household income. If Steve predeceases Jane, she will be able to switch to her survivor’s benefit, which will be Steve’s maximum accumulated benefit.

The obvious benefit of this strategy is that it maximizes Social Security income at every stage and leaves a potentially larger survivor’s benefit. Potential disadvantages lie in the details and things like age differences, taxes, and life expectancy can all affect the overall outcome.

You may be asking, Why can’t Jane collect her spousal benefit before her full retirement age?” The SSA won’t allow someone under their FRA to collect a spousal benefit before they collect on their own personal benefit. So, if Jane wanted to start collecting at age 62, the SSA would tap into her reduced personal benefit first, which would prevent her benefit from accumulating more credits.

File and Suspend Plus

Spousal Benefit Change-up Strategy
Another advanced strategy is the spousal benefit change-up. Under this scenario (see the chart below), the lower earner claims benefits at full retirement age, allowing the higher earner to delay taking Social Security, while still claiming a spousal benefit. At 70 the higher earner switches to collecting a personal benefit.

Here we have another couple, Mark and Anna, who are both at their full retirement age of 66. Mark is the higher earner. Anna claims her full Social Security benefits at age 66, foregoing any additional credits. Mark claims his spousal benefits while letting his own benefit accumulate until age 70.

At age 70, Mark switches from the spousal benefit to his personal benefit plus accumulated credits, while Anna continues to take her personal benefit, since it’s higher than what she would get as a spouse. At Mark’s death, Anna switches to the survivor benefit, which is 100% of Mark’s maximum benefit.

Now, let’s talk about the fine print. These advanced claiming strategies work best when the spouses are within a couple of years of age and the higher earner has reached full retirement age. The benefits of these two strategies are that they maximize income while maximizing the survivor benefit. We can’t estimate the effects of taxes, cost-of-living adjustments, or any income limits in simple examples, but they can have a major effect on the overall outcome of claiming strategies, so it’s important to consider these things carefully.

As always, it’s really important to speak to me or another qualified financial advisor who understands your personal situation and can make some specific recommendations. All Social Security benefit strategies depend on balancing factors like age, health, life expectancy, income, and taxes against your personal goals.

These strategies may be what you want to use for the two couples. However it will depend on who is the higher earner and what the spousal benefit and personal benefit will be. 

Spousal Benefit Change-up

Thanks for your article in today’s MidWeek regarding Social Security benefits. It was especially useful for me because I retired from the federal gov’t and receive an annuity, which has social security benefit implications. I ran my numbers and [I was] advised that I should file (I’ll be 66 in December) and then immediately suspend my benefit so that it starts when I’m 69 and 9 months.  It also advised that my wife file and restrict her application to her spousal benefit to start when she is full retirement age.  I spoke on the phone with SSA this morning and they told me that that option is no longer available. Do you know if there has been a recent change in SSA rules? – WK

According to the SSA.gov website, the option to take spousal benefits is still available. Some people refer to the spousal benefits as the “restricted application strategy.” As mentioned in an answer above, you can “file and suspend” so your wife can take her free spousal benefits. She can then either continue taking the spousal benefits or switch to her own if it is more.

I recommend calling the SSA back and refer to http://www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2/yourspouse.htm#a0=1 and explain that you are going to “file and suspend” so that your wife can collect her spousal benefits. 

Benefits for Those That are Divorced

I’m divorced….. married 24 years in Hawaii. My ex is 69 yrs old and still working and paying into SS. I know that I can collect 1/2 of his benefit. Can I only start once he is collecting??? (ie – I assume at 70) Can I start now??  (Oh, I am 63.)  I hope to delay collecting on my benefits til I’m 70.  What is the best strategy?? I understand that you will probably request more specific info….. but can you answer these questions in a general way. Thanks again for your help. – MD

Divorcees who qualify for benefits receive more favorable treatment from Social Security than do spouses. If a spouse wants to claim spousal benefits, then the other spouse must also claim their own retirement benefits. However, as a divorcee you do not need to wait until your former spouse claims his or her retirement benefits. As long as your former spouse is eligible to claim retirement benefits, then you may be able to claim divorcee benefits.

Here are some requirements to meet the requirements: married for at least 10 years, not remarried, and divorced for at least 2 years if the ex has not claimed benefits. If the ex is collecting benefits, the 2 years rule is waived. 

But since you are 63, you are under Full Retirement Age (FRA) and can only collect partial benefits (not 50%). As mentioned in an answer above, you will have to see which is greater, the spousal benefit or your current benefit. The SSA will pay you a combination of your personal and spousal benefit that equals the higher amount. You can check with the SSA or visit their offices and check what those amounts would be.

If you do not need the benefits, it may be best to wait if you think based on health, family genetics, lifestyle, etc. that you will live past 80. 

Do you know if the spouse can receive benefits if divorced and ex-husband has remarried? – C

If your ex-husband has remarried, it will not impact your benefits or his as the ex-spouse as long as the above requirements hold true. 

Other Social Security Related Questions

I am a federal employee under the CSRS retirement.  I did not contribute to social security and there is a penalty to collect SS if earned outside of federal service.  I am also not eligible to collect any of my spouses SS because of annuity amount.  My annuity is below the maximum monthly SS a person can collect.  Am I just out of luck here. – CH
Until 1984, employment by the Federal government was covered under the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) and not by Social Security. If you worked for a Federal agency during those years, you did not pay Social Security tax on your earnings and those earnings are not shown on your record.
In 1984, a second retirement system – the Federal Employees Retirement System, or FERS – was introduced. People who began working for the Federal government in 1984 or later are covered by FERS instead of CSRS. Also, some workers who had been covered by the CSRS program chose to switch to the FERS program when it became available. Work under FERS is covered by Social Security.

If you stayed under the CSRS program after 1983, you still are not covered by Social Security but you are covered under the Medicare program and you pay Medicare taxes on your Federal earnings. The
 Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) factsheet explains whether you might be affected.
How WEP Can Affect Your Benefit
If you think your pension will affect your Social Security benefit, you can

Your Noncovered Pension May Affect Your Benefits As Spouse or Widow/Widower

If you receive a pension from a government job in which you did not pay Social Security taxes, some or all of your Social Security spouse’s, widow’s or widower’s benefit may be offset due to receipt of that pension. This offset is referred to as the Government Pension Offset, or GPO.

The GPO will reduce the amount of your Social Security spouse’s, widow’s or widower’s benefits by two-thirds of the amount of your government pension. For example, if you receive a monthly civil service pension of $600, two-thirds of that, or $400, must be used to offset your Social Security spouse’s, widow’s or widower’s benefits. If you are eligible for a $500 spouse’s benefit, you will receive $100 per month from Social Security ($500 – $400 = $100).

Some individuals are exempt from the offset. Generally, your Social Security benefits as a spouse, widow or widower will not be reduced if you:

  • Are receiving a government pension that is not based on your earnings; or
  • Are a federal (including Civil Service Offset), state or local government employee whose government pension is based on a job where you were paying Social Security taxes; and
    • you filed for and were entitled to spouse’s, widow’s or widower’s benefits before April 1, 2004;
    • your last day of employment (that your pension is based on) is before July 1, 2004; or
    • you paid Social Security taxes on your earnings during the last 60 months of government service. (Under certain conditions, fewer than 60 months may be required for people whose last day of employment falls after June 30, 2004, and before March 2, 2009.)

If you need additional information about the exemption, please read the “When won’t my Social Security benefits be reduced?” section of the SSA “Government Pension Offsetfactsheet.

Re: Spousal Benefits & File and Suspend, shouldn’t it be made clear that once decisions are made, changes are not permitted? For example, we took our benefits as early as possible (age 62) – separately.  I am now 78 and spouse is 77 and 1/2.  We have obviously done very well financially within the program, but we see implications that these other options are available, but isn’t that ONLY at the time of original selection?  – P & J W

I wish I can always write more than 500 to 600 words I am allowed in my articles! But yes, once you decide to take benefits, it becomes a permanent decision. There is one exception however. The reset or “do-over” feature gives people who regret taking a reduced benefit at 62.

You will have to file Social Security Form 521 “Request for Withdrawal of Application” and REPAY all your Social Security Benefits received. You will not have to pay it back with interest or adjustments for inflation.

You can then reapply at the age you currently are at or wait until later if you want to accrue credits. You can only do this once and it is irreversible. Your spouse may thereafter collect spousal or survivor benefits based on your stepped-up benefit rather than your previous and lower early-retirement amount.

Well it looks like this date has passed [for the social security webinar]. Any planes for a new one? – DH

You can click here to see the replay and also sign up for our newsletter on the right. I will be hosting more webinars and also plan on hosting a live event on Social Security. Please stay tuned!

Thanks for your questions and feel free to continue asking them! I will continue to update this page: Social Security Frequently Asked Questions. I would be glad to help!