Ask Larry: Do I Need To Reapply At 70 If I’m Receiving Social Security Spousal Benefits?

Ask Larry: Do I Need To Reapply At 70 If I’m Receiving Social Security Spousal Benefits?

Today’s Social Security column addresses questions about taking retirement benefits after spousal benefits, taking survivor’s benefits before retirement benefits and whether continued income can affect a spouse’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.


Do I Need To Reapply At 70 If I’m Receiving Social Security Spousal Benefits?

Hi Larry, I have been receiving Social Security spousal benefits based on my spouse’s record for three years. I turn 70 in November. Am I supposed to do something to receive retirement benefits using my own account? Social Security has not notified me, however I had a note in a margin of a letter saying to contact them. Will I get more or less? Also, they have been deducting 2/3 of the amount that I receive from my teaching pension, will that ever stop? Thanks, Andrea

Hi Andrea, When you applied for spousal benefits I assume you restricted your own Social Security retirement benefits from the scope of your application. In that case, you’d need to file a separate application in order to claim Social Security retirement benefits on your own account.

It sounds like your spousal benefits are being partially offset due to the Government Pension Offset (GPO) provision. The GPO would not apply to your own benefits, but your own benefits could be subject to the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP). The WEP can cause a person’s retirement benefit rate to be computed using a less generous calculation formula if they also receive a pension that’s based on their earnings that were exempt from Social Security taxes.

There isn’t enough information in your question for me to know whether or not filing for your own benefits would be advantageous, however 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

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Is It True That If I Apply For Divorced Widow’s Benefits Social Security Will Pay Me The Higher Of That Benefit Or My Own Benefit?

Hi Larry, I am 63 and would like to start withdrawing my “divorced widow’s benefit” now, even if my retirement benefit at this time is slightly higher than my divorced widow’s benefit. I would like my own retirement benefits to grow till my 70 so I can then switch to it when it will be even higher.

I am told that once I apply, Social security will pay me whichever benefit is higher even if I specifically apply for the lower divorced widow’s benefit at this time. Is that true? Thanks, Sylvia

Hi Sylvia, That isn’t true. You are allowed to restrict your application to survivor benefits only, excluding your retirement benefits from the scope of your application. You could then apply separately for your own retirement benefits when you reach 70.

The bottom line is that if your own benefit rate is higher than your divorced widow’s rate, your best filing strategy could be to apply for divorced widow’s benefits as soon as your earnings would allow at least some benefits to be paid, and then switch to your own retirement benefit at 70. If you aren’t working, you may want to file for survivor benefits ASAP, but if you are working then the best time to apply would depend on your benefit rate and your expected earnings. Best, Larry


What Happens To My Wife’s Benefits If I’m Still Working?

Hi Larry, I am 53 and my wife is 59. Due to a Parkinson’s diagnosis for my wife, we are attempting to get her on SSA Disability. With or without that happening around age 60 for her, at age 62 she might take her normal Social Security. What happens then since I will still be working until she reaches Medicare age at least. We have decent 401K/IRA situation in all tax deferred accounts. Thanks, Tim

Hi Tim, Your work and earnings won’t have any adverse effect on any Social Security benefits that your wife collects based on her own earnings history. If she’s approved for Social Security disability (SSDI) benefits, she’ll be eligible for Medicare effective with the 25th month of her SSDI entitlement. So in other words, your wife will be eligible for Medicare effective with the earlier of a) the month she reaches age 65, or b) two years after her SSDI benefits start.

SSDI benefits are paid at 100% of a person’s primary insurance amount (PIA), which is essentially the amount they’d be paid if they apply for Social Security retirement benefits at full retirement age (FRA). But if your wife instead starts drawing Social Security retirement benefits at 62, they’ll be reduced for age to roughly 70% of her PIA. So it would be much more advantageous for your wife to collect SSDI benefits if possible. Best, Larry


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