Ask Larry: ​​​​​​Can My Wife Take Reduced Retirement Before Full Spousal?

Forbes - SSA logoSocial Security may be one of your largest assets. What and when you collect will make a huge difference to your lifetime benefits.

Today’s column examines how spouses can sequence filing dates, potential effects of the WEP and GPO, the availability of widow’s benefits and the calculation of spousal benefits Larry Kotlikoff is the founder and president of Economic Security Planning, a company that markets Maximize My Social Security, a Social Security benefits calculator referred to in this post.

See more Ask Larry answers here.

Ask Larry about Social Security:


Can My Wife Take Reduced Retirement Before Full Spousal?

Hi Larry, Can my wife collect her retirement benefit based on her earning record from now until she is 66 then switch to spousal benefit? Her current benefit is computed $297/month and at 70 $472. Her 50% spousal will be much , much higher. Thanks, Frank

Hi Frank, No, she can’t switch to spousal benefits only at age 66. If she starts reduced benefits on her own before full retirement age (FRA), the reduction she’d take is permanent. So, she can start reduced benefits on her own prior to FRA, but at the price of a lower monthly benefit rate for as long as both of you are living. Say for example her age 66 retirement rate is $357, but she starts now at $297. That $60 reduction will continue even if she becomes eligible for an unreduced excess spousal benefit at age 66. If half of your full retirement age rate was $1,000, for example, her unreduced excess spousal benefit would be $643 (i.e. $1,000 – $357), which would then be added to her own reduced benefit of $297. So, her total benefit rate in this example would be $940 instead of the $1,000 she’d get if she waited until FRA to start dra wing. Best, Larry


Is It Correct That My Retirement Benefits Will Be Reduced?

Hi Larry, I am retired from a federal government job I was told that upon my receiving my Social Security benefit that my retirement pay would be offset. However, I have been paying my Social Security taxes since my employment there. I am led to believe that other retirees have made that same claim but still had their retirement pay reduced. Is there any hidden reasons for that, or is SSA wrong in factoring that in? Thanks, Beth

Hi Beth, If you always paid Social Security taxes on your wages with the government, your Social Security benefit will not be subject to reduction under the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP). I am not an expert on the Federal Employee Retirement System, assuming that is what’s referenced to in your question. That program does pay a temporary annuity supplement in some cases, which stops when the person becomes eligible for Social Security be nefits. Best, Larry


Can I Get Widow’s Benefits Now?

Hi Larry, I am 58 and my husband was 73. He just passed away ––– will I be able to get survivor benefits now or will I have to wait till I am 62? We were married 25 years. Thanks, Maria

Hi Maria, I’m very sorry for your loss. You can qualify for reduced Social Security widow’s benefits as early as age 60, or now if you are disabled based on Social Security’s standards. There is also a small lump sum death benefit of $255 that you should be eligible for right away. You will need to contact Social Security to apply for that payment. You can make an appointment by calling 1-800-772-1213. Before deciding on when to apply for widow’s benefits, you may run expert software, whether my company’s software or another very accurate program, to sort through your filing options. Best, Larry


Will My Spousal Benefits Be Reduced If My Wife Takes Reduced Benefits?

Hi Larry, The Maximize My Social Security calculations show that my spouse should file when she turns 64 and since I qualify to use the restricted application option, that I should restrict my application to the spousal benefit when I turn 66 and then switch to my retirement benefit at 70. What I am not clear on is whether I receive 50% of her projected FRA benefit or 50% of her reduced benefit which is approximately 13% lower than her FRA benefit. Thanks, Ray

Hi Ray, Your spousal benefits will be unreduced (i.e. equal to 50% of your wife’s full retirement age rate) since you will be starting them at your full retirement age. The fact that your wife will not be full retirement age when she starts her benefits is irrelevant to the computation of your spousal benefit rate. Best, Larry


If My Husband Dies, Can I Stop Drawing My Benefit And Receive His?

Hi Larry, If I’m drawing my retirement benefit and my husband dies, can I switch from my retirement benefit to my widow’s benefit? Thanks, Heidi

Hi Heidi, Not exactly. If your husband dies and you are eligible for widow’s benefits, you would continue to receive your own retirement benefit plus an excess widow’s benefit, assuming that his benefit amount is higher than yours. And, if you’re full retirement age or older when your husband dies, your total benefit rate would equal at least the amount that he was receiving, and possibly even a bit more if he filed for reduced retirement benefits.Best, Larry

To learn more about your Social Security options, visit Maximize My Social Security.