Ask Larry: Will My Social Security Retirement Benefits Be Reduced If My Ex Files On My Account?

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Today’s column addresses questions about what happens to a person’s benefit when an ex files on their record, how to file for retirement benefits after taking spousal benefits first and whether it would be a good idea to take early retirement after disability benefits. Larry Kotlikoff is a Professor of Economics at Boston University and the founder and president of Economic Security Planning, Inc, which markets Maximize My Social Security and MaxiFi Planner.

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 Social Security Retirement Benefits Be Reduced If My Ex Files On My Account?

HI Larry, I’m 11 years older than my ex. We were divorced approximately 20 years ago, and I’ve made most of my Social Security taxed income since the divorce. I believe we barely made the 10 years of marriage requirement but was close.

I am now 70 and have waited to apply for my benefits so they will be higher — approximately $3,300 a month. She will not turn 62 for three or four years, and also has her own Social Security earnings although less than mine. I also know that she underreports her income anyway.

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Do I get my $3,300 a month until she turns 62? Or do my benefits get reduced immediately even before she makes a claim on man record?

Social Security says that whatever her claim, it does not change the amount I will receive. Is that correct and will I continue to receive the $3,300 plus increases? Would her divorced spousal benefits change what I get monthly? Thanks, Joseph

Hi Joseph, Nothing your ex collects from Social Security would have any effect on your Social Security retirement benefits.

If she’s able to collect divorced spousal benefits based on your record at some point, she would get those benefits in addition to and with no effect on your ability to collect your full retirement benefit amount.

Even if you had a dozen or more exes collecting divorced spousal benefits on your record, none of them would affect your retirement benefit or any other based on your record.

Social Security spousal and divorced spousal benefits are auxiliary benefits, meaning that they are paid in addition to the worker’s own retirement benefit. Payment of auxiliary benefits does not cause the worker whose record the auxiliary benefits are paid on to receive a lower retirement benefit rate. Best, Larry


How Do I Take My Retirement Benefits After First Taking Spousal Benefits?

Hi Larry, I currently receive a spousal benefit. I filed a restricted application successfully a couple of years ago. When I turn 70, I intend to switch over to my retirement benefit based on my own record.

How to do this?

When I examine the Social Security site, I see no entry point which allows me to do this. When I view my account, it will not give me any estimate of my retirement benefit since I am already receiving a spousal benefit.

If I begin a new application process, will the Social Security system recognize this and prevent me from completing the new application? Thanks, Julian

Hi Julian, You’ll need to file an application when you want to establish entitlement to your retirement benefit, which as you note is based on your own record as opposed your spousal benefit which is of course based on your spouse’s record.

Social Security says that they are continually expanding their online capabilities, so I’m not sure whether or not you’ll be able to file your retirement benefit application online.

If you’re unable to file an application online, you can file your claim with Social Security by phone. Or you could file in person if Social Security’s offices are open to the public when you decide to take your retirement benefits.

If you’re interested in getting an accurate estimate of your Social Security retirement benefit rate, you may want to use my company’s software — Maximize My Social Security or MaxiFi Planner — which can also analyze your filing options so that you can be sure to choose the best filing strategy for you and your spouse. Social Security calculators provided by other companies or non-profits may provide proper suggestions if they were built with extreme care. Best, Larry


Can I Have My SSDI Benefits Changed Over To Early Retirement Benefits At 62?

Hi Larry, I started receiving SSDI at 59 and I am now 62. Can I have my SSDI changed over to early retirement instead of waiting the full retirement age of 66+ years as the amount I now received will not changed when I reach the age of 66 and 2 months? Thanks, Mike

Hi Mike, You could, but you’d probably end up with a lower benefit rate by doing so.

When you qualify for Social Security disability (SSDI) benefits, your benefit rate is calculated at 100% of your primary insurance amount (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).

So qualifying for SSDI benefits is essentially like starting your unreduced full retirement age benefits early. If you continue to qualify for SSDI until you reach FRA, your SSDI benefits then convert to regular Social Security retirement benefits at the same unreduced rate.

You can’t be paid both SSDI and Social Security retirement benefits at the same time, and if you switch from SSDI to Social Security retirement benefits prior to FRA, your benefit rate would be reduced for age. If you were born in 1957, for example, and if you choose to start drawing your Social Security retirement benefits at 62, your retirement benefits would be paid at the rate of roughly 72.5% of your PIA.

In other words, switching from SSDI benefits to Social Security retirement benefits at 62 would usually just result in the person being paid a substantially lower benefit rate.

Generally, the only circumstances when it might be advisable for a person drawing SSDI to consider switching to Social Security retirement benefits prior to FRA is if a) their SSDI benefits are being offset because they also receive workers compensation benefits or a public disability benefit; b) they have an eligible spouse and/or child who could receive a higher auxiliary benefit rate because of a higher family maximum benefit (FMB)

FMB
rate that might apply; or c) if the person is earning enough to cause their SSDI benefits to be suspended.

If none of those apply in your case, continuing to draw your SSDI benefits until they automatically convert to Social Security retirement benefits when you reach FRA would mean a higher benefit rate than taking early retirement would yield. Best, Larry


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