Mon. Dec 4th, 2023

Today’s column addresses questions about eligibility to take retirement benefits at 70 after taking spousal benefits at full retirement age, filing early as the lower earner or delaying and finding current and future benefit estimates after filing for other 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.

Am I Right: Can My Wife Take Social Security Spousal Benefits Now And Retirement At 70?

Hi Larry, I’m 71 and have been taking my Social Security retirement benefit. My wife will file for hers in May when she turns 66.5. I understand that she will get the larger of either her own retirement benefit on her record or her spousal benefit on my record.

But if her spousal benefit is larger, she can change at 70 to her own benefit if her age 70 amount is larger? Or will she be stuck with her lower retirement benefit amount for life? I thought she might be able to get her spousal benefit plus her age 70 retirement benefit, which would be a better deal for us of course, but is she locked out from that if she takes her retirement benefit now? Thanks, Frank

Hi Frank, I assume you mean that your wife’s full retirement age (FRA) is 66 and six months, in which case she must have been born after 1/1/1954. That means that when she files for either her own retirement benefits or for spousal benefits, she’ll be deemed to be filing for both of those benefits. She’ll then be paid essentially the higher of the two rates, and her rate will be reduced for age if she starts drawing benefits prior to FRA.

Only people who were born prior to 1/2/1954 are allowed to file for spousal benefits at FRA and then switch to their retirement benefit based on their own records at 70. Your wife may want to consider using my company’s software — Maximize My Social Security or MaxiFi Planner — to fully analyze the options available to her so she can make an informed decision about the best strategy for maximizing her benefits. Social Security calculators provided by other companies or non-profits may provide proper suggestions if they were built with extreme care. Best, Larry

What Is The Best Option For My Wife?

Hi Larry, I am 66 and started collecting my retirement benefit of $2,500 last July. My wife will be 66 in April and can collect $1,900 shortly thereafter. Would you say she should file then or is there a better way to proceed? Thanks, Eric

Hi Eric, Your wife will only be eligible for her own retirement benefit since it’s clearly more than half of your full retirement benefit rate. She could apply for her retirement benefits any time between now and 70, and basically, the sooner she starts drawing the lower her monthly rate will be.

It mostly comes down to which option she’s most comfortable with. How long can she delay and how long does she want to delay? Every month of delaying retirement benefits up to 70 means a higher monthly rate for life.

If you die before your wife she then would be eligible for the higher of her own retirement benefit rate or her widow’s benefit equal to your retirement benefit rate, regardless of when she starts drawing her own retirement benefits.

So her best filing strategy depends on factors such as your and your wife’s health, your expected maximum ages of life, and your financial circumstances. Best, Larry

Where Can I Find My Current And Age 70 Benefit Rates?

Hi Larry, I was born in 1952 and filed for spousal benefits with a restricted application in March of last year. I no longer see estimates on the My Social Security statement since I’ve started taking spousal benefits. How do I determine or where can I find my own current and age 70 retirement benefit estimate as were shown before? Thanks, Cory

Hi Cory, What you experienced is one of the limitations of Social Security’s website. For whatever reason, they stop providing online benefit estimates to people who are already drawing benefits, even if they’re only drawing spousal benefits.

You could try calling Social Security to ask them to provide you with benefits estimates, but that’s a hit and miss process. The Social Security benefit calculator available in my company’s software linked to above can give you accurate estimates of your current and age 70 rates, and it would also allow you to fully analyze all of your options so that you can determine your best strategy for maximizing your benefits. Best, Larry

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