Don’t tell my wife, but if my inbox is any indication, I’m a big hit with the ladies! I have a hunch I get more emails from women around the country than any other old goat my age who isn’t rich or famous. Alas, they are just asking boring old Social Security questions. Here’s the latest batch.
Q: You write a very confusing column. You recently wrote that someone cannot take reduced benefits on one record and then later switch to full benefits on another record. I always thought I would get widow’s benefits when my husband dies because they are much higher than my own. But are you now saying that I can’t switch to higher benefits later?
A: OK, maybe I’m not the big hero with women that I thought I was. Maybe I just confuse the heck out of them, and that’s why they are sending me all these emails.
I certainly am sorry I didn’t make things clear enough in that recent column. I should have explained that I was talking only about retirement and spousal benefits -- not widow’s benefits.
So to clarify, the law says that if you decide to take your retirement benefits before your full retirement age (currently age 66), you must file for any and all benefits for which you are eligible at the same time. In a nutshell, what that rule is saying is that you can NOT file for spousal benefits on your husband’s or wife’s record at age 62 (or any age before 66) and then wait until a later age to apply for higher benefits on your own account. That is the deemed filing rule. When you sign up for one Social Security benefit, you are deemed to be filing for any other benefit you are due.
But that deemed filing rule does NOT apply to widows. And that is a huge and special advantage that widows (and widowers) have. For example, assuming she is not working, a widow could take reduced retirement benefits at age 62, and then at age 66, switch to full widow’s benefits on her husband’s record. Or, it may be better for her to switch things around. In other words, she could file for reduced widow’s benefits as early as age 60 (again, assuming she is not working) and then, at 66, switch to full retirement benefits on her own record. Or she could delay signing up for her own Social Security until age 70 and then get a 32 percent “delayed retirement credit” added to her monthly Social Security check.
Or, in your case, it sounds like both you and your husband are already getting your own Social Security benefits, and that your husband’s rate is higher. So if he dies before you do, then you will be able to switch to higher widow’s benefits on his record. For example, let’s say he is getting $2,500 per month and you are getting $1,800 per month. When he dies, you will keep getting your $1,800, and then you will get an additional $700 in widow’s benefits to take you up to his $2,500 rate.
Q: I am getting widow’s benefits from my first husband. When I was 68 years old, I married a second husband. But I still get widow’s benefits from my first. If my second husband dies, will I get widow’s benefits from both men?
A: Not from both. But you will get to pick and choose. In other words, if husband No. 2 dies, you will continue to get widow’s benefits from No. 1’s Social Security account, unless No. 2 has a higher benefit. In that case, you should switch to widow’s benefits on his record.
Q: I was 66 last August and filed for Social Security at that time. I get $750 per month. My husband is 67 and has been getting Social Security since he turned 66. He gets $2,250 per month. How come I’m not getting any spousal benefits on his record? I called Social Security twice and talked to two different representatives. The first said I wasn’t eligible for anything. The second said I was and set up an interview for me later this month. Am I due anything?
A: Unless there is something about your case that you didn’t tell me, it sure sounds like you are due some extra benefits on your husband’s record. Because you took benefits at your full retirement age, you are due an amount equal to one half of your husband’s Social Security. That should be $1,125 (less your own benefit). In other words, you would keep getting your $750 retirement benefit, and then you should get an additional $375 in spousal benefits to take you up to the $1,125 level.
Q: I am 66 and getting my own Social Security. My husband is 61 and he gets SSDI. His benefit is quite a bit higher than mine. I understand he will be switched to Social Security at 62. He is gravely ill. If he were to die before he starts getting real Social Security, would I be able to get widow’s benefits?
A: You said your husband is getting “SSDI.” For those readers who don’t know, that means he is getting Social Security disability insurance. Or in other words, monthly disability benefits. And as I have pointed out hundreds of times in this column, disability benefits are just as “real” as Social Security retirement benefits. So your husband is already getting “real” Social Security. When he reaches age 66 (not 62), he will be automatically switched to the retirement program -- at the same benefit rate. And you will start getting widow’s benefits no matter how old he is when he dies, and no matter if he is getting disability benefits or retirement benefits.
Q: You are the most wonderful man in the world. I love your column and I learn so much from it. Thank you for writing it!
A: I told you I’m a hit with the ladies!