Today’s Social Security column addresses questions about whether you can qualify for subsequent spouse benefits if you take early retirement benefits, work while receiving disability benefits, and whether a parent’s widow’s benefit has been set at the correct amount. 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.
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Can I get Social Security benefits at age 62 and partner pensions later?
Hi Larry, if I get my Social Security retirement benefit at 62 can I switch to my partner benefit when he claims his retirement benefits. If so, what percentage of my husband’s benefit will I receive? Thank you Morgan
Hi Morgan, You cannot switch from your own retirement benefit to a partner benefit, but you may be able to qualify for a (partial) partner benefit in addition to your pension benefit when your husband starts to receive his retirement benefit.
However, you are only eligible for additional partner’s pension if your husband’s primary insurance amount (PIA) is more than twice your PIA. A person’s PIA is equal to Social Security’s retirement benefit percentage if they begin drawing their benefits at full retirement age (FRA).
For example, suppose Mary applies for her Social Security benefits at age 62. Mary’s PIA is $800, but Mary’s benefit percentage is reduced for age to $563. Several years later, Mary’s husband applies for his benefit and his PIA is $2,000.
Mary’s unabridged spouse allowance would then be calculated by subtracting her PIA from 50% of her husband’s PIA, which in Mary’s case is $200. If Mary is at least Full Retirement Age (FRA) when she qualifies for the Additional Spouse Benefit, then she would receive the non-reduced additional spousal amount of $200 in addition to her own reduced rate of $563 to give her a combined rate of $763 to give.
But if Mary qualifies for partner benefits before the FRA, her partner rate would also be reduced for age.
Before you decide when to start enjoying your benefits, consider using my company’s software — Maximize My Social Security or MaxiFi Planner — to fully analyze your options so you can make informed decisions about your best strategy for maximize benefits and avoid unknowingly leaving money on the table. Social Security calculators provided by other companies or non-profits can make good suggestions if built with extreme care. Dear Larry
How much can I earn without penalties if I receive Social Security benefits?
Hi Larry, I am on disability benefits. How much can I earn without a fine if I am incapacitated for work? And can I work at all if I am incapacitated for work? If I can and there is supposedly a limit, is it a monthly fee or a certain dollar amount? Thank you Joshua
Hi Joshua, The full answer to your question is complex and depends on whether or not you have previously worked while receiving Social Security benefits. People who receive SSDI are first eligible for a 9 month trial period (TWP) during which they can earn any amount without losing their SSDI benefits.
However, after the TWP is completed, an individual cannot continue to engage in what Social Security classifies as substantial gainful activity (SGA) without having their SSDI benefits suspended or terminated.
The current monthly income amount considered SGA is just over $1,310 per month. That amount is separate from your SSDI benefit amount. In other words, no matter how much you receive in SSDI benefits, you can generally earn up to $1,310 extra per month without losing SSDI benefits. Dear Larry
Am I correct that my mother is not getting her the right amount?
Hi Larry, I read online that in 1983 Reagan changed the method of calculating survivors’ benefits, but my mother, born in 1928, was going to be the grandfather. My late father received just over $400 and my mother gets about $700.
She only gets $7 from my dad’s bill, so I don’t think they got her grandfather. No one at SSA I spoke to knows anything about what this blog said Reagan was doing. Is it true that she is not getting her correct amount? Thank you Allen
Hi Allen, To be clear, Congress is the only government body that can make changes to Social Security laws. Presidents can veto Social Security changes passed by Congress, but presidents cannot change Social Security regulations.
There were some significant changes to Social Security passed by Congress during the Reagan administration, but it’s not clear from the information in your question whether those changes may have affected the amount of your mother’s benefit. I would have to have full access to her Social Security records to give you a definitive answer.
In principle, the surviving member of a married couple cannot be paid more than the higher of their two benefit percentages. No one can get more than one type of full Social Security benefit, and it has been that way since Social Security was founded in 1935. None of the changes passed during the Reagan administration changed that fact.
If your father’s benefit rate was higher than your mother’s benefit rate, she would probably have to receive her own benefit rate plus a deductible, or a partial, widow’s rate equal to the difference between her rate and your father’s. The sum of her two benefits would then add up to your father’s higher rate.
The only Social Security amendment I can think of that was passed during the Reagan administration that could affect your widow’s mother’s rate is the Government Retirement Compensation (GPO) provision. There was a grandfather provision in that law that exempted widows from settlement if they qualified for their state pension before December 1982.
However, unless your mother receives a pension based on her work for a federal, state, provincial or local government agency in the U.S. where her earnings were exempt from Social Security taxes, the GPO provision would have no effect on her benefit amount. Dear Larry