Can my wife get higher Social Security benefits on my record? – Community News
Social Security

Can my wife get higher Social Security benefits on my record?

Q. My wife is 72. She took her Social Security at 62 on her own work record for $1,100 a month. Can she now stop her benefits and collect half of my benefits, $1,300, since she has already passed full benefit age? I’ve heard that if she decides to take my earnings, she won’t get half of my benefit now and her half benefit will be reduced by 20%. I’ve also heard that if I’m dead she won’t get my full benefit, but it would also be reduced by 20%.

– Husband

A. Wow.

The short answer — and good news — is that what you’ve heard is probably wrong.

To fully answer your questions, we need to know your current age and the age you started collecting your Social Security benefits, but we can outline the general rules here that should lead you to the answers.

Let’s start with the rules for the partner allowance.

Social Security benefits include not only retirement and disability benefits, but also benefits for family members, such as spousal benefits for married and divorced couples and survivor benefits for widows and widowers, said Gene McGovern, a certified financial planner at McGovern Financial Advisors in Westfield.

“From age 62, provided you have been legally married to your spouse for one year, you are eligible not only for retirement benefits, but also for partner benefits — that is, benefits based on your spouse’s work record rather than on your own,” he said. “Even if one spouse has never worked, he or she may be eligible for partner benefits on the other spouse’s work record.”

The maximum partner benefit is equal to 50 percent of the other spouse’s full retirement age, known as their primary insurance amount, he said.

To receive a partner’s pension, your spouse must have already applied for his or her own retirement benefit. No spouse benefits are due until that happens, McGovern said, pointing out that different rules apply to divorced spouses.

He said that if your own retirement benefit is less than your partner’s benefit, Social Security will pay you the difference and add it to your retirement benefit.

McGovern gave this example. Suppose your retirement benefit is $1,000 per month and your spouse’s primary insurance amount is $2,400. Half of your spouse’s benefit, $1,200, is more than your $1,000 retirement benefit, so Social Security would add the $200 difference to your payment as a spousal benefit. You would then receive a total payment of $1,200.

On the other hand, he said, if your own retirement benefit exceeds half of your spouse’s primary insurance amount, you won’t qualify for a partner’s pension.

Note that, as the example illustrates, partner benefits are paid in addition to, not in lieu of, your retirement benefits, McGovern said. It’s not a matter of stopping one benefit and moving on to another.

Also note that your spousal benefit is based on your spouse’s primary insurance amount, regardless of the benefit he or she actually receives, he said.

For example, if your spouse filed for benefits early and received a reduced benefit of only $2,000 a month instead of $2,400, your spouse benefit would still be based on the primary insurance amount of $2,400, he said.

“As with retirement benefits, if you receive partner benefits before you reach full retirement age, the benefits are permanently reduced,” he said. “For example, if your wife had started receiving partner benefits at age 62, along with her retirement benefits, which were reduced by 25 percent, the partner benefits would have been reduced by 30 percent as well.”

Complicating the answer to your first question somewhat are Social Security’s so-called presumed filing rules, McGovern said. For most people, if you qualify for more than one benefit, such as retirement and partner benefits, and you apply for either, you’re expected — required — to apply for both, he said. In fact, the benefits are bundled and you receive the highest benefit from that bundle.

However, to avoid filing with partner benefits, the other spouse must have applied for his or her own retirement benefits, either earlier or at the same time, he said.

“Since your wife applied for retirement benefits at age 62, but did not receive a partner’s pension, we must assume that you had not applied for retirement benefits at that time,” McGovern said. “Otherwise, your wife would have been expected to apply for both benefits, and she would have started collecting reduced partner benefits along with her retirement benefits.”

How much your wife would now receive in partner benefits depends on when you applied for your own pension benefits. The moment you did, your wife was eligible for spousal support and should have been expected to apply for it, he said.

For example, if you filed for retirement benefits when your wife was 66 or older — her full retirement age — her partner’s pension shouldn’t be reduced because she didn’t qualify for it until then, McGovern said.

“Assuming your payment of $2,600 per month is your primary insurance amount, your wife should be eligible for half of that, or $1,300, less her own $1,100 retirement benefit,” he said. In other words, if your wife now claims a partner’s benefit, her own $1,100 retirement benefit would continue, but would need to be increased by the $200 per month spousal benefit — $1,300 minus $1,100 — for a total of $1,300. .”

On the other hand, if you filed for benefits before your wife turned 66, her partner’s benefit — but not her retirement benefit — would be reduced, he said.

You should contact Social Security directly and they can advise you on benefits based on your personal information.

Mail your questions to [email protected].

Karin Price Mueller writes the Bamboozled column for NJ Advance Media and is the founder of Follow NJMoneyHelp on Twitter @NJMoneyHelp. Find NJMoneyHelp on Facebook. Sign up for‘s weekly e-newsletter.