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Today’s Social Security column addresses questions about how spousal benefit rates are calculated, when spousal benefits can become available and when to inform SSA of monthly earnings. 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.

Have Social Security questions of your own you’d like answered? Ask Larry about Social Security here.


Can I Get A Full Spousal Benefit If I File Now At 65?

Hi Larry, I am 65 and my husband has been collecting his retirement benefit since he turned 70 a couple years ago. Can I receive my full spousal benefit now or do I have to wait until next year to get the full benefit? And is the full amount 50% of his current benefit or 50% of what he would have received at 66? Thanks, Theresa

Hi Theresa, You would need to wait until you reach your full retirement age (FRA) in order to receive a full 50% of your husband’s primary insurance amount (PIA), which is equal to what he would have got if he filed at his FRA. If you start drawing before your FRA, your benefit rate will be reduced for age. And if you have at least 40 Social Security earnings credits, you won’t be able to apply for spousal benefits without applying for your own retirement benefits at the same time.

If you’re insured for retirement benefits and if your PIA is less than 50% of your husband’s PIA, you’d be paid your own benefit plus a partial, or excess, spousal benefit. The two benefits would then add up to a full 50% of your husband’s PIA, assuming that you don’t start collecting benefits prior to FRA.

It sounds like you may want to consider using my company’s software — Maximize My Social Security or MaxiFi Planner — to ensure your household receives the highest lifetime benefits. Social Security calculators provided by other companies or non-profits may provide proper suggestions if they were built with extreme care. Best, Larry

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Can I Collect Spousal Benefits At My FRA?

Hi Larry, I will be 66 next February and have been collecting my own retirement benefits for a year. My husband is 66 and collects his retirement benefit. Can I collect spousal benefit at my FRA? And if I can, at what rate? It’s all so confusing to me. Thanks, Eileen

Hi Eileen, The only way that you could qualify for spousal benefits while you husband is living is if your husband’s primary insurance amount (PIA) is more than twice as much as your own 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).

People born after 1/1/1954 are not allowed to apply for their own Social Security retirement benefits without being deemed to also be filing for spousal benefits. So if your husband’s PIA is more than twice as much as your PIA, Social Security should have recognized that fact and should already be paying you spousal benefits. Turning FRA wouldn’t make you eligible for spousal benefits if you aren’t already eligible for them.

If you think that your husband’s PIA may be more than twice as much as your own PIA, then you should probably check with Social Security just to make sure that your entitlement wasn’t overlooked. Best, Larry


Should SSA Be Informed Every Month How Much You’re Earning?

Hi Larry, I just retired three months ago. Should I decide to work part-time when I start collecting benefits, when should I inform SSA that I am doing so? Should SSA be informed every month you’re earning a wage while retired. Thanks, Carl

Hi Carl, The amount of your monthly earnings could only matter in the first calendar year that you’re entitled to benefits. And even then, your monthly earnings amounts wouldn’t matter as long as your calendar year earnings are below the annual earnings test exempt amount.

Furthermore, once you reach full retirement age (FRA) there’s no limit on how much you can earn and still be paid your benefits, so you wouldn’t need to notify Social Security of either your annual or monthly earnings if you’re at least FRA.

So whether or not you need to notify Social Security of your expected earnings depends on your age. And assuming that you claimed benefits prior to FRA, you’d only need to report your monthly earnings to Social Security if a) your calendar year earnings will exceed the annual earnings test exempt amount, and b) if it’s your first calendar year of benefit entitlement. Best, Larry


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