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Today’s Social Security column addresses questions about who can get new COLAs, how soon spouses can apply for spousal benefits and how filing early can affect spousal and survivor’s benefits. 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.


Will I Receive The 8.7% COLA In Addition To Delayed Retirement Credits?

Hi Larry, I’ve filed a restricted application and currently receive a spousal benefit, letting my own retirement benefit grow 8% per year. I am now 68.

I noticed that 2023 COLA is 8.7%. If I continue to delay taking my own Social Security, will I receive the COLA in addition to the 8% per year? If not, it seems that I should switch to my own now as I could use the extra money! Thanks, Maria

Hi Maria, Yes. Cost of living (COLA) increases are added to a person’s Social Security retirement benefit rate starting with the year after the year in which they reach age 62, regardless of when they start drawing benefits.

In other words, everyone born in 1960 or earlier will receive credit for the 8.7% COLA that starts January 2023 even if they apply for their Social Security retirement benefits at some point in the future. Best, Larry


Can My Wife Apply For Spousal Benefits If My First Benefit Payment Is Pending?

Hi Larry, I applied for my retirement benefit this month and so will get my first check in the fourth week of next month. My wife already gets her retirement benefit. If she applies online for spousal benefit this month, can she state in her application that I am receiving my retirement benefit even though my first check itself will only arrive at the end of December? Thanks, Anthony

Hi Anthony, Yes, as long as you’ve applied for your benefits, your wife can apply for spousal benefits. Your benefits doesn’t need to have already started in order for your wife to be able to apply for spousal benefits. However, she’ll only qualify for spousal benefits if your primary insurance amount (PIA) is more than twice as much as her 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).

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Actually, if your wife was born after 1/1/1954 and if your PIA is more than twice as much as her PIA, then she’s already deemed to have filed for spousal benefits based on her application for her own retirement benefits. She would however still need to complete a separate application for spousal benefits since you apparently applied for your benefits after she applied for her benefits. Best, Larry


How Would My Filing At 62 Affect My Wife’s Spousal Benefit?

Hi Larry, I’m the primary wage earner. If I take my retirement benefits at 62 how does this impact why wife’s spousal benefit? Will she get 50% of my reduced amount or if she waits, will she get 50% of what my benefit would have been if I didn’t file early? Thanks, Carl

Hi Carl, Starting your benefits at 62 wouldn’t affect your wife’s spousal rate while you’re living, but it could adversely affect her survivor rate if you die before her. Unreduced spousal benefits are calculated based on 50% of the worker’s primary insurance amount (PIA), which is the amount the worker would be paid if they file for benefits at full retirement age (FRA).

Regardless of whether the worker files at 62, 70, or any time between, their spouse could file at their FRA and receive 50% of the worker’s full PIA. However, spousal benefits can’t be paid prior to when the worker starts drawing their retirement benefits. And 50% of the worker’s PIA is the maximum spousal rate that can be paid even if the worker waits past FRA to start drawing their benefits or if the spouse waits past FRA to start drawing spousal benefits.

On the other hand, widow’s benefits can be affected by when the worker started drawing their benefits. If a worker dies prior to FRA and without having drawn reduced Social Security retirement benefits, then their widow could be paid up to the worker’s full PIA if the widow files at FRA or later.

But if the worker starts drawing benefits prior to FRA, then the survivor’s benefits will be reduced. Conversely, if the worker waits until 70 to start drawing their benefits and subsequently dies, their widow could be paid as much as the worker’s full age 70 rate.

It sounds like you and your wife 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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