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Already receiving Social Security – you might need a check up!

Wikipedia owl

Security Planning isn’t just for people who haven’t claimed yet. People who are already receiving Social Security often forget about other benefits they may be entitled to after having filed.

The wise owl circles back to review things they’ve done in the past to be sure something wasn’t forgotten! This is not second guessing – it is updating and reviewing to capture things as they change over time.

They may be able to identify instances where they are not getting all the benefits they are entitled to. Examples might include:

  • A low-earning spouse who never added on her spousal benefit after her husband filed for his benefit.
  • A divorced person who didn’t know she could a claim benefit off her ex-spouse.
  • A single person whose ex-spouse, to whom she was married for over 10 years, is now deceased making her eligible for a survivor benefit that is higher than her own benefit.
  • A recent widow who has outlived two husbands—the first of whom was a high earner—and who didn’t know she could go back and collect survivor benefits on the first husband.
  • A claimant who has young children (or adopted grandchildren) and who didn’t know the children might also be eligible for benefits.
  • A high-earning client over age 70 who never got around to claiming Social Security.

People could give up many thousands of dollars in lost Social Security benefits by not knowing, or forgetting, other benefits that may be available to them.


Some examples …


Checking for missed spousal benefits

One of the most common mistakes people make is not going back for spousal benefits after the primary worker has filed. So if you see that a wife is receiving, say, $800, and the husband is receiving, say, $2,000, this would be a red flag that she never went back for her spousal benefit. However, you have to do a few more calculations to adjust for early or delayed claiming. Remember, the wife’s spousal benefit is 50% of the husband’s Primary Insurance Amount (PIA), not 50% of his actual benefit—and only if she claimed the spousal benefit at her  Full Retirement Age (FRA). So if she claimed before FRA, she would not be entitled to 50% of his PIA. And if he claimed after FRA, his PIA would be less than his current benefit amount. So it would be possible for the wife’s benefit to be less than 50% of the husband’s benefit and for the benefit amounts to be correct.

In this example where the wife is receiving $800 and the husband is receiving $2,000, if the wife had claimed at 62, her PIA would be $1,067 ($800 ÷ .75). And if the husband had claimed at 70, his PIA would be $1,515 ($2,000 ÷ 1.32). Fifty percent of $1,515 is $757. Since the wife’s PIA of $1,067 is more than 50% of the husband’s PIA, she is not entitled to an additional spousal benefit even though her PIA is higher, but because she filed for her own benefit early at age 62.


Let’s look at another example. Now she’s receiving $600 and he’s getting $3,400. You immediately see that half of $3,400 is $1,700. Shouldn’t Jill be getting that much? Again, you have to calculate the PIAs, starting with the age at which they started benefits.

Jill says she filed for her benefit at 62. To calculate her PIA divide her current benefit amount by .75 to get $800. Jack says he filed at 70. This makes his PIA $2,576 ($3,400 ÷ 1.32). Half of that is $1,288. If you subtract Jill’s $800 PIA from half of Jack’s PIA, or $1,288, you get a positive number. So Jill would be entitled to a spousal add-on of $488. Jill should go back to her Social Security office to apply for it. Her new benefit will be $1,088 (her $600 existing benefit plus the $488 spousal add-on). She can also request six months of retroactive benefits.


NOTE: To calculate the PIA for someone who is already claiming, just take the current benefit amount and divide by the reduction or credit factor based on claiming age AND what age FRA is based on birth year. For example if FRA is age 66 and the benefit amount is $1,000, and the person claimed at 62, the reduction factor is .75. Divide $1,000 by .75 and you get a PIA of $1,333. If the benefit is $2,200 and the person claimed at 67, the credit factor is 1.08. Divide $2,200 by 1.08 to get a PIA of $2,037.

If you would prefer not to do these calculations, it’s always appropriate to simply go to your Social Security office for a check-up.


Are you divorced, or a survivor?

Checking for missed divorced-spouse or survivor benefits

To check for missed spousal or survivor benefits from previous spouses, ask the following questions:

  • Have you ever been married?
  • How many times?
  • How long did each marriage last?
  • For each marriage, did it end by death or divorce?
  • If divorce, is your ex-spouse still alive?
  • Are you currently unmarried?
  • If married, did you remarry after age 60?

Benefit opportunities based on answers to the above questions:

  • If previous spouse died during the marriage, AND the marriage lasted at least nine months AND are you currently unmarried or remarried after age 60: You may be eligible for a survivor benefit based on the deceased spouse’s work record.
  • If a previous marriage ended in divorce AND the marriage lasted at least 10 years AND you are currently unmarried: You may be eligible for a divorced-spouse benefit based on that spouse’s work record. If a couple is thinking of divorcing after nine years and nine months of marriage, they should wait another three months so divorced-spouse benefits will be available to both of them.
  • If a previous marriage ended in divorce AND the ex-spouse died after the divorce AND you are currently unmarried or remarried after age 60: You may be eligible for a divorced-spouse survivor benefit based on that spouse’s work record. A 59-year-old widowed person who is thinking of remarrying, might want to wait a year so they will be able to get survivor benefits from their first spouse.


Moral of the story: The interplay of retirement benefits, and when you claim them, with spousal, survivor, divorced-spouse, and divorced-spouse survivor benefits can be extremely complicated. You should evaluate your situation, especially if you have more complexity in your life, and go to SSA for more information.

Photo by Jose Antonio da Conceição (Recorte de imagem da internet) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons


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