Today’s Social Security column addresses questions about how filing early can affect benefits for a spouse, whether an ex’s state pension can reduce divorced spousal benefits and when spousal benefits can become available. 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.


If I File Early, Will My Wife’s Social Security Spousal Benefit Be Reduced?

Hi Larry, My wife is 66 and I am 62. I am the high wage earner. My wife will file for her retirement benefit at her FRA. If I take early benefits at 65, will she qualify for the full spousal benefit or will it be reduced because I filed early? Do I need to wait till 67 for her to get the full 50%? Thanks, Elie

Hi Elie, As long as your wife is at least full retirement age (FRA) when you start drawing your benefits, her spousal rate will not be reduced for age even if you start drawing your benefits prior to your FRA. So if she waits until FRA to start her own retirement benefits and later qualifies for an excess spousal benefit when you start collecting, her combined benefit rate would equal 50% of your primary insurance amount (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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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


If My Ex-Husband Is Subject To WEP Will My Divorced Spouse’s Benefit Be Reduced As Well?

Hi Larry, I was married for 30 years and am now divorced. After the divorce, my ex-husband took a job earning a state pension. For WEP purposes, he only had 20 years of “substantial earnings” before taking the new job.

If he is subject to the WEP, will my divorced spouse’s benefit be reduced as well? Or will I receive half the amount that he would have received without the WEP reduction? Thanks, Julie

Hi Julie, Yes. Any divorced spousal benefits that you qualify for would be calculated based on 50% of your ex-spouse’s primary insurance amount (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).

Thus, if the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) reduces your ex’s PIA, it would also reduce any divorced spousal benefits that you could be paid based on his record. Best, Larry


What Age Do I Need To Be In Order For My Wife To Draw Benefits Off Of My Record?

Hi Larry, My wife is 70 and I am 60 and she has never worked outside the home. What age will I have to be for her to draw off my record? Thanks, Chip

Hi Chip, Your wife can’t collect spousal benefits until you start drawing either your Social Security retirement or disability benefits. So unless you become disabled, the earliest that your wife could qualify for spousal benefits is when you reach 62.

But she could only actually be paid benefits then if you apply for your retirement benefits at that time, and if any income you earn is low enough for the two of you to be paid after the earnings test is applied. And if you start drawing your benefits prior to your full retirement age (FRA), your benefit rate will be reduced for age.

The potential downside of drawing your benefits early is that it would limit your wife’s potential survivor benefit rate to the higher of a) 82.5% of your primary insurance amount (PIA), or your reduced benefit rate. Best, Larry


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