by I.K. Mullins
Copyright©2015 I.K. Mullins. All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or retransmitted in any form or by any means without the written permission of the author.
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When it comes to the Social Security, there are many important terms that people have to know in order to navigate the benefits system:
- Eligible—the Social Security system uses the term “eligible” to describe a person who is qualified due to age or some other circumstances to file and collect benefits.
- Entitled—the Social Security system uses the term “entitled” when referring to a person who has already filed for benefits and is collecting benefits.
- Full Retirement Age (FRA)—in the US, this term generally refers to the age a person must reach in order to become eligible to receive full benefits from Social Security. Early retirees (i.e., those retirees who have not reached FRA) are eligible to receive a reduced benefit. FRA depends on the year in which each person was born. It equals at least 66 years for almost all people. For people who were born before 1943, the FRA is 65 and for people born between 1943 and 1954, FRA equals 66. You can find FRA information on the Social Security website. (For Social Security, the age of eligibility begins at 62; it can be earlier for some specific benefits.) The Social Security Administration has been increasing this age, and it might continue to increase the FRA in order to address the Social Security’s solvency issues.
- Average Indexed Monthly Earnings (AIME) is a calculation that Social Security uses to determine a person’s full retirement benefit. It equals a monthly average of earned income from the person’s 35 highest earning years (up to age 60), which is indexed for wage growth. AIME depends on the person’s “earnings base” (wages and self-employment income subject to Social Security FICA taxation). Indexing evens out the value of wages by taking into consideration the growth of wages over time.
- Primary Insurance Amount (PIA) is the second step in Social Security’s calculations of the person’s full retirement benefit. PIA is calculated by making adjustments to the AIME. It is based on the person’s record of earnings that are taxed by Social Security. In order to have Social Security benefits grow in proportion to economy-wide average wages, Social Security annually increases the dollar bracket amounts in its PIA formula.
- Early Benefit Reductions are applied to retirement, spousal, or survivor benefits that a person takes before he or she reaches the FRA. For example, if a person is due a monthly 1,200 dollar retirement benefit at age 66, and the person claims benefits at age 62, then the benefit will be reduced by 25 percent (the benefit would be 900 dollars a month).
- Delayed Retirement Credits (DRCs) refers to an increase in a person’s personal retirement benefit for every month the person waits to claim benefits beyond FRA until age 70. DRCs increase the person’s benefits by 8 percent of the person’s PIA annually (assuming that the person was born in 1943 or later). For example, if the person’s FRA is 66 and they wait until age 70 to collect benefits, their individual benefit will max out at 132 percent of PIA. If the person is due a monthly 1,200 dollar retirement benefit at age 66 and the person defers benefits until age 70, then the person’s benefit will increase by 32 percent (i.e., by 8 percent each year) to 1,584 dollars. An individual can accumulate the DRC by formally filing for a retirement benefit and suspending it (when the person suspends his or her benefit, Social Security treats the person as if he or she had filed for retirement benefits but put them on hold with the intent to restart them later.)
I.1. The Past and Present of the Social Security Program
In their book, Kotlikoff and his co-authors write that the Social Security program, which is a US federal program of social insurance and benefits, was created in 1935 in response to the Great Depression. It was one of many government-sponsored programs of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. Welfare for families without a head of household, as well as unemployment insurance, were among other New Deal inventions. From its beginning, the Social Security program was designed as a permanent program.
Today, workers who pay Social Security taxes can claim and receive Social Security benefits. Additionally, workers’ spouses and some ex-spouses, as well as the disabled, widows and widowers and child survivors of deceased workers are eligible to receive Social Security benefits.
Analysis and Comments on the Past and Present of the Social Security Program
When the US slipped into the Great Depression, many politicians first thought that the Depression was just another temporary setback in the economic cycle and that the economy would get better soon. However, the Great Depression deepened. In order to deal with the problems of long-term economic insecurity, Workers Compensation programs and welfare programs for the elderly were created at the state level. On August 14, 1935, President Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law. In addition to Social Security, it included unemployment insurance, aid to dependent children, old-age assistance, as well grants to the states to provide medical care.
Modern Social Security benefits go beyond retirement benefits as well. They include spousal benefits, divorced spousal benefits, widower benefits, child survivor benefits and disability benefits. Because of the complexity of the Social Security System, many beneficiaries are unaware of the full scope of Social Security and all the benefits they can claim.
Today, the Social Security program is essentially a “pay-as-you-go” program. That is, today’s workers pay Social Security taxes into the program and their money is used to pay monthly income to beneficiaries. This approach makes the Social Security program different from company pensions, where the money has to be accumulated in advance, and it becomes available to be paid out to workers when they retire. Company pension plans are funded in advance in order to protect the company’s employees in those cases when the company goes out of business or enters bankruptcy. I will discuss in Part II of my book how the future of the Social Security program depends on the federal government’s promise to keep the program solvent.
I.2. The Best Strategies for Collecting Social Security Benefits
In their book, Kotlikoff, Moeller and Solman propose three general rules for collecting Social Security benefits:
- You have to be patient and postpone collecting Social Security benefits for as long as possible.
- Get all the Social Security benefits that you can claim. (In addition to the benefits that are available to you based on your work history, you might be able to claim the benefits that are available to you through the work history of your spouse, your deceased spouse, your ex-spouse, and your deceased ex-spouse.)
- Choose the right timing to collect Social Security benefits. For example, the system does not allow collecting two benefits at the same time. Therefore, a person can collect one benefit while the other benefit is growing.
According to Kotlikoff and his co-authors, the optimal strategy for collecting Social Security benefits is different for each household. People have the option to begin taking Social Security benefits at a certain age, which varies by birth year. (Currently, that age is around 62.) Some people should wait until the age of 70.
File and Suspend Strategy
Some people should apply for Social Security early so that their spouses, children or ex-spouses are able to collect benefits based on their work record. If they file early and exercise their option to suspend their benefit, this will allow them to accumulate delayed retirement credits, so that they can restart their benefits later at a higher value. (This strategy is permitted only between full retirement age and the age of 70.)
To be more specific, for a married couple, Kotlikoff and his co-authors think that a good strategy is to have one spouse file for the retirement benefit at age 62 and then immediately suspend its collection and wait until age 70 to start receiving their benefit. Meanwhile, when the spouse suspends collection of his or her benefits, the other spouse should then apply for a spousal benefit and collect half of the spouse’s retirement benefit until the age of 70.
According to the Social Security rules and regulations, spousal benefits apply to any couple who has been married for at least 10 years, as well as to divorcees. However, spouses and divorcees have to meet certain criteria in order to claim spousal benefits. If a spouse remarries, then he or she loses spousal benefits from his or her ex-spouse. If a person gets married a few times, then the person can select from which ex-spouse the person can get the greatest divorced spousal benefit.
Which spouse should file for benefits first? The answer depends on a few factors. If spouses are of the same age, then the spouse who is a higher earner should file and suspend collection of benefits when he or she reaches full retirement age, having another spouse collecting the spousal benefit. Then, at age 70, the spouse who filed and suspended collection of benefits can unsuspend so that both spouses can collect their retirement benefits.
Waiting Strategy for Singles
Kotlikoff and his co-authors recommend that people who have never been married and for whom Social Security benefit is the only source of income during their retirement should wait to claim benefits until they turn 70. If they wait until they turn 70, then their benefits will be higher (Kotlikoff and his co-authors claim that this is true when the money is inflation adjusted).
Overall, Kotlikoff and his co-authors suggest that people consider not receiving benefits for eight years (essentially giving them away) as a way of paying a premium in advance for a higher annuity from Social Security later on. They suggest that a person should start taking their retirement benefit early only when there are serious reasons for it, such as: (1) the person needs the money; (2) the person has a serious or even terminal medical condition; (3) the person intends to make his or her older spouse eligible for a spousal benefit; (4) the person intends to enable his or her young or disabled child to begin collecting a child benefit.
If a person’s benefit is based on one of their previous 35 high-earning years, then the person can replace it with a higher earning year, even if it is the most recent year, in order to raise the monthly benefit. This can be done even if the person is collecting Social Security benefit and continues to work. That is, even if a person is working at the age of 90 and his or her earnings are high enough, then the person’s benefit will automatically increase.
Start, Stop, Start Strategy
This strategy implies starting benefits, stopping them, and restarting benefits later. It may help those retirees who need extra income temporarily. Social Security has a provision that allows a person to withdraw his or her benefit decision within a year of making it. It requires the person to pay back everything they have received from Social Security, including Medicare premium payments. After that, the person can have a fresh start with his or her claiming record.
During the “stop” period, the person’s benefits will earn delayed retirement credits. For example, if the person suspends (“stops”) for the 4 years before the second “start,” then their benefit will be 32 percent higher as compared to the benefit the person received right before the “stop.” This strategy may help improve the benefits of the person’s spouse because, in accordance with Social Security benefit rules, one spouse has to first file for retirement benefit before another spouse can file for a spousal benefit. Therefore, when a person files for retirement early, the person’s benefits will be reduced, but the total income of the person’s family might increase thanks to spousal benefits.
Calculations for the start, stop, start strategy can be very complicated. In order to maximize family benefits, the person and his or her spouse have to take into consideration their own age and the age of their children. People can use special benefits calculators or hire financial advisors in order to figure the best way to apply this strategy to their particular situation.
Analysis and Comments on the Best Strategies
Considering the relatively long life expectancy in the US, Kotlikoff and his co-authors use calculations in their book to show that it makes more sense to delay collecting benefits. Of course, in order to delay collecting benefits, people need other sources of income, such as 401(k) retirement funds, a job or a spouse who is still working. However, in reality, less than 2 percent of retirees wait until 70. Approximately half of Americans begin to collect Social Security benefits at age 62 simply because they do not have any other savings. Kotlikoff and his co-authors argue that such people put themselves at a disadvantage because the benefits payout is significantly higher at the age of 70 than it is at the age of 62.
In their book, Kotlikoff and his co-authors recognize the pros and cons of working longer. They encourage people to focus on the pros and continue working as long as possible and put off receiving Social Security benefits in order to maximize their benefits. However, many people can find difficult to follow Kotlikoff’s advice about working longer. Some people may not enjoy their work, and some people may no longer be physically fit enough to keep working.
In Kotlikoff’s opinion, people make a mistake when they treat Social Security as an investment and try to decide at which age they have to start claiming benefits in order to get their money back. Kotlikoff argues that Social Security is not an investment. Instead, Social Security is an insurance that offers a safe payout. He compares it to homeowners’ insurance. Just like people buy homeowners’ insurance in order to protect themselves financially from a worst-case scenario, Social Security protects people from the worst-case scenario—living to the age of 100 and running out of money long before they die.
I would like to point out that there is a difference between Social Security and homeowner’s insurance. People do not have to sacrifice their lives in order to pay homeowner’s insurance. If they cannot afford it, then they can sell their house and buy a cheaper one or rent a house (or an apartment). However, ever-rising living costs, as well as ever-rising costs of medical services, are beyond people’s control. To protect themselves from running out of benefits at very old age, they have to postpone their retirement and keep working.
Kotlikoff and his co-authors argue that the proposed waiting strategies offer real benefit increases, which are “over and above inflation.” I disagree with their optimistic outlook on the real benefit increases because they do not take into consideration the real inflation rate. I discuss this in Part II of this book.
Kotlikoff and his co-authors further argue that their strategies can maximize people’s longer-term benefit payout so that the benefits can support people until the age of 100. I can see two problems with their statement. First, the real inflation rate, which is higher than the Consumer Product Index used by the Social Security Administration, can drastically reduce people’s benefits even before they turn 100 years old. Second, the Social Security program could become insolvent long before today’s retirees (the primary audience of Kotlikoff and his co-authors’ book) turn 100.
It is unfortunate that Kotlikoff and his co-authors do not discuss how the growing cost of medical expenses and the increasing complexity of the medical system can hinder lives of those retirees. Furthermore, Kotlikoff and his co-authors do not discuss another strategy that many Americans use today and will have to use in the future in order to max out their Social Security benefits—the “leave the country” strategy.
The “leave the country” strategy implies that retirees either permanently move to another country, where living and medical expenses are much lower than those in the US, or they continue residing in the US and travel to other countries in order to obtain cheaper medical treatment. Conventionally, some people from less developed countries used to travel to more developed countries for medical treatment. Today, many Americans are forced to travel to third world countries for medical treatments because they cannot afford medical treatments in their own country.
I.3. Spousal Benefits, Divorced Spousal Benefits, Widower Benefits
Kotlikoff and his co-authors advise that the optimal strategy for married couples is a joint one. They warn that the optimal benefit collection decisions made by one spouse depend on what the other spouse decides about collecting benefits. For example, a person can to take a spousal benefit only if the person’s spouse has filed for his or her own retirement benefit. This is why spouses should discuss and coordinate collecting their benefits. Kotlikoff and his co-authors recommend that couples use the “file and suspend” strategy.
Kotlikoff and his co-authors warn about the danger of deeming. Here is how early retirement benefit deeming might work in some scenarios. If a husband files for his retirement benefits and his wife is younger than FRA, then Social Security’s rules “deem” her to file for her own retirement benefit at the time when she files for her spousal benefit. Consequently, she does not receive both of these benefits. She receives only the larger of her benefits (her spousal benefit or her retirement benefit). Moreover, both her benefits are reduced by early claiming reductions as long as she is younger than FRA. If a person waits until FRA, when deeming is not applicable anymore, and the person only takes spousal benefit, then this benefit will be equal to 50 percent of the full retirement benefit of the person’s spouse.
In their book, Kotlikoff and his co-authors describe various Social Security rules and regulations that pertain to spousal benefits, divorced spousal benefits and widower benefits. Some of these Social Security rules and regulations are outlined below:
- If a person is married for a year or more and the person’s spouse dies, then the person can take his or her own retirement benefit for a while, and then switch to a higher survivor benefit. (By survivor, Social Security understands a widow or widower, as well as a divorced widow or widower.) If the survivor is the higher earner, then he or she can take survivor benefit early, wait until 70, and then collect his or her own retirement benefit. (The rules for survivor benefit are complicated, and survivor benefit depends on whether a spouse dies before or after the age of 60.)
- Survivor benefit also depends on whether a deceased spouse or deceased ex-spouse took his or her retirement benefit before FRA. If the deceased spouse or deceased ex-spouse took the retirement benefit before FRA, then the survivor’s benefit will be lower. If the deceased spouse or deceased ex-spouse passed away after he or she reached FRA, then the survivor’s benefit equals the actual benefit, which includes delayed retirement credits that the deceased spouse was receiving. (The size of the survivor’s benefit depends on the ages of spouses and Social Security claiming decisions of both spouses.)
- Child-in-care spousal benefits can be collected by surviving spouses with young children. This benefit goes up to 75 percent of the deceased spouse’s PIA, and reduction penalty for collecting benefit early is not applicable in this case. If the child was disabled before he or she turned 22, then the child-in-care benefit can be collected as long as the child remains unmarried and disabled.
Kotlikoff and his co-authors point out that when it comes to a survivor’s benefit, it is important to figure out the right timing of claiming a survivor benefit and a retirement benefit. For example, if your widow’s benefit is higher than your retirement benefit, then the best strategy may be to take the retirement benefit as soon as possible (preferably at age 62). Later, when you reach FRA, you can collect your survivor’s benefit.
In their book, Kotlikoff and his co-authors point out that the interests of people who designed the Social Security benefit rules affected the spousal benefit. Those people were men who did not want their wives to find out what they were actually earning. Consequently, the Social Security benefit rules do not allow a spouse to access an ex-spouse’s earnings record, and they do not allow a widow or widower to access a late-spouse’s earnings record. This restriction makes it more difficult for people to decide when they can retire.
Analysis and Comments on Spousal and Survivor Benefits
It is common to find that that people are less aware of spousal benefits than their own retirement benefits. Nevertheless, they should realize that their decision to get married can affect their benefits. If a couple does not get married, then neither person can claim spousal benefits from Social Security. When married couples look for ways to maximize Social Security benefits, they should remember that life expectancy is higher for women than for men, and men, on average, earn more income over the course of their lives than women. Kotlikoff and his co-authors point out that married couples should openly communicate with each other about finances. They should also remember that their financial situation at the age of 60 depends on the financial decisions that they make much earlier.
According to Social Security benefits rules, a divorced person can claim spousal benefits only if he or she remains unmarried. For this reason, some women who plan to file for a divorce might choose to stay married to their husband for longer than ten years. They should be warned, though, that they might be endangering their lives if domestic violence is part of their married life. Some women are also endangering their emotional well-being and integrity when they pretend to be “happily” married only in order to collect Social Security money. Kotlikoff does not seem to be concerned in his book with any moral or psychological issues related to such a strategy.
According to the National Academy of Social Insurance,
Women are the majority (55 percent) of adult beneficiaries, collecting Social Security as retired or disabled workers, as wives, and as widows. They make up 56 percent of Social Security beneficiaries age 62 and older, and 68 percent of beneficiaries age 85 and older. Women pay 41 percent of Social Security taxes because they earn less than men do, and they collect approximately 49 percent of the benefits because they live longer than men, on average.
According to the National Women’s Law Center,
Social Security is virtually the only source of income for nearly three in ten female beneficiaries 65 and older.
Without Social Security, nearly half of women 65 and older would be poor.
For 36 percent of unmarried female beneficiaries 65 and older, including beneficiaries who are widowed, divorced, or never married, Social Security is virtually the only source of income (90 percent or more), compared to 21 percent of married female beneficiaries 65 and older.
Young women who are aware of their longer lifespans should consider working and paying into the system just as men do.
I.4. Disability Benefits
In order to replace their lost wages, disabled workers, as well as their spouses and dependents, can collect Social Security benefits earlier than they can collect retirement benefits. The number of people who receive Social Security disability benefits has greatly increased over the last 20 years.
Kotlikoff, who has provided expert testimony to congressional committees, asserts that Social Security benefits rules include concealed penalties, deceitful rules, as well as hidden benefits for the disabled. For example, the formula that calculates Family Maximum Benefits (FMB) is more restrictive for the disabled, as well as their qualifying children and spouses. Nevertheless, people who receive Social Security disability benefits have certain advantages:
- They can take retirements benefits early without any reduction.
- Their disability benefits are not subjected to deeming
- Older spouses and ex-spouses are allowed to collect spousal benefits earlier.
- They can take excess spousal benefits earlier and receive spousal retirement benefit after full retirement, while their own retirement benefit keeps increasing through the age of 70.
- They can begin collecting reduced widow or widower benefits at the age of 50.
Disability benefits can affect other Social Security benefits. This is why people who wish to claim disability benefits should educate themselves about any possible consequences for their families.
Analysis and Comments on Disability Benefits
Kotlikoff and his co-authors argue in their book that the changes in federal welfare programs introduced by Bill Clinton in 1996, caused the rise in disability payments. However, these changes might have been caused by other events and economic trends. For example, an increase in payments for disability benefits could be related to a shortage of blue-collar jobs in the US.
Overall, according to Social Security Administration data, between the start of the Great Recession in 2007 and March 2013, the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) rolls increased by 21 percent. Many experts argue that this rise in disability claims was not caused by a decline in the health of Americans. Instead, they say it was caused by flaws in the SSDI program used by those people who were unable to find a job during the economic recession or were unwilling to work. If this trend continues, it might make the SSDI program insolvent, hurting those people who are unable to work due to legitimate health-based impairments.
I.5. Gay Married Couples Benefits
Gay marriages are not legal in all fifty states. Therefore, there are a few factors that determine if a gay couple is eligible for Social Security benefits. For example, their eligibility depends on where they were married and where the worker resides when he or she applies for benefits.
If the worker resides in a state where gay marriage has been legalized, then a claim for benefits can move forward. However, if a gay person lives and marries in a state where gay marriage is legal and then moves to another state where gay marriage is not legal, then the situation becomes complicated. It can affect child survivor benefit, widow benefits, and partners of disabled persons benefits.
Analysis and Comments on Gay Marriage Benefits
As more and more states allow gay marriage, it will become easier for gay couples to claim Social Security benefits.
I.6. The Earnings Test and Its Impact on Benefits
The earnings test can affect people’s Social Security benefits. That is, if people choose to collect their benefits before they reach their FRA, and they continue earning outside wages (outside wage earnings include earnings in non-covered employment but they do not include investment and pension income), then their benefits can be decreased. The calculationof which income sources to use for deciding on benefits is called the earnings test. The reduction may take the form of skipped months of Social Security payments, and it is compensated with interest when the person reaches his or her FRA.
For example, if the person’s FRA equals 66 and their age is between 62 and 65 (including 62 and 65), then the person’s Social Security benefit will be reduced by 1 dollar for every 2 dollars of outside wage earnings that are greater than 15,720 dollars. When the person turns 66, then his or her benefit will be reduced by 1 dollar for every 3 dollars of outside wage earnings that are greater than $41,880 and that have accumulated over the months before reaching FRA. The earnings test may also affect spousal benefits if the person’s outside earnings are greater than the above-described levels.
Whereas some people prefer to stop working completely because of the earnings test, Kotlikoff and his co-authors do not recommend quitting a job because of the earnings test. They explain their recommendation with the fact that the money will be repaid after the person reaches FRA.
Analysis and Comments on the Earnings Test and Its Impact on Benefits
The earnings test is usually considered as a tax on working, which discourages older Americans from working. However, in their article “Does the Social Security Earnings Test Affect Labor Supply and Benefits Receipt?” Jonathan Gruber from MIT and Peter Orszag from the Brookings Institution report that “the earnings test exerts no robust influence on the labor supply decisions of men, although there is some suggestive evidence for a labor supply response among women.”
People should have savings that they can use when the earnings test reduces their Social Security. Many financial experts recommend that people have six months of savings in the bank at any time.
I.7. Social Security “Gotchas”
Kotlikoff warns that the worst Social Security “gotcha” is deeming. Deeming is the penalty for filing before full retirement age that is imposed on those people who are eligible for both retirement and spousal benefits. That is, if you take your retirement benefits before you reach the FRA, then you can be deemed (i.e., forced) to take a spousal benefit early. Consequently, your Social Security benefit becomes reduced forever. People may be lured into applying for benefits early because they want or need money as soon as possible. However, this will influence the amount of money they can collect from Social Security later because applying for benefits early decreases the amount of the benefit collected in the long run.
According to Kotlikoff and his co-authors, the second worst “gotcha” is the following: As soon as you file for retirement benefits, you are not allowed to take any secondary benefit, such as spousal benefits, or survivor benefits, by itself. In order to avoid this pitfall, people should not take benefits at the last moment. They should take one benefit early, and then let the other benefit grow.
Kotlikoff and his co-authors warn about another gotcha; namely, the Social Security benefit statements, which are mailed to potential recipients but are not adjusted to future inflation or wage growth.
According to the Windfall Elimination provision, if a person has earned a government-agency pension at a job—which is not covered by Social Security—then the Social Security benefits that the person may have earned at other jobs (where he or she paid into Social Security), may be decreased. Upon that person’s death, the person’s spouse or ex-spouse will be able to collect a widow’s benefit based on the earnings history of the person who died, and the government-pension offset will not reduce it. However, the widow’s benefit will affect other benefits that the person receives.
Kotlikoff and his co-authors point out that there has been a slow and steady “reduction” of the benefit that surviving female spouses can in some cases claim and receive. That is, if a woman gets a retirement benefit because she has worked more and she intends to claim a widow’s benefit, then the Social Security system will give her only the larger of the two benefits.
Another Social Security gotcha is that it is very difficult to understand the Social Security instructions and documentation. It is particularly difficult because of all the “jargon” used in Social Security literature. Moreover, when you need advice on your Social Security benefits, you should not trust Social Security system. Many Social Security representatives give people bad advice, making them lose lots of retirement money. If you plan to talk with them, then you have to know precisely what you should do beforehand and then insist that they take the right actions.
There is a certain limit for family-related benefits. It is called the Family Maximum Benefit (FMB). If child, ex-spouse, and survivor benefits exceed this ceiling, then payments of benefits to all beneficiaries will be reduced so that the total amount would not exceed the ceiling. A special formula used to calculate the FMB involves the amount of the primary benefit.
Analysis and Comments on the Social Security “Gotchas”
Social Security documentation related to benefits is as difficult to understand as the federal tax code. People who can afford to pay for professional services hire professionals to help them do their taxes. However, there are not that many professionals who can help people understand and maximize their Social Security benefits. This where Kotlikoff and his co-authors’ book is very helpful.
Moreover, people have to be aware of numerous conditions and restrictions imposed on Social Security benefits. Some of them are listed below:
- A person has to be 62 years old or older in order to collect retirement benefits.
- A person has to be 62 years old or older in order to collect spousal benefits, and the person’s spouse has to have filed for his or her retirement or disability benefit. The person who collects spousal benefits has to have been married for at least one year in order to qualify.
- A person has to be 62 years old or older in order to collect spousal benefits from an ex-spouse’s earnings, and the ex-couple has to have been married for at least 10 years. Also, the person claiming spousal benefit must not have remarried. Moreover, the couple must have been divorced for at least 2 years if the person’s ex-spouse is not collecting his or her own retirement or disability benefit.
- A person has to be 60 years old in order to collect widow or widower survivor benefits. If the person is disabled and did not remarry before the age of 50, then they can collect widow or widower survivor benefits at the age of 50. As long as the death was not caused by an accident, the couple had to be married for at least 9 months (this number goes to 10 years for divorced couples).
- If a person has a child of the retired worker in the person’s care, then the person can collect spousal benefits at any age (there are additional restrictions that depend on the child’s age).
- If a person has a child of the person’s deceased spouse in the person’s care, then the person can collect mother/father benefits at any age and (there are additional restrictions that depend on the child’s age).
- If a person, who is either under age 18 (19 if the person is in school) or is disabled (and became disabled before age 22), then the person is eligible for child benefits for children of retired or deceased workers.
- A person has to stay married for at least 10 years in order to be able to collect spousal and survivor benefits as an ex-spouse. Social Security does not require that the couple live together for 10 years;. it only requires people to stay married for 10 years when it comes to spousal and survivor benefits as an ex-spouse.
- If a person re-marries, then he or she cannot collect spousal benefits on any ex-spouse’s work record as long the person stays remarried.