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social security survivor benefits

Filing for Social Security Survivor Benefit alone, preserving Retirement for later

Social Security Survivor Benefits offer one of the only remaining opportunities to use timing strategies when filing for Social Security benefits. You can still restrict an application for Survivor Benefits and delay filing for your own benefits until a later, more advantageous date.

Social Security Benefits After First Spouse Dies

When your spouse dies there are a few things that happen to your Social Security benefits that you need to be aware of. These things will affect your benefits significantly if your own benefit is less than that of your late spouse’s benefit (or Primary Insurance Amount). These changes to available benefits could also result in increased benefits if your own benefit is the larger of the two. These same impacts are apparent for ex-spouses as well. While reading the below, just replace “your spouse” with “ex-spouse” and all provisions are the same. Spousal Benefits cease When your spouse dies, the spousal benefits that you may have been receiving will cease. This means that your own benefit is the only retirement benefit that you will receive at this point. For example, Jane and John, both age 64, have been receiving Social Security benefits for a couple of years. Jane’s PIA […]

3 Myths About Social Security Filing Age

This article takes a long hard look at these three “facts” about Social Security filing age and shows the real math behind them. All three are only true to a point – and as you’re planning your Social Security filing age, you should understand the real truth behind these three items. First, let’s look at the concept of delay. You Should Always Delay Your Social Security Filing Age to 70 This one is the easiest to understand why it’s wrong – but the component of truth in it can be important because it could work in your favor to delay. Of course an absolute like this is going to be proven incorrect in some circumstances. If you happen to be able to delay your Social Security filing age and you live a long time after age 70, over your lifetime you will receive more from Social Security than if you […]

New Deemed Filing Rules

When the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 was passed, there were a few changes made to Social Security rules. One of the rules that changed significantly is the deemed filing rule. The old deemed filing rule The current or old deemed filing rule works as follows: When an individual who is under Full Retirement Age (FRA) is eligible for a spousal benefit in addition to a benefit based upon his or her own record files for either benefit, he or she is deemed to have filed for all benefits that he or she is eligible for at that time. At any other time (other than the time of application for benefits) deemed filing does not apply. For example, Anna and John are both nearing 62 years of age. Anna has a PIA (FRA benefit) of $800, and John has a PIA of $2,000. Anna is planning to file for her […]

6 Strategies for Social Security Benefits That Are Still Available

Earlier this fall the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 was passed. This was important to folks looking to maximize Social Security benefits because two of the primary strategies for maximization were eliminated with the passage of this legislation. You may be wondering if there are any strategies left to help maximize benefits – and as it turns out, there are still a few things you can do. Four of these strategies apply to anyone, while the last two only apply to married couples. (Note: if you were born in 1953 or before, you have more options available to you as a result of the grandfathering of some rules. See The Death of File & Suspend and Restricted Application for more details.) Delay Delaying benefits beyond age 62 or your full retirement age (FRA) continues to provide a strategy for increasing your benefits.  In fact, this strategy alone is likely the most beneficial of […]

Social Security Ground Rules

(In celebration of the release, here is an excerpt with some extras, from A Social Security Owner’s Manual, 4th Edition.) There are certain rules that will be helpful to fully accept as facts while you learn about your Social Security benefits. If this is your first reading of the list, skim through before moving on. Don’t expect to fully understand these rules on the start – but keep in mind you may need to refer back to this list of Ground Rules from time to time so you can keep things straight. Basic Social Security Rules The earliest age you can receive retirement benefits is 62. The earliest age you can receive Survivor Benefits is 60 (50 if you are disabled). Filing for any benefit before Full Retirement Age will result in a reduction to the benefits. Your spouse must have filed for his or her retirement benefit in order […]

Social Security Survivor Benefit Coordination

If you’re a widow or widower and you are eligible for Social Security Survivor’s Benefits based on your late spouse’s record, you may have some timing decisions to make that could significantly affect your overall benefits. This is especially true if you are also eligible for Social Security benefits based on your own earnings record. Timing the receipt of benefits is, as with most all Social Security benefits, the primary factor that you can control.  If you have worked over your lifetime and you have a significant benefit based on your own earnings, it becomes even more important. The decision process is dependent upon the relative size of your own Social Security benefit as compared to the Survivor Benefit based on your late spouse’s record. Own SS Benefit Greater than Survivor Benefit  If your own benefit will be greater than the Survivor Benefit, it could be beneficial to you in […]

Book Review: Get What’s Yours

This book, subtitled “The Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security” is written by Laurence J Kotlikoff (Professor of Economics at Boston University), Philip Moeller (of PBS NewsHour) and Paul Solman (also of PBS NewsHour). With this lineup of heavyweights in the Social Security commentary space, you are right to expect a very comprehensive, easy-to-understand, explanation of the subject – and that’s just what you get. This book covers every component of the Social Security retirement and disability benefit landscape with the aim toward taking action on those components that you have a degree of control over, in order to maximize your lifetime benefits. The authors are extremely well-versed in the ins and outs of the system, providing insights not found in many other texts. In addition to the authors’ own lifetimes of experience in covering the subject, every fact in the book has been reviewed by former Social Security […]

Coordinating Social Security Benefits in Matters of Divorce and Remarriage

Social Security has a way of making decisions very difficult. In the simplest of circumstances, the choices can be tough. But what if you’re in a tough spot, such as if you’re divorced and now involved with someone else, considering remarriage? Social Security benefits in matters of divorce can become very complicated. The Decisions Social Security benefits can be taken as early as age 62. You can also delay taking benefits to any age after you’ve reached age 62. Delaying to your full retirement age will result in a larger benefit, but of course you will have to go without benefits for a few years in order to receive that larger benefit. Delaying further to age 70 will result in a maximized benefit for you, but again, you have to figure out how to get by without the monthly benefits for a few years while waiting for the maximum benefit […]

Making Every Month Count – Excerpt from A Social Security Owner’s Manual, 3rd Edition

You can listen to this article by using the podcast player below if you’re on the blog; if you’re reading this via RSS, there should be a “Play Now” link just below the title to access the audio. Did you realize that even delaying a few months can have a significant impact on your Social Security benefit? This is the case for all Social Security benefits, including your own, a Spousal Benefit, or a Survivor Benefit. This applies whether you are taking the benefit before FRA or after, since your age is always calculated by the month. Increase or reduction factors are applied for each month of delay or early application, respectively.

7 Questions About Divorcee Social Security Benefits

Included in the myriad of questions that I regularly receive from readers are questions about how a divorced person can collect benefits based upon his or her ex-spouse’s Social Security record. For a divorcee (as with many married couples) sometimes the ex’s benefits represent the lion’s share of the couple’s SS record. Because of this, many divorcees are very interested in knowing what benefits are available to them, and when. In addition, even when the divorced spouse in question is not the higher earner there are questions about benefits that can be quite difficult to find answers for.

8 Questions: Social Security Survivor Benefits

In this previous article we addressed some of the most common questions about Social Security Spousal Benefits. Keeping with the theme of developing FAQ sheets, today I’ll go through some of the most common questions about Social Security Survivor Benefits. Survivor Benefits are available when a Social Security recipient passes away and leaves surviving dependents – spouse, children, and other dependent family members.

Social Security and the Non-Citizen Spouse

With our increasingly global society today, many married couples are made up of a US citizen and a non-citizen.  In some cases, the non-citizen spouse has never been covered by the US Social Security system – he or she may have been covered by another system in his or her home country.  In other cases, the non-citizen spouse may have worked in a Social Security-covered job while living in the US, and so may have generated a Social Security earnings record of his or her own. At any rate, it is important to know that your lawful spouse who is a non-citizen may be eligible for Social Security benefits based on your earnings. As long as other qualifications are met (length of marriage, age of the spouse, and your filing status with Social Security), your non-citizen spouse may qualify for Spousal Benefits based upon your record.  By the same token, your […]

Survivor Benefits Do Not Affect Your Own Benefits (and vice versa)

I’ve had a few questions about this topic over the past several weeks, so I thought I’d run through a few examples and explain it. When you have access to a Social Security Survivor Benefit and a Social Security retirement benefit, you can maximize your lifetime benefits by coordinating the two and planning out your strategy for taking each benefit. As we’ve covered in other articles, it often is best to delay receiving your own benefit as long as possible.  This is because you will receive Delayed Retirement Credits (DRCs) for every month after you’ve reached your Full Retirement Age (FRA, which is age 66 if you were born between 1943 and 1954, and increasing gradually up to age 67 if you were born in 1955 or later).  This DRC amounts to 8% per year, or 2/3% per month. In addition, it can be beneficial to delay receiving a Survivor […]

Social Security Spousal Benefits versus Survivor Benefits

I’ve written a lot about Social Security Spousal Benefits and Survivor Benefits on these pages, but oftentimes there is confusion about how they are applied.  There are things about them that are common, but for the most part there are some real differences that you need to understand as you make decisions about applying for one or the other of these benefits. For one thing – Survivor Benefits and Spousal Benefits are benefits that you may be entitled to that are based on someone else’s record: your spouse (or ex-spouse) to be exact.  No matter what your own Social Security benefit might be, you have access to the Spousal Benefit and Survivor Benefit, if, of course, you have or had a spouse with a Social Security retirement benefit available on his or her record. In addition, it is important to note that Spousal Benefits and Survivor Benefits are mutually exclusive.  […]

Social Security Filing Strategies for Surviving Spouses

There are a couple of strategies for Social Security filing that surviving spouses can use to maximize benefits throughout their lifetimes.  The important factor to keep in mind for the surviving spouse is that filing for Survivor Benefits (based on your late spouse’s record) has no impact on filing for Social Security benefits based on your own record – other than the fact that you cannot file for both benefits at the same time. Coordinating these two benefits (Surviving Spouse benefits and your own benefits) can take a couple of different paths: you could file for the Surviving Spouse benefit first, allowing your own benefit to accrue Delay Credits up to as late as age 70; or you could file for your own benefit first, and then later file for the Surviving Spouse benefit. Sue’s husband Steve passed away when Sue was 61 years of age.  Steve had just turned […]

Important Ages for Social Security

There are many specific important ages to know as you’re planning your Social Security filing strategy. The ages can become quite confusing and jumbled together as you plan.  It’s important to know at what age you can take specific actions, as well as what the consequences can be if you take a particular action earlier than it is appropriate. These ages are pervasive throughout this blog and my book, but I hadn’t compiled all of the important ages into a single place, so listed below are what I have determined to be the most important ages with regard to Social Security, as well as what is important about that age.  Enjoy! Age Description 22-62 This is the forty years during which your monthly earnings are compiled to develop your initial Average Indexed Monthly Earnings (AIME).  This figure is then used to determine your Primary Insurance Amount (PIA) which is used […]

Earnings Tests Apply to Spousal and Survivor Social Security Benefits As Well

If you’re receiving Spousal or Survivor Social Security benefits and you’re under Full Retirement Age, you need to know that any earnings that you have can have an impact on the benefits that you’re receiving.  These are the same limits that apply to regular retirement Social Security benefits, and they apply in the same manner. For 2013, if you will not reach Full Retirement Age during this calendar year, the earnings limit is $15,120, or $1,260 per month.  For every $2 over that limit that you earn for the year, your Social Security benefit will be reduced by $1.  For example, if you earned $20,000 for the year, you are over the limit by $4,880, and you’ll lose $2,440 of your benefit. If you will reach Full Retirement Age in 2013, the earnings limit is $40,080, or $3,340 per month – and the treatment is different.  In this case, for […]

Book Review – Social Security Made Simple

I recently had the privilege of reading Mike Piper’s most recent book in his excellent … in 100 Pages or Less series, entitled Social Security Made Simple.  Just as with his other books in the series (Can I Retire?, Investing Made Simple, Taxes Made Simple and several others), Mike manages to distill the most important points about the topic into an easily-understood, easy-to-read, 100 pages. The layout of the Mike’s book is great for someone just learning about this topic, starting from basic situations that most folks will face, and working through to the more complicated situations.  The last section of the book addresses “when to file” strategies, including some unique ways to consider the value of your potential benefits in context of your financial life. When I read through the book it took me just over an hour to read – granted, I have a bit more than a […]

How is the Social Security Survivor Benefit Calculated?

This is one of those very complicated and difficult to understand areas of the Social Security universe, but it’s very important to know what amount of benefits a surviving spouse will be eligible for upon the passing of his or her spouse. There are different rules that apply, depending upon whether or not the late spouse was already receiving benefits based on his or her own record, as well as the age of the surviving spouse when he or she begins receiving survivor benefits. We’ll look at the easy one first: when the late or decedent spouse was not already receiving benefits based on his or her own record. When The Decedent Spouse Was Not Receiving Benefits In the case where the late spouse had not already begun to receive benefits based upon his or her own record, there are three factors that you need to take into account:  the […]

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