Ask Larry: How Do I Get Spousal Benefits After Retirement Benefits?

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Social Security may be one of your largest assets. What and when you collect will make a huge difference to your lifetime benefits.

Today’s column addresses switching from retirement to spousal benefits, restating suspended benefits, drawing benefits on the records of more than one spouse, the availability of survivor benefits and automatic Medicare premium payments. Larry Kotlikoff is the founder and president of Economic Security Planning, a company that markets Maximize My Social Security, a Social Security benefits calculator referred to in this post.

See more Ask Larry answers here.

Ask Larry about Social Security:

How Do I Get Spousal Benefits After Retirement Benefits?s?​​

Hi Larry, I am two months older than my husband. When I turn 66, I’ll claim my Social Security retirement benefit and my husband will claim his spousal benefit at 66 while waiting until 70 to claim his own Social Security retirement benefit. Can I then switch to my Social Security spousal benefit am I stuck with only my own Social Security retirement benefit? Thanks, Michelle

Hi Michelle, You wouldn’t exactly switch to spousal benefits, but you could file for an additional spousal benefit when your husband files for benefits on his own record. Your spousal rate would then be calculated by subtracting your own Primary Insurance Amount (PIA), which is equal to your full retirement age (FRA) retirement benefit amount, from 50% of your husband’s PIA, and if positive that difference would be added to your own retirement rate. So, provided that 50% of your husband’s PIA is higher than your own PIA and you don’t start drawing your own benefits before full retirement age, that should bring your combined benefit rate up to 50% of your husband’s PIA. Best, Larry


How Do We Go About Reinstating My Husband’s Benefits?​​

Hi Larry, We suspended my husband’s Social Security retirement benefits when he turned 66. Now we would like to resume them effective next April. How do we do this? Thanks, Paula

Hi Paula, If your husband isn’t turning age 70 in April, he will need to contact Social Security to request reinstatement of his benefits. The request can be made orally or in writing, and if your husband suspended his benefits after 4/29/2016 he will need to make his request no later than in March if he wants to reinstate his benefits effective with April.

Benefits that are in voluntary suspension are automatically reinstated by Social Security effective with the month that the person turns age 70, so if your husband is turning 70 in April he wouldn’t need to do anything. If that’s not the case, your husband may want to use the maximization software available on this website to make sure that he’s making the best possible decision. Best, Larry

Can I Switch From Drawing Benefits On One Divorced Husband’s Record To Another One?​​

Hi Larry, Can I switch my benefits from one divorced husband to other one? I was married for 15 years to one and 10 years to other. Thanks, Linda

Hi Linda, Potentially, yes. In some cases it’s possible to file for reduced benefits on one ex’s record at age 62 and then switch to unreduced benefits on the other ex’s record at your full retirement age, but it all depends on your individual circumstances. An expert Social Security benefits calculator as described in other answers can help you determine your best course of action. Best, Larry


Can A Surviving Husband File For His Wife’s Monthly Allotment If It’s Higher Than His Own Rate?​​

Hi Larry, Can a husband get widower’s benefits based on his wife’s record if they’re higher than his own Social Security retirement benefits? Thanks, Carl

Hi Carl, The answer is a qualified yes. In most cases in which a husband and wife are receiving benefits on their own records, the surviving member of the couple is eligible to receive the higher of their two benefit rates. However, a widow or widower would not be able to receive any benefits that their deceased spouse may have been receiving on another person’s record.

For example, say a widow is receiving benefits on a deceased spouse’s record and then remarries after reaching age 60. The widow can continue to receive her widow’s benefit in that event, but those benefits could not be passed along to her new husband in the event of her death. Best, Larry


Is There Any Good Reason To Continue Paying Medicare Premiums Directly After You Start Drawing Benefits?​​

Hi Larry, I’ll file for my Social Security retirement benefit when I am 68.5 my wife turns 66 and then she will take spousal benefits for 4 years. She will sign up for Medicare at 65 and they will bill her. When she turns 66 and gets spousal benefits should her Medicare premium then be deducted from her spousal payment each month or continue to pay them directly. I know you are not held harmless if you pay directly, but is there a good reason to pay directly after age 66 on spousal. Thanks, Jordan

Hi Jordan, I assume that your wife was born prior to 1/2/1954, or else she won’t be able to restrict her application to just spousal benefits only at age 66. Also, although the scenario you outline could be your best strategy, you and your wife can use an expert Social Security benefits calculator, such as Maximize My Social Security or another highly accurate program, to be sure that you don’t have better options available.

To answer your question, though, when your wife starts drawing spousal benefits her Medicare premiums will automatically start being withheld from her benefits. There would likely be no good reason to pay the premiums directly instead, but it isn’t a permissible option anyway. Best, Larry

To learn more about your Social Security options, visit Economic Security Planning, Inc.

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