Can I receive survivor benefits from my ex-wife before I claim my Social Security?

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We receive a lot of questions by email, and we can’t possibly answer them all. We use email to create new columns based on common queries. Sometimes an email presents a specific situation that we will address ourselves in a column. Today there is one such pillar.

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Dear Marketwatch,

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My ex-wife died in October 2020. We got married in 1984 and divorced in 2000. He remarried, I never remarried. She was 70 years old at the time of her death. I was 61 years old at the time of his death. I Contacted Social Security to Try to Claim a Spouse the gain. He indicated that I made a lot of money; I’m still working full time and earning about $45,000 a year.

Is there any other way I can receive his benefits until (66+) until I choose to collect my own benefits? My own profit would be much more than the monthly amount he would get. Thanks.

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Dear reader,

It is important to understand how survivor benefits and benefits are managed based on your own work record, so that you can make the most of each benefit. It is possible to coordinate filing times for each benefit (if your circumstances allow), such that you can take advantage of one benefit for a period of time, and then switch to another benefit when it reaches a maximum. increments (or some arbitrary date).

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In this email you are referring to survivor benefits, not spousal benefits, just to be clear. The initial problem in this case is that you’re earning too much from your job to be able to benefit from Social Security — the income limit (which is $19,560 in 2022) is well below your full-time earnings. At this income level, most (probably all) of any Social Security survivor benefits will be withheld because of your earning level. Once a person reaches full retirement age (FRA, somewhere between 66 and 67, depending on the year of birth), this earning limit will no longer apply.

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But since you’re under an FRA, for every $2 over the income limit, $1 of Social Security benefits is withheld. Your job income is $45,000, so that’s over the limit of $25,440. This means a total of $12,720 ($1 for every $2 over the limit) will be withheld from any Social Security benefits you may be eligible for. Assuming that the survivor benefit from your late ex-wife is slightly less than $1,060 (the monthly equivalent of $12,720), the entire amount is withheld, and you will receive nothing from that benefit.

But keeping earnings cap aside, let’s look at the rest of the situation. From our calculations above, it is safe to assume that the survivor benefit is approximately $1,000. You indicate that your own benefit will be somewhat “much higher” than the survivor benefit, so let’s just put it at $2,000 for example.

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The question is: is there any way I can receive survivor benefits (assuming you mean full retirement age) by the time I choose to receive benefits on my own? Unfortunately, as we saw above, due to earnings limits, the answer is no. If, however, you choose to stop working, or limit your earnings to less than the $45,000 job, you can receive at least a portion of Social Security survivor benefits in the interim.

Also, during the year you reach FRA, there is a more generous income limit ($51,960 in 2022, and only 1 of every $3 over the limit is withheld). When you reach that year, there’s no reason to forgo survivor benefits (since you’re still under FRA, slightly less), because your income is below the income limit. You can receive the full amount of survivor benefit up to the month of your full retirement age, and then switch to your own retirement benefit.

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The reason you’re able to make this switch is because survivor benefits and your own retirement benefits are unaffected by the deeming rules. (As a refresher, just know that the dimming rules require that if you do a Spouse’s Benefit And a retirement benefit, based on your own records, doesn’t separate the two if you file for one benefit you’re considered to have filed for both. Deeming rules do not apply between survivor benefit and retirement benefits.)

To explain this better, let’s say you left a job worth $45,000, so the income limit doesn’t apply. At age 61, when your ex-wife died, you would be eligible to receive a reduced survivor benefit based on her record, while delaying your own retirement benefit to a later date. Receiving survivor benefits at an early age does not affect your own retirement benefits.

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The opposite is also true: If your own benefit was somewhat smaller than the survivor benefit, you could start receiving your own retirement benefit at age 62 (at a significant reduction), and then the much larger survivor benefit at the FRA. can switch on. Filing early for one of these benefits doesn’t affect the other benefit—which is why the two can be coordinated this way.

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Going back to the original example with the limit: In this case, once you reach the FRA, you could File for and receive survivor benefits, and continue to defer your own retirement benefits to a later date when the late credit has maxed out the benefit. Assuming your FRA is 67 and you delay your retirement benefits until you’re 70, the resulting benefit could be as much as $2,480 (a three-year delay on your $2,000 original benefit). to credit). In the meantime, you will receive survivor benefits (based on your late ex-wife’s record) for three years.

Do you have a Social Security question? Write to us at [email protected],

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