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How taking Social Security early affects your ex-spousal benefits

Journalist Philip Moeller answers your questions about health, aging, and retirement. Phil is the author of the book, “Get What’s Yours for Medicare,” and co-author of “Get What’s Yours: The Revised Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security.” Send your questions to Phil.


Diana – Minnesota: I’m 71 and my ex-spouse is 67. I began drawing Social Security at age 62, and don’t know if my ex-spouse has begun drawing his Social Security or not. How should I proceed in order to apply for and receive ex-spousal benefits? And what benefit should I expect? Would it be based on his FRA (full retirement age) benefit, even though he hasn’t reached that age? It sounds as though accurate information isn’t always given by people who work for Social Security. Thank you for information and your guidance!

Phil Moeller: If you have been divorced for more than two years, you can apply for an ex-spousal benefit even if your ex- has not filed for Social Security.

Your benefit will be tied to his FRA benefit. However, because you filed for your own Social Security at 62, your ex-spousal entitlement will be much less than half of this FRA benefit. And if it turns out to be less than what you’re already receiving, you would get no additional payment.

People often don’t think about the implications of how filing early for Social Security might affect their future entitlements to other Social Security benefits.

While not wishing any ill will on your former husband, I should also note that the age at which you filed for your own benefits will not reduce your ex-survivor benefits should your former husband die before you.

If this happens, you would be entitled to receive an amount of money equal to the Social Security benefit he was receiving at the time of his death. If he had not yet filed when he died, Social Security would calculate your benefit as if he had filed on the day of his death.

Because you are already drawing your own Social Security, you would receive an additional payment equal to the amount by which his benefit exceeded yours.


Lee – Virginia: I had to file for Social Security at 62. I am 68 now. I was with my ex-husband for 13 years. I’m working full-time at a very good job but have serious medical issues. How do I find out if I can claim spousal benefits? He is about 60 years old or dead.

Phil Moeller: If he is still alive, he is too young for you to claim am ex-spousal benefit. He needs to be at least 62 and have filed for his own benefit or, if he has not filed, you need to have been divorced for at least two years.

If he is dead, however, you can file for an ex-spousal survivor benefit. The Social Security Administration maintains national death records. If you have your ex’s Social Security number, you should be able to call Social Security and explain that you’d like to file for an ex-spousal survivor benefit if your ex- has, in fact, died. You may need to go into an office to actually file for this benefit and bring records of your marriage and divorce.

As with Diana, if it turns out that you are eligible to file for an ex-survivor benefit, your additional benefit would equal the amount by which his benefit exceeded yours.


Rita: I worked at a business owned by my uncle. He deducted Social Security payroll taxes from my paycheck, but I later found out that he didn’t send my deductions to Social Security! (Yes, he pocketed the money.) He is in poor health, not coherent, and in his 90s.

His deceit leaves me four quarters short of eligibility for Social Security. What can I do to claim Social Security benefits? I’m in my 70s and do not want to work more quarters.

Phil Moeller: Wow, this is such a tough situation, and I really don’t have a sure-fire solution for you. Taking legal action against your uncle clearly is not an option, although if someone has power of attorney to make financial decisions for him, I’d call them and see if there’s any chance they would make things right with Social Security.

Were this me, I would look for copies of paystubs showing that payroll taxes were deducted from your pay. I would then take these to your local Social Security office and make a plea for reconsideration of your eligibility.

I am sorry you got such a bad deal. Please let me know how things turn out.

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