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Your Social Security Questions, Answered

Elderly Couple
Retirement expert Laurence Kotlikoff answers more of your Social Security questions, including what to do before reaching 70, the full retirement age. Photo by Purestock via Getty Images.

Editor’s Note | This post was updated after publishing.

Larry Kotlikoff’s Social Security “secrets” and his answers to your questions (Answers to Benign and Scary Social Security Questions, Social Security Confusion: Our Expert Dispels Some More and 11 Social Security Mistakes People Make) have prompted so many of you to write in that we’ve decided to inaugurate a regular feature here on Making Sen$e — “Ask Larry.” You can read last week’s installment here. We are determined to continue it until the queries stop or we run through the particular problems of all 78 million Baby Boomers, whichever comes first. We plan to run “Ask Larry” on Mondays, where he’ll take my seat as the sage of the day. Unlike my answers, his will be short and sweet (or, for some emailers, bitter) and so he’ll be taking on half-a-dozen questions or so, instead of just one.

Marilyn Emerson: I am going to be 62 in October. I retired from the government in Dec. 2011 and am collecting a pension. I called Social Security and filed to start receiving the third Wednesday in December. My husband is 62 and still working full time for a private industry. He is not planning to retire any time soon so he won’t be able to collect his Social Security until he does retire. Am I eligible to receive his Social Security check instead of mine, even if I retire at 62? I want to catch this before mine gets processed and December gets here.

Larry Kotlikoff: No, you can’t receive a spousal benefit based on his earnings record until he files for his retirement benefit. Our program can tell you what’s best for sure, but your waiting to collect a spousal benefit at full retirement age and having you both wait until 70 to collect your retirement benefit may be best. [PS: Larry’s program costs money.]

Henry McMillian, Jr.: I started getting Social Security Disability at age 60. When my wife reached age 62 she started drawing Social Security on my account. She never worked outside of the home. If I die before she does will she then start getting what I now get from Social Security?

Larry Kotlikoff: Yes and no. She’d get a reduced survivor benefit if she applies for it before full retirement age (adjusted for inflation). But if she starts taking her survivor benefit at or after full retirement age, she will get the benefit you are receiving with no reduction and adjusted for inflation.

Denise Topolski: I am a 64 year-old old unemployed female with breast cancer and no insurance. Are there any Social Security benefits or Medicare/Medicaid available for me to apply for?

Larry Kotlikoff: If your assets are low enough, you may qualify for Medicaid. At 65, you should be eligible for Medicare. Also, you may qualify now for Social Security disability insurance benefits.

Dianna Sealander: I can’t collect my deceased husband’s Social Security because I have a municipal pension. Can his paid Social Security be used to repay Medicaid for his nursing home expenses? I have a letter that delays repayment until my death.

Larry Kotlikoff: The government pension offset may not fully wipe out your survivor benefit or it may not fully wipe it out forever even if it wipes it out in the short run. If your pension is not inflation indexed you may qualify for some survivor benefits in the future. I don’t think his Social Security can be used to repay Medicaid since Medicaid is not eligible to collect a survivor benefit.

This entry is cross-posted on the Making Sen$e page, where correspondent Paul Solman answers your economic and business questions

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