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Ask Larry: Will A Spousal Benefit From My Record Increase My Wife’s Social Security Benefits?


Ask Larry

Economic Security Planning, Inc.

Today’s column addresses questions about whether spousal benefits can increase total benefits for a person with a public pension, if spousal benefits begin automatically when the other spouse files and when excess spousal benefits are paid if the recipient already gets retirement benefits. Larry Kotlikoff is a Professor of Economics at Boston University and the founder and president of Economic Security Planning, Inc, which markets Maximize My Social Security and MaxiFi Planner.

See more Ask Larry answers here.

Have Social Security questions of your own you’d like answered? Ask Larry about Social Security here.

Will A Spousal Benefit From My Record Increase My Wife’s Social Security Benefits?

Hi Larry, My wife is retired and receives a pension from the Los Angeles county. During her working years, she had a small business and contributed enough to qualify for Social Security. She started her Social Security retirement benefit at 62 and it was substantially reduced by the WEP.

I am 60 and will retire within the next five years. My FRA is 67. I am retired from the USMC and receive a pension from the military. I know I will get my Social Security benefits when I retire from my current job but can my wife’s benefit be increased by a spousal benefit based on my record? Thanks, Luis

Hi Luis, Your wife could potentially qualify for spousal benefits from your record when you apply for your benefits, but it sounds like her spousal benefits will almost certainly be either fully or partially offset due to the Government Pension Offset (GPO) provision.

The GPO can cause a person’s spousal or survivor benefits to be offset by 2/3 of the amount of any government pension that is based on the person’s own earnings for a US government employer that was exempt from paying Social Security taxes. The government employment can be at any level of government, e.g., federal, state, local, etc.

So it sounds like your wife will likely only be able to receive benefits from your Social Security record if her spousal or survivor benefit amount is more than 2/3rds of the amount of her pension from the county of Los Angeles.

You and your wife may want to use my company’s software — Maximize My Social Security or MaxiFi Planner — to explore your options and find your best strategy to maximize your benefits. Our software fully accounts for both the WEP and the GPO. Social Security calculators provided by other companies or non-profits may provide proper suggestions if they were built with extreme care. Best, Larry

Will Social Security Automatically Trigger My Wife’s Additional Spousal Benefit?

Hi Larry, My wife is already receiving her own Social Security retirement benefits. I will be filing next year and she will be eligible for a partial spousal benefit in addition to her own.

Obviously, I have to submit an application to start my own benefits, but I’m not sure if she has to do anything to get her additional partial spousal benefit. I believe Social Security will automatically trigger her additional partial spousal benefit, in addition to her own. Is this correct, or does she have to apply again somehow for the additional spousal benefit?

I don’t see a way for her to do that on the Social Security website. Thanks, Aaron

Hi Aaron, Your wife must file a separate application to establish entitlement to spousal benefits in addition to her own benefits. She won’t be able to do that online, so she’ll need to call Social Security to make an appointment to apply when you file for your benefits.

She would normally also of course be able to do this in person but with offices still closed nationally due to the covid pandemic, filing by phone is her only current option. Best, Larry

Will My Wife’s Benefits Be Paid On The Second Wednesday Or Third Wednesday Of The Month?

Hi Larry, My wife is receiving her own Social Security retirement benefit based on her work history. Her birthday is on the 20th of the month, so she gets her benefit on the third Wednesday. When I file, she will be able to file for an additional spousal benefit. With my birthday on the 8th of the month, I’ll get my benefit on the second Wednesday.

When she begins to receive her partial spousal benefit, will it be paid on the second or third Wednesday of the month? Will it be paid separately from her own retirement benefit or will they both come on the same day? Thanks, Ron

Hi Ron, If your wife qualifies for spousal benefits when you start drawing your benefits, her benefit checks will continue to be paid on the third Wednesday of the month. Your wife will always continue to be entitled to her own benefits, so any spousal or survivor benefits for which she becomes eligible would be paid in addition to her own benefit.

As a result, her birthdate will continue to be used to determine the payment date for her monthly benefits. And she’ll get a single check that combines her own retirement benefit amount plus any partial spousal or widow’s benefit.

And just to clarify, your wife won’t be eligible for a full spousal benefit in addition to her own Social Security retirement benefit. Her unreduced spousal rate would be calculated by subtracting her primary insurance amount (PIA) from 50% of your PIA. A person’s PIA is equal to their Social Security retirement benefit rate if they start drawing their benefits at full retirement age (FRA).

So in other words, if your PIA is more than twice as much as your wife’s PIA, she will be paid her own benefit plus a partial, or excess, spousal benefit, not a spousal benefit instead of her own benefit. Best, Larry

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