Senior Living


Health & Spirit

Social Security and You: Don't Listen to Friends and Neighbors About Social Security

Tom Margenau on

I've said this before and written columns about this before. Do NOT listen to your friends and neighbors when it comes to Social Security advice. Whatever they are telling you is probably wrong. Here is another batch of questions saved up from this week's mailbag that proves my point.

Q: My sister's husband died on July 24. He was 76 and started getting his benefits at 65. He was getting $1,920. She is 70 and is getting her own $1,250, which she started at age 62. One of our best friends told her that because she took her own benefits at 62, she isn't due any widow's benefits. Is this true?

A: It's absolutely not true. What she is due in Social Security widow's benefits usually depends on one thing only: her age when she became a widow. And at her age, her own benefit will be supplemented up to 100% of what he was getting at the time of death. In other words, she will keep getting her $1,250 per month, and then she will get an extra $670 in widow's benefits to take her up to his $1,920 benefit rate.

Q: My best friend's husband died in June. He was 85. She is 81. Her neighbor told her that she would be automatically switched to widow's benefits because that is what happened when her husband died. But it's been more than two months now and nothing has happened. How long does it take?

A: If it was a simple conversion from wife's benefits to widow's benefits, the changeover would happen very quickly. Probably in less than a week. But I'm guessing that it's not that simple in your friend's case. I will explain.

I will bet that your friend's neighbor was getting straight spousal benefits. In other words, she wasn't getting her own Social Security, just a dependent wife's benefit on her husband's account. In that situation, when the husband dies, the wife is automatically switched to widow's benefits with just a push of a few buttons at the Social Security Administration.


On the other hand, I'm guessing your friend was getting her own Social Security benefits. In cases like that, there is no automatic conversion to survivor benefits. Your friend has to contact SSA and file a claim for widow's benefits. She can do that by calling them at 800-772-1213.

Q: I am 64 years old. Recently, I applied for my Social Security and told them I wanted six months worth of retroactive benefits. The SSA clerk told me no such benefits were due. But a neighbor told me that he got retroactive benefits and that all Social Security claimants have the option of selecting this back pay. So did I get a misinformed Social Security agent?

A: No, you've got a misinformed neighbor. Retroactive benefits can only be paid for claims filed after full retirement age, and then only for a maximum of six months. Or to be more precise, the law says retroactive checks cannot be claimed if they involve the payment of reduced retirement benefits.

Here are three quick examples. Huey files for Social Security at age 68. He can claim up to six months of retroactive benefits if he wants. Duey files for Social Security at age 66 and 3 months. He can claim three months worth of retroactive benefits but nothing before age 66. Luey files for Social Security at age 65. He can't claim any retroactive benefits.


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