Senior Living



Social Security and You: Mailbag Miscellany

Tom Margenau on

I usually like to have a theme to my columns. In other words, I will generally just cover one topic and present one or more questions from readers that are related to that subject. But every once in a while, I just like to open my email inbox and pick random questions to answer. Today's column is one of those.

Q: I am 79 years old. I haven't worked in years, but last year, I did make some money on the side selling some of my antique furniture. And now I got a letter from Social Security telling me my own benefit is going up by $25 but my widows benefit is going down by $25. This makes absolutely no sense to me. What do you think I should do about this?

A: You should just relax. It's really no big deal. Let me explain to you what is happening.

Like many women in this country, you are getting benefits from two Social Security accounts. You are getting your own retirement benefit, and you are getting some additional money off of your deceased husband's Social Security record.

You didn't give me the dollar amounts, but let's just say that you are due $1,200 in your own retirement benefits, and you are also due $2,000 in widows benefits. As a general rule, when you are due two benefits, you don't get them both. You just get the one that pays the higher rate. So in this situation, you normally would just get a widows Social Security check for $2,000.

But there is a rule that says if you are due anything on your own work record, you must be paid that first. So you are actually getting two benefits. You get your own $1,200 check. And you also get $800 from your husband's account to take you up to the $2,000 widows rate you are due.


(Depending on factors too complicated to explain in this short column, some women would get two checks each month, and some would get both benefits combined in one check.)

Because you made some extra money last year, those earnings bumped up the amount of your own Social Security benefit -- you said by $25. So, applying that to the numbers I used for my example, that means your own retirement check increased to $1,225. But that increase did nothing to your husband's benefit amount (your widows rate). It remains at $2,000 per month. So now instead of $800 in widows benefits, you are due $775. So your portion of his benefit went down. But you still end up with $2,000 in total benefits.

Q: I read one of your old columns about Social Security disability. I am wondering this: Do those benefits go on forever? For example, if a guy has a heart attack at age 60 and starts getting Social Security disability and then manages to live into his 80s, will he still be getting disability?

A: When someone getting disability reaches full retirement age, those benefits are converted to retirement checks. But the dollar amount remains the same.


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