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Social Security and You: Reach in the Mailbag

Tom Margenau on

I usually like to write columns centered on one particular Social Security topic. But every once in a while, I just like to reach into my email inbox and answer whatever questions I pull out of that online mailbag.

Q: I am 82. My wife is 80. We both took our benefits at 66. I get $2,444 per month. She gets $1,670. If I die, what will my wife get in widow's benefits?

A: Sometimes Social Security benefit computations can be messy. But your situation is easy. If you die first, she will keep getting her own $1,670 benefit, and that will be supplemented with $774 in widow's benefits to take her total benefits up to your $2,444 rate.

Q: My wife and I both took our Social Security at 62. We are currently 63. We each work part time. My wife makes much less than the $19,560 we are allowed to make. But I have taken on a little more work, and I might make over that amount. Am I allowed to use that portion of her $19,560 that she is not using?

A: Sorry, but it doesn't work that way. The law sets a limit on how much a Social Security beneficiary under full retirement age can make. In 2022, that limit is $19,560. And it applies to each individual beneficiary. Husbands and wives can't combine those limits. So, for each $2 you earn over $19,560, $1 must be withheld from your Social Security benefits.

Q: I am 68. I plan to wait until 70 to file for my Social Security. But I'm not working, and I am worried that my projected age 70 benefit of $3,440 per month will be significantly less because I will have no earnings in the next two years.

 

A: Don't worry. Be happy! Because benefits are based on your highest 35 years of inflation-adjusted earnings, the fact that you will have no earnings between now and age 70 will have little if any effect on your eventual Social Security benefit.

Q: I am 79. My husband is 81. We just got a divorce after 31 years of marriage. Am I due anything extra on his record now that we are divorced?

A: No. The benefit rate payable to a divorced spouse is the same rate as that paid to a married spouse. In other words, if you were not due any spousal benefits while you were married to this guy, you are not due any spousal benefits now that you are divorced. But assuming his benefit rate is higher than your own, you will get widow's benefits on his record if he dies before you do.

Q: I am 84. My 87-year-old husband just died. I get my own Social Security of $1,980 per month. He was getting $1,575. When I called Social Security, they told me all I am due is the $255 death benefit. I don't trust the Social Security clerk I was talking to. Can that be right?

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