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Social Security and You: More Mailbag Questions

Tom Margenau on

Last week, instead of writing a column centered around just one Social Security topic, I decided to just reach into my electronic mailbag (my email inbox) and answer whatever questions I pulled out of there. But I ran out of column space before I ran out of questions. So today, more random Social Security questions and answers.

Q: I filed for my Social Security retirement benefits over the phone this morning. But to be honest, I wasn't all that impressed with the clerk who took care of me. Now I'm worried that he will mess up the amount of my Social Security benefit and I won't be paid correctly. Is there anything I can do?

A: What you can do is stop worrying. Local Social Security representatives aren't really involved in the computation of your Social Security benefit. All Social Security benefits are figured by the Social Security Administration's national computer system. And that system has a remarkable record of accuracy. So, I'm sure you will be paid correctly.

Q: We have a slightly different marital dynamic than most couples. My wife is the primary wage earner. She has always made more money than me. Or to put that another way, I've always made a decent income, but my wife (a doctor) has made a great income. As we are now approaching retirement age, is there anything special we need to know about Social Security?

A: Not really. Social Security is essentially gender neutral. In other words, the same benefits that are paid to wives are also paid to husbands.

And just as a wife is always paid her own benefit first, so too will you be paid your own Social Security retirement benefit. Only after that will they look to your wife's record to see if you can get any extra spousal benefits. But because the spousal rate (for a wife or husband) is only somewhere between 30% and 50% (depending on your age when you file), it is doubtful you will get any husband's benefits on your wife's record. That is, while she is alive. If she dies before you do, and assuming you meet all the eligibility requirements, you will get widower's benefits on her record, which can be as high as 100% if you are over your full retirement age.

 

Q: I am just turning 62. I was going to wait until age 67 to file for my Social Security, but I'm worried that Congress is going to pull the rug out from under me and cut benefits or start means-testing benefits. So, I'm thinking of filing now. What do you think?

A: I think you should never make a Social Security decision based on politics. There is no question that somewhere down the road, Congress is going to deal with Social Security's pending financial shortfall. But I will bet my next Social Security check that when they do, the reforms they come up with will have a long lead-in time. In other words, those changes won't affect near-term retirees, but rather people who might be retiring 10 or 20 or even more years from now. For example, when they raised the retirement age from 65 to 67, they did so gradually over a span of about 40 years.

Q: I was married for 22 years to a wealthy man, but we divorced when I was 54 years old. Three years later, I married the man I'm still married to today. We are both 68 and we each get our own Social Security. He gets about $2,400 and I get $1,850. My first husband just died. Is there any way I can get any of his Social Security?

A: Because you remarried before the age of 60, you cannot get benefits from husband No. 1 as long as you are married to husband No. 2. And that last statement comes with a wink.

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