Washington, DC - Social Security Matters by AMAC’s Certified Social Security Advisor C.J. Miles, Association of Mature American Citizens:
QUESTION: I have been dating a younger man for a couple of years now (I’m 65 and he’s 59). We’ve been talking about getting married. Since I had a very small Social Security benefit on my own record, I’ve been collecting a spousal benefit off of my ex-husband’s record. I know my boyfriend isn’t old enough to be able to give me a spousal benefit for at least another few years. So I don’t know what to do. Can you tell me what the consequences are if I get married in terms of my Social Security benefit?
ANSWER: You definitely are in an interesting position because you will lose your ex-spouse benefit if you get remarried, and you are correct that your new husband is too young to give you a new spousal benefit. However, you did mention that you have your own retirement benefit. As you may already know, the younger you are when you apply, the smaller the benefit because it is reduced for taking it when you are younger than full retirement age. You did not mention how old you were when you applied for an ex-spouse benefit, but regardless your own benefit would be larger now than when you first applied. I bring this up because if you get remarried, you can take your own benefit to replace the ex-spouse benefit. Then in three years when your new husband is 62 and you are 68, you can opt to take a spousal benefit off of your new husband and let your own benefit earn delayed retirement credits until you are 70. On the flip side, since you will be taking your own benefit, your new husband can take a spousal benefit off of your record when he is 62.
There is another thing you should take into consideration, which is a surviving spouse benefit. Let’s say you got remarried and this second marriage was to end for some reason. If it ended in divorce, you would once again be eligible for an ex-spouse benefit from the first husband. If you were married to your second husband for 10 years, you could choose whichever ex-spouse benefit is larger. If it were to end because your second husband passed away, a few different things could happen depending on the exact circumstances. If your first husband were still alive, you could get ex-spouse benefits again or surviving spouse benefits from your second husband (provided your second marriage lasted at least 9 months). If your first husband also passed away, you would be eligible for a surviving spouse benefit off of either husbands’ benefit because you got remarried after the age of 60. Note that the surviving spouse benefit is 100% of the husband’s benefit, not 50%; however, you cannot get a surviving spouse benefit (or any spousal benefit) from both husbands at the same time – only one.
QUESTION: I already started taking my Social Security benefits but decided I should go back into the workforce. I was told that if I earn more now than I did previously, my benefit could actually increase. I really don’t expect that to happen since I’m just working in a low-level part-time job. Is it possible that my current earnings will lower my average income and result in a lower benefit?
ANSWER: It is true that if someone earns more money now than they used to they could get a higher benefit, even if they already filed for Social Security. This is because your benefit is based on your average income in your highest 35 years of earnings, which is called Average Indexed Monthly Earnings (AIME). Every year Social Security will recalculate your average to see if your benefit amount should be increased. Don’t worry, though. Since your benefit is based on your largest income-earning years, there is no way that a lower income will decrease your benefit. The worst thing that would happen is that your benefit would remain the same.
Keep in mind, however, that I am only talking about your base benefit amount and not reductions due to earning income that is more than the annual earnings limit. That is a different issue. The annual earnings limit applies if you have income over a certain amount before you reach full retirement age. If your income is over the earnings limit, your benefit will be reduced; however, this is unrelated to your AIME.