Ask Larry: How Do We Still Suspend My Wife’s Social Security Retirement Benefit?


Today’s column addresses questions about an incorrect claim that the new law made it no longer possible to suspend a retirement benefit, whether public pension survivor’s benefits affect Social Security benefits and how the new law changed deeming rules for retirement and spousal benefits. Larry Kotlikoff is a Professor of Economics at Boston University and the founder and president of Economic Security Planning, Inc, which markets Maximize My Social Security and MaxiFi Planner.

See more Ask Larry answers here.

Have Social Security questions of your own you’d like answered? Ask Larry about Social Security here.

Isn’t Social Security Incorrect That My Wife Can’t Suspend Her Retirement Benefit Now?

Hi Larry, After reading your book and using your Social Security software, my wife, born in March 1954, began receiving her retirement benefit at 64. Because I, born in July 1951, was grandfathered because of my age, I have been receiving a spousal benefit that started at the same time my wife started receiving her retirement benefit.

Starting August 2021, I expect to receive my retirement benefit with the maximum amount of delayed retirement credits (DRCs). My wife plans to suspend her retirement benefit in July 2021 in order to start earning DRCs until she reaches 70 in March 2024 and reinstates her retirement benefit.

I called the Social Security number and the agent informed me that this is not allowed because once benefits start, even if they are later suspended, one cannot earn DRCs. Your book and software indicate that this position is wrong. Can you tell us what can we do about this? Thanks, Charles

Hi Charles, Yes — what your were told by the Social Security representative is incorrect.

Your wife can voluntarily suspend her benefits any time between her full retirement age (FRA) and age 70. The only requirement is that she’ll need to request the suspension in advance, so in order to suspend her benefits in July 2021, she’ll need to make her request no later than June 30 2021.

Your wife could make her request either orally or in writing, though not over the phone. I would advise submitting a written request, especially since you’ve already received misinformation.

If you get any pushback from Social Security, you can ask to speak with a supervisor or technical expert who will be more familiar with the new law and what it did and did not change. Best, Larry

Will My Husband’s Social Security Be Affected If He Inherits My Pension?

Hi Larry, I am receiving a pension and my Social Security retirement benefit, which is reduced by the WEP. My spouse gets only his Social Security retirement benefit. If I die, he is to receive half my pension as a survivor’s benefit. Will either the inherited pension or his Social Security retirement benefit be affected by this? Thanks, Jen

Hi Jen, I don’t know if the survivor’s pension your husband would receive could be affected, but his Social Security benefits won’t be affected if he receives a survivor’s pension that’s based on your work and earnings.

The Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and the Government Pension Offset (GPO) provision can only apply to a person’s Social Security benefits if they receive a pension that’s based on their own work and earnings that weren’t taxed by Social Security. Best, Larry

Is What My Wife Was Told By Social Security Correct?

Hi Larry, My wife is about to turn 64. Her FRA is 66.5. I recently talked to Social Security and asked if she could take her spousal benefit without taking her retirement benefit.

I was told she would have to take her retirement benefit before she would be eligible for her spousal benefit and that she would have to wait until her FRA before she was eligible for her spousal benefit.

I was told the law had changed recently and that deeming was no longer valid. Was this covered in your book? Thanks, Patrick

Hi Patrick, The 2015 Social Security amendments changed the law regarding both deeming and voluntary suspensions. The revised edition of Get What’s Yours, published after the new law was passed, accounts for these and other changes.

Deeming was actually expanded under the amended law, not eliminated.

As a result, since your wife was born after 1/1/1954, she could never file just for spousal benefits without also being required to file for her own benefits at the same time through deeming.

So the only way that your wife could qualify for spousal benefits is if 50% of your primary insurance amount (PIA) is higher than her own PIA, and she couldn’t qualify for spousal benefits at least until you start drawing your retirement benefits. A person’s PIA is equal to their Social Security retirement benefit rate if they start drawing their benefits at full retirement age (FRA).

Your wife wouldn’t have to wait until her full retirement age (FRA) to file for spousal benefits if she’s eligible, but she couldn’t do so unless she also files for her retirement benefits.

And if she starts drawing benefits prior to FRA, her benefits will be reduced for age. You and your wife may want to consider using my company’s software — Maximize My Social Security or MaxiFi Planner — to calculate your maximized strategy and perhaps explore alternative what-if strategies as well. Social Security calculators provided by other companies or non-profits may provide proper suggestions if they were built with extreme care. Best, Larry

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