Ask Larry: Is There Really An Age Limit On Social Security’s Child-In-Care Spousal Benefit?


Today’s Social Security column addresses questions about whether child-in-care spousal benefits time out, taking retirement benefits before spousal benefits and what effects living and working outside the US might have on Social Security benefits. Larry Kotlikoff is a Professor of Economics at Boston University and the founder and president of Economic Security Planning, Inc.

See more Ask Larry answers here.

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

Is There Really An Age Limit On Social Security’s Child-In-Care Spousal Benefit?

Hi Larry, I will be 66 soon and my wife will be 63 even sooner. I used your software and itt said she should apply for her retirement benefits now for herself and child benefits our 11 year old and that I should apply for child-in-care spousal benefits now and let my retirement benefits grow until I am 70.

For a number of years my wife stayed home with the kids and I earn about four times what she does. I called SSA to apply, and they said child-in-care spousal benefits are only for younger spouses (under 62) and I can not do that.

They said I can only apply for regular spouses benefits or retirement benefits on my own record. Your book and software says the opposite. What should we do? Thanks, Peter

Hi Peter, What you were apparently told by a Social Security employee is not true.

First of all, employees of the Social Security Administration (SSA) can’t legally prevent someone from applying for any type of benefit that the agency administers. If someone applies for a type of benefit for which they don’t qualify, it’s then SSA’s responsibility to disallow the person’s claim. That would then give the disallowed claimant appeal rights.

More specifically to your situation though, we’ve been assured by high ranking SSA officials that there is no upper age limit at which a person can qualify for child-in-care spousal benefits.

And since deeming does not automatically apply to applications for child-in-care spousal benefits, you should be able to apply for child-in-care spousal benefits now while allowing your own Social Security retirement benefit rate to grow until you reach 70.

So there’s no reason you can’t apply for child-in-care spousal benefits, regardless of your current age.

One thing you’ll want to be sure to do though, is to add a statement in the remarks of your application stating: “I am restricting the scope of this application to child in care spousal benefits only. I wish to exclude my own Social Security retirement benefits from the scope of this application.”

Then, shortly before turning 70, you’ll need to file another application in order to claim your own Social Security retirement benefits. Best, Larry

If I File For My Own Benefits Now Will I Be Able To Get Spousal Benefits When My Husband Applies For His Benefits?

Hi Larry, I was born in 1959. My husband was born in 1963. If I start taking my Social Security of $950 now, will I be able to get spousal benefits when my husband turns 70? His income is much higher than mine. Thanks, Helen

Hi Helen, Based on the amounts stated in your question you’d likely qualify for at least some spousal benefits when your husband starts drawing his benefits, but the amount of your spousal benefit might be substantially less than you think. Once you file for your own Social Security retirement benefits, those benefits continue for life. You can’t choose to switch from drawing your own benefits to drawing a spousal benefit instead.

However, you could start drawing your own benefits now and then file for a partial, or excess, spousal benefit when your husband claims his benefits, but you’ll only qualify for an excess spousal benefit if your husband’s primary insurance amount (PIA) is more than twice as much as your own PIA. A person’s PIA is equal to their Social Security retirement benefit rate if they start drawing their benefits at full retirement age (FRA).

If you start drawing your retirement benefits prior to your full retirement age (FRA), the resulting reduction for age that applies to your benefit rate will continue for as long as both you and your husband are still living. That’s true even if you later qualify for an excess spousal benefit.

It sounds like you and your husband may want to consider using my company’s software — Maximize My Social Security or MaxiFi Planner — to ensure your household receives the highest lifetime benefits. Social Security calculators provided by other companies or non-profits may provide proper suggestions if they were built with extreme care. Our software can also confirm your correct benefit amount, ensuring you aren’t being paid too little or too much, which could lead to potential clawbacks due to Social Security’s overpayment to you. Best, Larry

How Would Moving To Sweden Affect The Calculation Of My US Social Security Retirement Benefit?

Hi Larry, I am a US citizen and have paid US Social Security taxes for 25 years. I lived in Sweden for 15 years, during which time I had no US taxable income and paid taxes to Sweden on my Swedish taxable income. I currently live in the US and only have US taxable income. I plan to wait eight years and then apply for US Social Security retirement benefits at 70.

If I move to Sweden before I apply for US Social Security retirement benefits, how would the calculation of my benefit be affected? Also, how would the future calculation of my surviving spouse’s who is also US citizen, benefit based on my record be affected? Thanks, Ralph

Hi Ralph, Living in Sweden wouldn’t adversely affect your US Social Security benefits, but if you receive a pension based on your work in Sweden, your US Social Security retirement benefit rate could be lowered due to the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP).

The WEP only applies to retirement and disability (SSDI) benefits though, so a pension from Sweden wouldn’t adversely affect any spousal or survivor benefits that you qualify for from the US Furthermore, if the WEP lowers your US Social Security retirement benefit rate, that reduction would be removed in the event of your death.

So if anyone qualifies for survivor benefits from your US Social Security record, their survivor rate won’t be reduced due to any WEP reduction that had previously been applied to your retirement benefit rate. Best, Larry

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